What's Really Holding You Back?
You get to the final of the race in great position, you saved energy, fueled properly and raced smart. Now all you have to do is finish off, but there’s no more juice in the legs. When you go back and analyze your power data later, you find that your numbers were far below your best. You should have been able to do more, and you’ve done way more power in training recently.
Many will experience this and, while searching for a well-intended solution, often think: “I just need more intensity,” or “I just need to train my sprint more.” However, if you find that your performance drops off at the end of races and you aren’t able to reproduce your best power numbers, this is often the exact opposite of what you should do.
In cycling, it’s not the rider who has the highest power numbers right out of the blocks who will succeed, but the rider who has the ability to repeat those efforts over and over again with little- to-no decline in power. There are riders who have and insanely high VO2-max or a killer sprint, but they don’t win many races. It doesn’t matter if you can do a 1400-watt sprint while fresh if you’re too tired to replicate that at the end of a criterium.
For these reasons it is critical to train your repeatability to improve racing performance. So how can train your repeatability?
The best way to train your repeatability is not by going hard, but by going easy. This is a common pitfall for many cyclists. The common line of thinking is that you must go out and hammer all day if you want to be prepared for hard racing. While there is a place for these types of workouts, they should be a very small component of your training program. You will find far more benefit from riding easy.
Riding in your lower aerobic zones (zones 1 and 2) can help to improve your body’s fat burning capabilities. This has nothing to do with weight loss! Rather, it will help to spare your limited glycogen reserves.
Your body can only store a small amount of glycogen (comprised of carbohydrates) in your muscles. Once you run out of glycogen, it’s game over. Any intensity above tempo zone utilizes almost exclusively carbohydrates. If you don’t have any glycogen left at the end of the race, it is impossible to put out your best numbers when it matters most.
Fortunately, even lean athletes have practically unlimited energy stored in the form of fat. If you can train your body to use more fat as fuel, you can preserve muscle glycogen for the end of the race.
This is why riding in your endurance zone should comprise the majority of your training program. The only way you can train your body’s fat-burning capabilities is by riding in these zones. Any time you go above these zones, you will begin to burn more carbohydrates than fat and you are defeating the purpose of the ride!
Lactate Threshold (LT) Training
The other way to improve your repeatability is by training your lactate threshold. This seems trivial to many criterium racers. How is riding at a steady pace going to prepare you for explosive criterium racing? However, this is the missing link for many natural-born sprinters.
First, training your LT will, of course, improve your threshold power. The higher your threshold power, the less frequently you will reach your top-end zones over the course of the race, meaning that you will not tap into your glycogen stores as much. This becomes more important the longer the race goes.
Secondly, Training at your LT is incredibly effective for teaching your body to recycle lactate and prevent it from accumulating in your muscles. Whenever you do an effort above your LT, you will begin to accumulate lactate in the muscles. This lactate dissociates and causes an increase in hydrogen ions in your muscle. That’s the burning sensation you feel in your legs when you’re on the limit.
The quicker you can clear lactate out of the muscle after a hard effort, the quicker you can repeat the effort again. In an intense finish of a race, you can see how this would be very helpful while following attacks or fighting for position in the wheels.
The body is a complex machine and things aren’t always what they seem on the surface. Oftentimes, we must dig a little deeper to find out the “missing link” to a rider’s training. Of course, the missing link is different for everyone and depends on your rider type and training history. Thanks for reading!