When To Start Training For The Next Cycling Season

When to start training for next season and why

Now. The time is now. As coaches and athletes, fall or early season is training season and this is the most exciting time of year. We can look back at last season and be objective in looking at the data and seeing what worked and what didn’t. We can sit down and map out the future of the next road season. Looking to next season and setting up the calendar, 2020 goal events can seem far away. Maybe you’re taking an off season or just coming back from some down time. There is always something to do to prepare your body for next season, or technically this training season. Let’s take a look at some scenarios and what we should be doing now to train and prepare for your best season to date. 

The road and crit racing scene is very different regionally unless you’re a professional rider. If we look at an athlete in SoCal or Arizona, we’re really ramping up training and intensity now for the season openers in January and February. That means getting to heavier gym phases, progressing through subthreshold and threshold work to increase intensity in December to prepare the legs for racing. These warm desert or southern states are their own region and have their own timeline that you can’t ignore. If you don’t live in SoCal don’t be alarmed by your California training pen pal’s high CTL for November. If you are going to race regionally and you live in a majority of the 50 states and your racing doesn’t start until March and April, you have more time, but you don’t have time to waste. 

Last year Source Endurance owner and Coach Adam Mills wrote a three part “Save Your Season” article. The premise for that article was that there are a bunch of good reasons for your season to be derailed, illness, children, maybe weather but weather is more of a stretch with current training tools. The current article you’re reading is really about periodization with the assumption your training will not get derailed fully, in which case you should read the Save your Season series. Most of the rumblings I hear in Colorado, also known as excuses, for not periodizing a season correctly are weather based. When we’re looking at specific workouts day to day, with the current status of cycling tools such as smart trainers, zwift, and warm weather jackets and gloves, it’s pretty easy to accumulate the training stress we need even in a Colorado winter. Let’s walk through an example of periodization for what would work for a bike racer cat 5 to Cat 1 of any gender living anywhere from the east coast to San Francisco. 

To make this periodization model I like to work backwards from the peak event. For the basic stuff there are tools available like TrainingPeaks Annual Training Plan. This tool can help you build your periodization for a peak race or event but when to apply cross training, weights, and what specific workouts is not applied or even outlined in that timeline. Physiologically, with the assumption that you are a human being, we know how long it takes to adapt to aerobic training, threshold training, Vo2 work, gym etc. Looking backwards at number of workouts and fatigue we can say we need X number of weeks in phase 1, X number of weeks in phase 2, this most basic physiology understand allows us to plan our season and not be on the back foot all year.  Looking across the temperate and weather by region we see most first race days appearing in March or April. Most regions have season openers in early spring. Even Minnesota has some serious fat bike racing happening in early spring. Each athlete will have a different peak event but we want to go into the first races with some intensity, maybe not on peak form, but we also have to be aware of cross training, weights, certain intensities, and how that will all be affected by racing. Putting together all these workout types of increasing intensity, at the right time, will allow you to have your peak powers when you want them. 

Let’s look at a good example.

This Performance Manager Chart directly from Training Peaks shows the athletes fatigue over time. If you don’t understand or plan with TSS, that’s a different conversation and you can check out training peaks for some resources on how to track fatigue. 

This PM chart is from a masters athlete with goals in longer gravel and road events. The peak events were mostly between May and early July so we had a goal of gaining most if not all of our CTL by then. This athlete is in northwest Pennsylvania. There is winter there so we have to plan for that but this athlete did a great job utilizing all the tools available to gain fatigue despite winter conditions. “Tools” in this case means zwift, trainers, but also clothes, off road bikes, ability to ride in the cold. We started ramping in November and December. The gaps where we lose fatigue are various events, in this case not illness but a different road block that we overcame. It’s easy to see the CTL rising all the way into summer. It’s easy to plan and visualize that and plan it out with TSS and it’s another thing to apply the right workouts to make this CTL to leave you the most fit. We did gym workouts in the beginning and increased intensity from our November sweet spot and subthreshold all the way through our Sub threshold and V02 in the spring.  I’m not making any of this up or paving the way for some sort of coaching practice shift, my point is starting early for your training season, with the right workouts, will leave you more fit for your peak event even if its in August. We didn’t start with threshold training in November, we started aerobically and with gym base. Below is a graph tracking intensity and TSS over the same time period. 

TSS by Week Cycling Training

Looking at TSS and IF per week in a bar graph over the same time period at the CTL chart, we can see where we started to increase intensity per week and TSS per week in spring. Another thing we can see with this athlete is that he likes to keep intensity higher even when it’s not necessary so as a coach I will need to tell this athlete to dial the intensity back in early training season to save some mojo for May and June for more intense intervals. 

Lastly we can look at power results and see if this model is working. This athlete should see power going up with peak training and intensity in spring. This does not mean that the work we are doing in winter is not contributing to peak powers, it is, but we need an aerobic base and a strong core and musculature to gain power from intensity at Vo2 Max numbers. 

Looking at the power profile over time we see the powers are going up though the season, though our intensity growing. 

Power Profile 4 weeks Cycling Training

This is really what we want to see. The shorter intervals like 5 seconds will be more variable as that athlete hits random sprints throughout the year, but 60 minutes and aerobic powers are hard to grow and that’s where the real work shows. 

Now let’s briefly look at a worse example. This athlete had great intentions but everything was a bit late or half done. 

Late Prep for Cycling Season Performance Management Chart

You can scroll back and see the differences in this PMC chart vs the “good” example. There’s no workouts in November indicating too much off season. Then the rider in mid december had something change where training started, and started too hard. The intensities start out high with multiple days over 0.8IF, no cross training or strength work, this leads to a massive spike in acute training load and in February the intensities drop and the CTL drops where it should still be going up. From March on its all haphazard. This whole season being on the back foot shows in the power profile below. 

We can see potential and some growth with CTL but the growth is not controlled or planned. 

Late Prep Power Profile 4 weeks cycling training

In short, make a plan, weather your peak race is in May or August matters but the earlier you can start training your body for that goal event, the better off you will be. 

Zack Allison earned his bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science at Colorado State University. As part of his education, he participated in many hands on exercise science practicum and internships, coaching many types of athletes, specifically cyclists.

Zack’s affinity for cycling started at the early age of 14 racing on the east coast. He quickly moved up the amateur ranks to race on the elite national circuit. This level of competition sparked his interest in exercise science, taking him to Colorado State University. While racing for his alma-mater and on various amateur teams he saw many podiums at the Collegiate Championships and Pro/Am events. Zack is currently living in Fort Collins, Colorado and has raced for Elevate Pro Cycling and currently races for Clif Bar.

Growing up with great mentors and coaches, Zack has a goal of paying it forward. He hopes to use his education and racing experience to bring success to Source Endurance and his clients. 

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