Coaching – preparing for the Road Racing season

For riders simply aiming to get fit, or targeting sportive events, the previous article on building a base may be all you need to do. Indeed, this may even give you enough fitness to get round in the bunch in local road races. But if you want to start doing better – attacking, getting into breaks, and sprinting for the win – then you need to do some speed specific training as well.

Before looking at this session in detail, it is useful to step back and look at what sort of skills you need to do well in a road race. First, local races are typically 2 – 3 hours, so you need to be able to ride for this length of time without a coffee stop. Harder club runs will develop this skill. Also, large portions of a road race will be fairly steady riding in a group, and club riding will also prepare you well for this. But there are also periods where road races are much faster and “jumpier” – whether that’s attacking off the front, riding across a gap to the break, or sprinting for the finish line. That’s where this session comes in – it’s a chance to make a number of big efforts – between 200m and 1km – that simulate the sort of efforts you’ll need to make in a road race.

As an example, we’ll use the circuit outlined below – from Newtownards to Bangor, round to Holywood, Knocknagoney, up to Knock and then home via Dundonald and the Brae. This circuit has been popular with local racers for decades. It offers a variety of places for different types of effort, and it is also well lit which makes it good for evening training in February and March.


This circuit takes about 75 minutes to ride round. Progression will be achieved by making more efforts (with recovery in between) as the weeks progress. The aim is not to ride round the circuit as quickly as possible – it is to make your planned efforts as hard as possible, and then recover in between so that you are ready for the next one.

Let’s assume you are still doing club runs at the weekends, and you have 10 weeks to build up to your first targets in the road season. You’ve decided to do this session twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Let’s split the 10 weeks into two 5 week cycles.

First 5 week Cycle

The goal of the first 5 week cycle is to get used to the circuit, and to start making some big individual efforts –

  • Week 1 – just ride round the circuit at a brisk pace and get used to it.
  • Week 2 – add in a couple of sprints, e.g. a flat-out 200m sprint at the Folk and Transport museum flyover (D on the map), and a longer effort up the carriageway from Knocknagoney (G on the map – try to wind it up all the way up the drag until you are sprinting flat-out for the sign before the roundabout).
  • Week 3 – add another sprint – maybe another longer effort on the Belfast Road to the top of the Brae (I on the map, level with Ballyrogan Road).
  • Week 4 – add another shorter sprint – try accelerating as hard as you can on the hill approaching Coach Hill Motors (B on the map), and seeing if you can keep accelerating over the top of the hill.
  • Week 5 – ease off a bit and let you body consolidate the gains so far!

I’ve summarised this in the table below. You can clearly see the progression in effort, and the easier 5th week to allow consolidation of the gains.

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5
Tuesday Steady D, G D, G, I B, D, G, I D, I
Thursday Steady D, G D, G, I B, D, G, I D, I

Hopefully after this first 5 week block you’ll already be feeling faster! Don’t be afraid to tweak the plan, and pick different places to make you efforts that better match what you want to improve on.

Second 5 week Cycle

In the second 5 week cycle, we’ll build on the first cycle, but also focus on an extra skill that is key to road racing. You will probably notice that in a road race it is not the first attack that is successful. Often, as one attack is brought back, another will go immediately. A useful skill to have is the ability to make several big efforts close together. We start to build this skill now.

  • Week 6  – just 3 efforts to start getting back into it again – maybe a short, sharp effort at B, and a couple of longer efforts on the last kilometre into Knocknagoney (F on the map) and the last 500m out of Dundonald before you turn onto the old Belfast Road (H on the map).
  • Week 7 – Add in the first “double effort”. F, followed by a couple of hundred yards rest, and then another big effort on G. This simulates riding across to a break, and then making a second big effort to help get the gap established.
  • Week 8. Add in another sprint and another double effort – say D, and then add I straight after H.
  • Week 9. You’re now ready for 4 double efforts. First up is B followed by a sprint to the top of the next smaller hill (C). This simulates two short, sharp attacks in quick succession. Next is D, followed by another effort just over the top of the hill (E) – another two short efforts in quick succession. Then a couple of longer doubles – F&G and H&I as in weeks 2 and 3.
  • Week 10. You want to taper off to your goal now, so just to 2 or 3 efforts in the final week – say D, G and I.

Summarising into a table, this looks as follows –

Week 6 Week 7 Week 8 Week 9 Week 10
Tuesday B, F, H B, F&G, H B, D, F&G, H&I B&C, D&E, F&G, H&I D, G, I
Thursday B, F, H B, F&G, H B, D, F&G, H&I B&C, D&E, F&G, H&I D, G, I

And there you have it – a plan to win the Tour of Ards!

A few final words…. This sort of training is hard. To get the best out of it you have to make 100% efforts, and that is draining both physically and mentally. If you’re doing it properly, you’ll come to dread the sessions, and you’ll need the recovery days in between! But it is also very rewarding and effective. Just make sure you keep a training diary, so that you can adapt and learn what works for you (and what doesn’t).

Ten weeks of that is probably enough for anyone! As the season progresses, and the evenings get brighter, a change of scenery is called for. The next article looks at a slightly different road session in more detail, and also shows how to review a training session.