Getting the basics right

Willie Healy of Body & Mind Fitness in Ennis brings you a few tips on training and preparing for participating in sportives. This is the second of a number of articles Willie will do for cyclists preparing for the 2016 SKODA Granfondo Hibernia.

Cycling is a sport that lends itself to increases in speed and fitness through “marginal gains”. Leaving aside the obvious illegal performance enhancers, the sport has embraced technologies that will give the cyclist an edge over his opponents. In recent years, bikes, components and even clothing have become lighter and more aero-dynamic. Heart-Rate monitors and Power meters allow cyclists to pace themselves perfectly to peak at just the right time during an event, and energy drinks and snacks are constantly being improved to provide the maximum nutrition for the rider.

portrait_forwhiteBGHowever all of the above can be a waste of time and money if the cyclist does not have the cycling technique, strength and fitness that are responsible for possibly more than 90% of his or her performance. The following items will improve that performance.

  1. Join a Cycling Club.

The most efficient way to cycle is in a group. The peloton provides protection against a head wind and thus allows you to get more speed for less effort. However, cycling in a fast-moving, tightly grouped bunch is a skill in itself that requires quite a bit of nerve and a high level of concentration. Most cycling clubs have a section that caters for beginners and leisure cyclists, and by joining in these group cycles, you can develop the skills that will allow you go further and faster.

  1. Lose Weight.

Many cyclists spend thousands of euro on new wheels that are 500 grams lighter than their current set, in the expectation that this reduction in bike weight will make them a Tour de France contender. In many cases the same cyclists are carrying anything up to 15 kg excess body fat. Very simply, the less extra weight you are carrying, the faster you will move on the bike, especially going uphill. Regardless of technology, the most wind resistance and overall weight will always be provided by the rider. If you can reduce both of them by becoming leaner, you will be a faster cyclist.

  1. Train Specifically for your Target Event.

The longer the cycling event you are targeting, the more hours you are going to have to spend in the saddle training. If the event course has a lot of hills, make sure that you include hill-climbing in your training. There is no point doing miles and miles of cycling on a flat dual carriageway if your target event will have you going up and down hills and mountains all day.

  1. Include some speed/interval training

Many cyclists, especially beginners, focus on the “average speed” of a                 cycling event or training session. However this can be very mis-leading because this average can vary wildly from slow, punishing climbs of 10-15kph,  up to wind-assisted, downhill sprints of 60 kph. Because of the increased intensity of climbing and interval work you won’t need to be on the bike as long and these sessions are very time-efficient. For hill training pick a route with some challenging climbs and do 30-60km. Aim to climb the hills using low gears and a steady cadence (pedal rate). Alternate this with out-of-the saddle work to increase the speed. For intervals pick a relatively flat circuit and alternate 30-45 seconds of top speed sprinting with 3-4 minutes of recovery/ light pedalling. 45-60 minutes of this type of training will see your fitness levels go through the roof.

  1. Cross-Train.

This may seem slightly contradictory to the principle of making your training as specific as possible, but bear with me. Cyclists tend to use the same muscle groups repetitively. The quads (front thigh muscles) bear the brunt of the work, while the lower back, shoulders and triceps act as stabilizers. This has a tendency to create muscle imbalances and over-use injuries. By including some gym-based training, these muscles, as well as their opposite numbers, can be strengthened in different movement patterns. Increasing the amount of core and flexibility training will also allow for more power transfer from the thighs to the pedals, and reduce the amount of muscle soreness.

By incorporating the above items into your training, you can make sure that you’ll perform at your best on the day of your cycle.

Putting It All Together.

Hopefully at this stage you are building up to have enough “miles in the legs” to complete your chosen distance at the Granfondo. In order to make the cycle as enjoyable as possible the following items should be borne in mind:

  1. Weather: This is Ireland so it’s quite possible that you will need your sun tan oil and rain jacket on the same trip. Wearing a couple of light layers of tops will make it easier to regulate body temperature as we cool down and warm up between food stops and actual cycling. Have enough cycling gear to last the 4 days.
  2. Equipment: You are less likely to puncture if you’re cycling on new tyres inflated to the correct pressure. The quality of road surface will vary so carry at least 2 spare tubes just in case you do puncture. Ideally your bike should be serviced to ensure brakes and gears are working correctly, and the saddle and handlebars are adjusted properly so that the cycle is as comfortable as it can be.
  3. Fuel: While food and drink are provided on most cycling events, each individual should know at this stage what they require to complete a 100-150km cycle. Make sure you bring plenty of water/sports drink and use those 3 pockets on the back of your jersey to stash bars, biscuits, ham sandwiches or whatever works for you.
  4. Safety: The Granfondo is a challenging and exciting event but in between the craic and the fatigue it’s vital that you maintain concentration and stay aware of all potential hazards. These will include potholes, stones, slippery surfaces, cross-winds and, obviously, traffic. By spotting these hazards and more importantly alerting the rest of your group to them, you can go a long way towards maintaining your own safety, as well as the safety of your fellow cyclists.