Winter can feel like an age. It can be tough and it can test even the most determined of cyclists. Having something to ride for can help motivate you to get out of that warm bed and get pedalling. Whether it’s racing, a sportive or just the thought of riding with your friends this summer, we all need something to inspire us to #RideLots.
In late December, I was given the opportunity to ride the Sportful Gran Fondo in Italy this June and of course jumped at the chance. The Sportful Gran Fondo is a gruelling 204 kilometre route with over 5,000 metres of climbing in the Italian Dolomites - this gave me the perfect motivation to get riding this winter.
In this article, I will chart my early season so far, how I have structured the training.
Laying the foundations
After clocking up over 23,000 kilometres last year I decided to have a little time off the bike in January to recharge the batteries, both physically and mentally. Sleeping longer and doing ‘normal’ activities only makes you hungrier to get back on the bike. January is quite late to take a break, but I tried to plan this to fall when the weather was at its worst.
Three weeks off and I had already made a slight mistake, I’d put on about six kilograms. When I was 18 and racing I could take time off and not put on an ounce, but now that I am slightly older my metabolism has most definitely caught up with me! Still, at least it kept me warm through the cold morning rides.
First Ride Back
Again probably not my best decision, but my first ride back was leading group one of the Sigma Sport Challenge Ride. Jumping back into the deep end I was pleasantly surprised I hadn’t lost too much fitness and only started to suffer from the lack of miles in the last few kilometres of the 120 kilometre ride.
Reigning things back I returned to a schedule and started riding more sensibly!
I stick to an old-school plan for training. Three weeks on and one week easy. On the three weeks on I do a mixture of solo and group rides with the aim of clocking up around 480 kilometres a week. As the days get longer this will increase as will the difficulty of the route, with more hills being added.
The easy week is where the benefits are reaped as the distance is halved but the intensity remains the same. This is good for both for the head and the legs.
Over the years I have found building up over a month to work quite nicely. That month would be mostly in the small chainring, keeping the cadence high and getting the sensations back in the legs. Starting off with 200 kilometres a week I added 50 kilometres on each week until I was back up to 450 kilometres a week and back in the big chainring! I don’t use a heart rate monitor or power meter but would recommend either of these tools if you want to monitor your build up on fitness.
In this time the rides varied from pre-breakfast/pre-work 50-60 kilometre loops and 100-120 kilometre weekend rides. The pre-breakfast loops are always testing, especially in the depths of winter when it’s dark for the majority of the rides and temperatures do not climb much above freezing. The pace is just below tempo, so around 30 kilometres an hour, nothing too strenuous, just fat burning miles.
These pre-breakfast rides were mainly done solo, with weekend rides in groups, either leading Sigma Sport women’s, social or Challenge rides or heading out with a group of friends.
The routes in winter are also a little different to the rest of the year. I choose to stick to bigger roads as the surface is usually better and there is less debris to cause issues.
Throwing in a big one
I was lucky enough to be invited on Nuun Sigma Sport’s Brighton ride, which would prove the perfect opportunity to get some big miles in the legs, with a little bit of speed mixed in for good measure.
Starting off at Sigma Sport in Hampton Wick we had a rolling, tailwind route out to Brighton, with some sprints, through-and-off drills and plenty of climbing to add a bit of speed to the legs.
Arriving at Brighton we turned into a nasty headwind which made the next 100 kilometres rather testing but still a good workout. There’s a handy tip here. If there aren’t many hills where you ride you can use the wind to your advantage. Riding into a headwind, riding over geared or up any short, sharp gradients in the saddle will recreate that climbing effect and will help your leg strength.
Getting home and with just over 200 kilometres on the Garmin and close to 30km/h average speed, this was the perfect ride to kickstart the bigger miles.
So what’s next? The days are getting longer, the winter bike has been put away into summer hibernation and the temperature is rising. Time for the spring/summer kit to make an appearance. I will be riding in the Fiandre and BodyFit range this spring and summer, which consists of everything from the Fiandre Light NoRain Short Sleeve Jersey to the BodyFit Pro Bib Short LTD.
At the end of April I put in a big week in Majorca, which included a large amount of climbing and a 312 kilometre lap of the island. This week was perfect preparation for the Sportful Gran Fondo. The summer bike is now out and the pre-breakfast rides are now a little more intense and are hillier. I will get working on climbing, both in and out of the saddle and will concentrate on losing that last little bit of extra weight.
With just a couple of weeks before the event, now is the time to put the finishing touches to my training, with some short, sharp rides, before a taper week just before the Sportful Gran Fondo.
Six week training plan
With a healthy amount of base miles under your belt you can start training specifically for your big event. The first week of training is all about being a solid base for the following six weeks. It is worth including one rest day this week, at least one 4 hour steady ride, ideally two rides. Riding with a group is ideal for clocking up the miles. Throwing a few hills in introduces you to some intensity.
This week focuses on intensity, with hillier rides and big gear seated efforts on climbs. This week is ideal for working on your threshold but make sure to have a couple of steadier rides and a rest day to ensure you recover in time for the next ride.
week and it's time to combine some high-intensity efforts into your long rides. Ensure you still give yourself a rest day and keep the cadence high when climbing. This week is ideal for improving your climbing technique. Alternating between climbing in the saddle, on the hoods, on the tops and on the drops stimulates different muscle groups.
After a big three week block it is time to reap the benefits. An easy week does not mean you put your bike away, instead a few recovery rides and some light gear, high cadence work ensures your legs recover for the following week and you do not loose fitness.
The week before your event is the time to get those last few big rides in. A couple of 4-5 hour rides, with hills and 20-second sprints ensure your legs remain spritely.
Event week and all the training you have done over the last few weeks should now be consolidated ahead of the big day. Ensuring you sleep and eat well is key. A couple of low volume high-intensity rides, keeps the muscles active, with a couple of rest days to ensure you are fresh and ready before your event. We would recommend riding the day before the event. Whether that be for 30 minutes or 2 hours, this will make sure you arrive on the start line ready to put in a good ride.
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