The Ultimate Sportive Training Plan

With the launch of Bespoke Travel for 2017, we're already working on our training. We asked one of our coaching contacts, Mike at Bibo Bike Coaching , for his thoughts on how best to prepare for the riding ahead:

Over the next few weeks either Christmas weight gain or New Year's resolve will draw many cyclists' 2017 goals sharply into focus. Something along the lines of;
"Oh dear Lord ! I've put on 5 kilos and I've entered La Marmotte in July ! Time to get riding".

By nothing like coincidence I've been thinking a lot about what makes the perfect Sportive plan, and putting together what I think, and what I have found, is the best approach. It'll be ready right before that Christmas weight gain, somewhere around here.

As with any training plan you need to look at what the event involves before creating the training recipe. The majority of Sportives are hilly, positively mountainous if they are in mainland Europe. They're endurance events. And you probably want to get the ride done as quickly as you can. So endurance, climbing and some sort of speed work are required.

Straight away this deviates from a lot of traditional training plans which are aimed at racers, for whom lactate tolerance and sprinting are important. If you're doing Sportives like that something has gone wrong.

Another traditional approach is to start with long, steady miles at low intensity and ramp up the power as your event gets close. There are two reasons I dislike this approach and think it can be bettered;

The closer to your event you get the more your training should resemble its requirements. Physiological demands aside, imagine you're about to start 160km in the Alps and all you've been doing for the last month is a series of 3 minute intervals - you're unlikely to feel very confident.
It's January, you have 8 hours of daylight in total, it's raining and it's 3ºC. Fancy a slow 5 hour ride ? Thought not…

'Reverse periodisation' has you starting with gaining your top-end fitness, then, once you are fast and fit, getting you to be so for longer durations. The advantage of this approach is that when it's wet, dark and cold outside you can be indoors doing short and sharp (Zone 5) sessions. As the weather warms up and the days get longer, so do your rides.

The caveat for this type of training is that it works best for riders who already have a lot of miles in their legs, at least a couple of year's worth. Beginners are better off riding more often and gradually increasing the duration.

Now you've decided you prefer warm extremities, put that to the test by doing 4-6 weeks of high intensity interval sessions (Zone 5 power or heart rate). Always remember recovery weeks, one or two in the middle and one at the end of the phase. You can keep your endurance ticking over by venturing outside for a couple of hours each weekend.

Around February / March you can start doing some indoor climbing sessions, still pretty short, doing low cadence repetitions in or below Zone 4. Lengthen those outside rides and include some
Zone 4, time trial-like work within them.

Once the clocks have changed, start looking for hills. Ride them often, in dedicated sessions and included within your long rides (which should be getting to about 4 or 5 hours duration now). Those rides should also include Tempo (Zone 3) and Sweet Spot (high Zone 3, low Zone 4) efforts of lengthening durations.

With a couple of months to go start aiming to climb as close to the same number of metres as in your event. In the UK this can be very hard since we don't have the 10+ kilometre climbs that festoon the Alps or Pyrenees. You're likely to find you have to climb the same few hills repeatedly. So be it. It may sound (and feel) interminable but the likes of La Marmotte, L'Etape or the Maratona dles Dolomites will have you doing multiple climbs that, on their own, can take 1 to 2 hours to conquer. "Train hard, race easy" !

Although there isn't really a physiological need to train over 5 hours, knowing what that feels like, including all the ancillary aches and pains that start to emerge after 6 hours or so in the saddle, makes it well worth maxing out your endurance rides at this point. Again, make those as hilly as you can so that you're starting to get the feel for the nature of the event.

With the goal a couple of weeks or so away, at the height of summer, you need to ease off a little. This is sometimes the point where panic training starts, as the realisation hits that a couple of flat rides a week for the last 3 months isn't really going to make an impression on the Col du Tourmalet. Too late. Fitness is training damage, leading to fatigue, followed by recovery. If you crash train at this point you'll rack up the fatigue without the time for recovery - you'll get tired but not fit.

Reduce your weekly hours by up to 50% but return to some of the higher end training, Zone 4 being the most event-specific. Work hard enough to remind yourself of what it feels like but not enough to build up fatigue incrementally. At this point you can't really get any fitter but you can get a lot more fatigued.

On that last point, when you get out to wherever your event is taking place, try not to get too excited and give your best a day or two before the event. It's a shame to spend months of hard earned fitness money right before you need it.

(Of course, if you need more specifics or just want to chat training get in touch here. Check out what else we do here).

Mike Edwards runs Bibo Bike Coaching. He has grown very averse to riding slowly for 5 hours in 3º of rain.

Note: Andrew has ridden with Mike many times, though Bibo Bike Coaching is not affiliated with Bespoke Cycling in any way other than friendship and all of Mike's views expressed above are his own.