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Whilst Graeme Obree once said that if you set targets which seem achievable, then you're not setting your sights high enough, goals still have to be realistic.
Alberto Contador is never going to be a kilometre rider and Marcel Kittel isn't going to be King of the Mountains.
Whilst your natural physical attributes can be moulded to a certain extent, they determine the direction you should take. For example, if you don't have a high percentage of fast twitch muscles, you can't be a pure sprinter. If you don't have good VO2 max and a slow heart beat, it's going to be difficult to be a top time trial rider.
There are exceptions to all rules, but common sense tells us that it's wasteful to ignore God given attributes and spend too much time on an aspect of your riding that will never be your forte. It's better to learn how to limit your losses in a time trial than to concentrate too much on it at the expense of diminishing natural climbing skills that can win you races.
Very few riders can do everything brilliantly.
So, when you sit down with your coach to plan your season, bear in mind your body type, natural abilities and strengths - but remember too what Graeme said.
10 tips for making 2018 your best season ever:
1. Set race objectives - determine in advance (3-4 months minimum) what the event/race you are aiming at will involve e.g. will it be hilly/flat/stage race/narrow roads/lots of corners? do you need to improve your bike handling or climbing? The Schlecks have been looking at the Tour de France parcours since they were announced last November.
2. Basic steps - look at your own abilities with your coach. Be honest with yourself and analyse which skills you lack to achieve your objective. Set out basic steps and periodisation blocks in your training to work towards improving these aspects in time for the objective. Taking the Schlecks again as an example, they know that they must improve their time trialling to win the Tour.
3. Mini goals - start to work back from this objective and set yourself smaller (mini) goals to aim for. This helps to keep you motivated and keeps goals in perspective and achievable. This is especially important for maintaining focus when things are going wrong e.g. when injured or sick during training blocks. The Russian team pursuit team has the Worlds and Olympics as major goals, but with certain World Cups as 'mini' goals.
4. Self analysis - during this time of 'planning', it is very important to be as realistic and self analytical as possible. This is when a coach who knows your capabilities is essential. You are a team working towards your objective.
5. Mark progress - use markers to determine your progress. This can either be a regular lab test, FTP (functional threshold test) using your power meter or simply, and less specifically, being able to 'hang in' with the local chain gang/club run longer than normal or beating your personal best on the local 10 mile T.T. or test climb. Pros living in Nice often test themselves with timed ascents of the La Turbie Col.
6. Plan early - start a plan that clearly sets out the BLOCKS of training you are going to undertake. These will include, in general terms, what each training block will aim towards, sessions you will do within these and specific training blocks and internal markers within these. Most pros can tell you now which events they will be riding for the entire season and their training will be planned around that.
7. Efficiency - this is the basis of everything you do. Making your position and pedalling as efficiently and smoothly as possible directly influences your momentum. This can involve speed/cadence drills or strength/force workouts. Robert Millar consciously practised sitting as still on the bike as possible when time trial training to minimise drag.
8. Aerobic endurance - this is essential in all endurance sports. How we do this can be very different to what one may think. The normal procedure would be long, slow rides, but this is not necessarily true (this would take a separate blog to explain). Using fat and less glycogen (carbohydrates) for fuel during long endurance events is another area which can be improved. As the body becomes better at using fat to produce energy, aerobic fitness improves. This is especially important for very long, steady state events such as half/full Ironman, triathlons, sportive events, marathons and the like.
9. Threshold - improving your anaerobic threshold is a real must. Helping your body to utilise and process lactate build up is an essential part of the puzzle to build a better endurance athlete. This can be an internal aim within each training block e.g. someone who starts their training with a FTP of 270w would hope to achieve a FTP of 330w by their target date. Along with a reduction in weight (power to weight ratio), this would give major gains.
10. Finer points - this takes in the specifics of the event. If a hilly race/sportive, make sure you are efficient at producing power on climbs. Perhaps improve your power to weight ratio for this. If you are aiming for a criterium or 'flat' event, this power to weight will not make as much difference as in a hilly race. Therefore, maximising top end, short term power is the way to go for a town centre specialist. Look at the variables and start to include these aspects in your training.
All of the above points are in general terms and require more detail when being specific towards your own race objectives, but hopefully they will give you some sort of guideline and help you to start thinking about what is important when selecting and planning which races you wish to compete - and do well in - for the coming season.