Your Best Season Ever

Fitter, further, faster…follow our experts’ advice and make this your most successful year of cycling ever, says David Motton. Was last season much like the one before and the one before that? Each year you put in the miles, but however hard you try that sportive gold medal still eludes you. Or perhaps you’re still in the same racing category after years of trying to improve. Don’t worry – by taking a good, hard look at your planning, training and nutrition, you could turn another so-so season into your best year ever. We show you how…

Set your goals
Lots of cyclists drift through the season without a plan, but to go faster or further it pays to have clear goals, and a plan for achieving them.“You need goals to underpin the structure of your training programme,” says Professor Greg Whyte, head of cycling performance at 76 Harley Street. “Without them it’s harder to judge how well training is going and to identify strengths and weaknesses. It’s important to have short, medium and long-term goals to stay motivated.”

With a clear idea of where you want to go you can work out how to get there. Most coaches will break the season down into macro, meso and micro cycles. “The macro cycle is your entire season – think of it as the skeleton underpinning your training,” explains Whyte. “Meso cycles are shorter periods of six to nine weeks, which put the muscle on the bones. A micro cycle is typically a week, and goes into the detail of each individual training session. Think of it as the skin which holds everything in place.”

It’s possible to make these plans yourself, but to make the most of your potential it’s better to consult an expert who can make unclouded judgements about what’s working well and which areas need further work.

Eat smarter, ride faster
It’s a cliché but it’s true – you are what you eat. Quality training sessions will get you so far, but your body won’t make the most of them without a quality diet to match. Matt Lovell, director of the nutrition consultancy Perform and Function, says the first step is to strip out the junk from your diet. “Doughnuts, crisps, sweets and fries are anti-nutrient-rich foods: they contain fewer nutrients than your body needs to convert them into energy thereby robbing your body of precious minerals and B-vitamins.”

Having junked the junk food, riders should next make sure they’re not eating the wrong amount of the right foods. “Portion sizes are best judged using the palms for portions method – that is, eating a palm of protein with main meals, three fists of grow-above-the-ground vegetables and one to three fists of a root vegetable or suitable non-grain starches depending on what you are about to do and what you’ve just done. The more training you do, the more starchy carbs you need to eat.”

Overcome nerves
Even the most experienced rider can have an attack of nerves before the start of a race or sportive that really matters to them. “The important thing is to recognise that nerves are normal,” says Dr Victor Thompson. “It’s natural to be concerned and to wonder how ready you are. Just remind yourself about all the training you have done, and if any setbacks come to mind remember that nobody has a perfect build up. Tell yourself that you are ready.”

Nerves aren’t just normal – they can be a good thing. “Getting nervous is a sign that you are up for an event, focused and ready to fire.”

Quality not quantity
Becoming fixated with riding a certain number of hours or miles per week can be counterproductive, warns expert coach Joe Beer ( ). “Some riders think 10 hours is good, and eight hours is rubbish,” he says.

Another classic mistake is to think good training is fast training, and slow rides are pointless ‘junk’ miles. “Often quality can be misconstrued as meaning ride as fast as possible whatever the session. Junk mileage is such a bad term as it assumes you must be doing a certain speed or effort to gain a training effect,” warns Beer. “For most cyclists, just riding more at a low intensity can improve muscle efficiency and bike handling and still allow one or two hard training days per week. This is not my opinion but scientific analysis of the best way to train: 80 per cent as base effort and two sessions of quality high-intensity training.”

If your club mates want to turn every ride into a chain gang, don’t get sucked in. Have a plan and stick to it. If your current training lacks direction, check out our 16-week sportive training plans .

Back off for the big day
Don’t be tempted to push yourself hard in training right up until a key event. To be at your best you’ll need to taper, backing off a bit to arrive on the start line in peak form.

Two-time British National Hill-Climb Champion turned coach, Dan Fleeman, explains: “If you just trained and trained right up until the day of a big race you would be too fatigued. In the last few days you need to reduce your training volume but keep the intensity high.”

How long should a taper be? “It depends on the individual and the event. In general a taper of three to four days should be about right, but you need to get to know your body and what works best for you.”

As a rule, the shorter and more intense the event, the longer the taper. “When I raced in the National Hill-Climb Championship I hardly touched the bike for the two weeks before. But if you are riding a longer event like a sportive then the taper could last up to a week.”

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