This feature first appeared in the November 2019 edition of Procycling magazine, available until Dec 2 in shops. Subscribe here.
We asked a selection of current and recently retired pros about their favourite training session. From science-based intervals to coffee-stop recovery rides, here’s how the pros are honing their form.
Ian Boswell, Katusha-Alpecin
STRAVA-BASED SPIKED CLIMBING EFFORTS
At the start of 2015, I began to work with Dario Cioni as my coach at Sky. It was a bit of an experiment for him and me, but after two sub-par seasons in the pro ranks I was eager to try something new. Dario was a rider himself so he knew the mind and the physical demands of a rider.
Sky, now Ineos, are known for attention to detail and emphasis on training. On joining Sky in 2013 I began doing a lot of spiked zone 3 efforts, riding at a high pace, surging and then settling right back into that vicious pace. After two-plus years of these efforts, I began to get a bit burnt on them. It led me to find my favourite workout.
I got very interested in Strava. Living in Nice, France, there are many climbs ranging from 10 to 40 minutes, so it’s a climbers paradise. We altered the spiked zone 3 work to become ‘Strava day’. I pick three or four climbs that I like and know well, ranging from 12 to 25 minutes, and rather than pressing ‘lap’ and surging at a prescribed time interval, I use the climb to make the surges (accelerating out of hairpins and such). Because there is also a KoM up for grabs and because I often use similar climbs for this workout, I was able to see my times up the climbs using Strava.
The workout is a staple of mine, and I probably do it twice a week most weeks. It builds fitness, pushes FTP up and as I get fitter I increase the wattage. At the start of the year I’d average around 360w for the effort (including the surges); on a good day before something like the Tour de France it would be 400-420. As you get fitter you must train harder and your watts go up.
It’s also great to use a time on a climb as you can see your efficiency rather than just numbers. These efforts benefit my climbing and ability to ride climbs at a hard pace, to follow the surges when someone attacks or changes pace and then still be able to settle back into that hard pace without going into the red or blowing up. It’s lactate adaptation.
Races are won on time not power. By changing my mindset around a basic workout I got a lot more out of it and pushed myself in a quest to climb the Strava leaderboard. It’s still my favourite workout.
Steve Cummings, Dimension Data
LONG HILLY RIDE TO BUILD MENTAL & PHYSICAL STAMINA
My favourite session is a 200km loop in Tuscany. There’s 4,000m of climbing, including the Passo San Pellegrino. The training is not so specific - I ride a good tempo on the climbs, and sometimes do a kilometre at full gas. I like this session because it’s very hard, and eventually after enough loops I feel very strong, physically and mentally.
San Pellegrino is a very tough climb. The last three kilometres have very steep ramps of up to 20 per cent. In June through to the end of August it can be very hot and humid, which I also like.
Emilia Fahlin, FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine-Futuroscope
MOTOR-PACED RACE SIMULATION
My favourite session has to be a scooter motor-paced session. First I go out for a one-and-a-half to two-hour easy warm-up spin, then finish it off with one-and-a-half hours behind the scooter, preferably on a rolling circuit, doing work that is more of a race simulation, along with natural intervals.
These aren’t structured – it’s more like going hard and suffering a lot on the small climbs and getting speed in my legs. I find this really helpful after the base training and specific work has been set, to trigger the legs that little extra to be prepared and get a good feeling for racing. It’s a little race prep hit-out and I’ve found it normally works really well for me. It’s one of the easiest ways for me to push the limits a little.
Anna Plichta, Trek-Segafredo
LONG RIDE AND 40-20 INTERVALS
My favourite training session is endurance training with 40-20 intervals in the last part of the ride. I like this one because I can make a nice circuit and enjoy my favourite roads, but at the same time I keep in my mind that I still have hard work to do at the end. Time goes faster while I need to stay focused on carbohydrate intake and drinking. In this kind of training, staying fuelled until the end is the key, the same as during a race, so this is another benefit from it.
The 40-20 intervals involve maintaining high intensity for 40 seconds followed by 20 seconds of active recovery. You repeat it eight times. During these 40 seconds your muscles are producing lactate as you go above your threshold. The lactate production is faster than can be utilized during only 20 seconds of recovery in between. You feel like your muscles are burning and the lactate level is getting extremely high, so this effort is very challenging.
You have to push your limits and this is the reason why I like this session a lot, even if it hurts. On the one hand it is teaching your body to utilise lactate as quickly as possible, so you can recover better between intervals. On the other it’s very good mental training. Being out of your comfort zone makes you ready for all the hard moments you need to be able to face in the races.
