Coaching – Building a Base

Cycle racing is hard. And training to be successful at cycle racing will also be hard if you want to be successful. As Northern Ireland racing legend Morris Foster used to say at coaching weekends – “sprint ’til yer sick, and then sprint again”….

The next couple of articles in this series outline some specific training sessions that will prepare you for road racing. But before you tackle these sorts of more intense training sessions, you need to “Build a Base”. There are three areas to focus on –

  1. Build a base level of fitness, to prepare your body for the harder sessions to come. Most riders do this by riding club runs at the weekends. Get used to doing 40 to 60 miles at a reasonable pace in a group. Another good technique is riding to work – 10 miles each way is 100 miles a week. Older riders used to call these “stolen miles” because you don’t have to think about them and they don’t take up time because you have to travel to work anyway.
  2. Improve techniques and skills, such as learning how to rider close behind another rider, how to ride in a group, and how to shelter from the wind. Again, club runs are great for this. Mountain Bike runs are also good for building up bike handling skills, especially when the weather is bad and the road is less attractive.
  3. Kelly was famous for being a hard man. But that didn’t happen by chance – he was out training in the sleet in Belgium in January, getting his body and his mind ready for the challenges ahead.

    Build up your mental toughness. Our club coach Gary McGrath used to say, “sure – you couldn’t pay for training conditions like that”. Don’t use bad weather as an excuse not to go out. You’ll have to race in all conditions, so prepare by training in all conditions. A squally hail shower in the Tour of Ards won’t seem as bad if you know you’ve survived 2 hour rides in the snow in January. The only exceptions to this rule are (1) if you are unwell or injured, don’t push things – it is better to skip a week’s training in February, than be forced to take a month off in April, and (2) don’t go out if there is black ice – it is just too dangerous (but an off road run on the MTB is still an option!).

The work you put into your “base” will vary during the year. As the racing season draws to close in September, this is a great time to brush up on your techniques and skills. Do a few MTB runs, instead of the road bike, and maybe try a bit of cycle-cross racing

As you approach Christmas, the club runs will start to build up, and certainly after Christmas the club runs will be getting a little bit faster, and with fewer stops (if any).

Once the racing season starts again in March, the volume of club runs will reduce as time is spent racing at the weekends. However, you might want to introduce a longer, steadier run on a Wednesday.

During the season, depending on the racing schedule, there might be opportunities to take breaks, and do solid blocks of steady miles for a couple of weeks. This will help to establish and consolidate your new level of overall fitness.

And before you know it the racing season will be drawing to a close and the cycle will start again…

Having drawn up your plan, and penciled in your goals and your blocks of base training, the next thing to do is add in some more specific sessions to build up speed and strength in the months and weeks leading up to your main goals. First up is a set of sessions to prepare for start of the road racing season.