My favourite place for these intervals is the Lanckorona climb just 10km away from my home in Poland. It’s a lovely and very quiet place, where you can enjoy amazing views between your efforts. You can also get a nice coffee there after an exhausting session: extra motivation!
Nikolas Maes, Lotto Soudal
I would suggest that one of my shortest workouts is my favourite. Basically, the length of the training ride doesn’t matter. This one is all about the intensity.
I start with a warm up for about 15 minutes, riding to a small, local circuit (without much traffic on it). The circuit is oval-shaped without junctions, many side streets or any other unsafe conditions. The only climb is a bridge with about 250 metres uphill (at three per cent average).
Once I get to the circuit I start making loops of three minutes, and every time I get to the bridge I go full for 20 seconds (my record is 18). I do these efforts maybe 10 to 12 times with two minutes 40 seconds of complete recuperation in between.I try to focus on the average wattage instead of the peak (for 18-20 seconds I do 1,000-1,200 watts).
This training session sometimes takes only an hour, with an average of 200 watts and 320 watts normalized power. It gives me explosiveness and the ability to accelerate in races.
Joe Dombrowski, EF Education First
FREE-FORM RUN RIDE FROM A TO B
My favourite training session isn’t really a ‘session’ at all. It’s riding point-to-point. There’s something about not having to return to where you started that gives your ride a sense of purpose.
Originally I was on to do the Vuelta a España this year. That changed, and I found myself with a huge gap in my calendar, but too early to take my off-season break, so I decided to do a bike tour. I left from my home in Nice and cycled through the Alps, sleeping in gîtes, and having my fiancée meet me with the car at the end of each day.
It was super. I’d do three or four big cols each day, and just sort of peg it up steep sections, or twisty sections where it just felt good to go fast. In the end, I put in a huge week of riding and trained harder than I would have otherwise. And I got back home in the end motivated to train, having been reminded just how much fun bike riding can be.
Jessica Allen, Mitchelton-Scott
SCENIC ENDURANCE RIDE WITH COFFEE & CAKE
One of my favourite rides is riding along the Costa Brava in spring or autumn. I was born and raised on the coast of Western Australia so the beach has been a huge part of my life, and riding along the Costa Brava coastline makes me feel like I’m at home. I love the peace and tranquility of the ocean and the smell of the salt water.
I really enjoy endurance rides as for these I don’t focus on riding to a certain wattage. It’s more about just simply enjoying riding my bike and appreciating all the beautiful places this sport takes me.
For this particular loop, I rode it on my birthday this year. I started in Girona and headed to Tossa del Mar then along the coast to Platja d’Aro for birthday cake at the Dulce Pikika coffee shop. I then rode back to Girona on gravel. I really enjoy gravel riding too, so this loop ticks all my boxes.
Mat Hayman, retired
OLD-SCHOOL FORM FINDER
There was a period where I had what I used to call a form finder loop. When you knew a big race was coming up, preparing for the Worlds or a classic,there was a big hilly loop that I used
to go around and you’d just smash yourself as hard as you could and hopefully that would be enough, and four, five days later you’d come up with some good form.
I had one in Queensland, a six-hour ride or 200k ride, quite hilly. You knew if you could hit all those climbs or get to the top or use the big ring you were going well. I’d get out there and try to average 300 watts for five or six hours, and go off how you felt in the last hour with where you thought your form was. It’s a bit old school.
It was a long, hard sustained effort, and you really empty yourself out. It was good for your confidence, pitching yourself against yourself and knowing where you were at. Whether that’s necessary, I don’t know, but it’s good for your head as much as your body.
Gracie Elvin, Mitchelton-Scott
GOING BACK TO THE OLD TRAINING ROADS
I’ve been lucky to train and race all over the world in my career, but nearly all my favourite rides are in Australia. I think this is mostly because of the good memories associated with training with my favourite people on bunch rides or epic adventures.
My dad and I have ridden together since the beginning and almost every year we do the same ride just after Christmas on a climb called Brown Mountain in New South Wales. The section we do is about 7.5km at eight per cent average. At first it was such a challenge just to get up it when I was a teenager, and since then I’ve been able to improve my PB time almost every year I return and also do multiple reps.
It’s a nice personal goal before the racing starts for the season, lets me know where my form is at, and is still fun to do with my dad and other people who get roped in, like my husband Stu or friends who want to try it too. It always finishes at the Bemboka pie shop!
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