How to win a bike race!

Over the years, my thoughts and perspective on racing has evolved significantly. The ways in which I frame the task of racing to win or get results has changed as I have raced more and more and tried to learn a lot from those experiences.

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Very briefly, I’ll summarize by giving a few basic guidelines or heuristics I would consider using in most any race situation:

  • Do the least amount of work possible to accomplish the immediate goal.
  • Don’t hold back from doing the necessary work to accomplish your goal.
  • Take calculated risks. In order to win, you can’t be too afraid of losing.
  • Minimize potential downside. Try to steer away from losing scenarios.
  • Be Stoic and limit any emotional, irrational choices, they often lead to wasted energy and losing scenarios.
  • Watch more than you act, but when you act, do so decisively. Half-measures often lose races.

Really, there’s a million ways that any race could go, and a number of ways that you can approach them. Just as with anything, there can be different ways of viewing the same situation or problem, and there can be different successful ways of addressing that situation or solving that problem. But, it’s good to find a way of framing the situation so that you can see possible solutions that have the potential to work for you. So, the rules above are not necessarily the only or best ways of looking at things, but they are general principles that I’ve found to be pretty effective for me in bike racing. And, as with many things, what can help you to be effective at training for endurance sports or successful at sporting competition often carries over into other spheres of activity. Without getting too far afield of training and racing topics, I think that this is one of the things that I value about bike racing is that it has the potential to teach lessons and skills that can benefit us away from the bike as well.

Going into a little more detail on these points:

  • It is obvious that you should do the least amount of work possible throughout any given race, so that when it matters, you will be fresher and have more energy. Sometimes you need to get to the front of the race to avoid yo-yoing at the back of the pack or to be in position for a climb or technical part of the course. Or, maybe you see a breakaway forming that you recognize is one that you need to be in, but somehow you missed it and want to either shut it down or get across to it. Instead of attacking to get across as soon as you have an opening [like many people do] or putting your head down and blowing yourself up right away trying to chase it back [also something very common], just wait for two seconds and look for opportunities to accomplish that goal with the least amount of energy that you can manage.

In this example, if you wait for the right spot on the course, you may have a much easier time attacking and bridging across. Even if the gap is bigger in 3 minutes’ time, but there’s a good hill that’s sufficiently long for the bridge effort, then you can just relax, focus, hold off, and then go at the right moment. Or if you want to have the field re-group and not let that breakaway get away, then you could wait to see if someone else is also anxious about it. You may not have to chase at all. Or, maybe you have a teammate or a couple of friends that can help chase it back. Or, if you’re all on your own, then consider when and how to most effectively shut down the breakaway.

I’ve been in a lot of races over the years without any teammates where I was one of the riders other people would play off of, because I was one of the stronger riders in the field, and rightly so. It made it harder for me to win, but it was great fun, a great challenge, and made me learn a lot over the years. Keep in mind that I’m a strong climber and time-trialist… My two favorite tactics for shutting down a break that I didn’t like, assuming that I didn’t want to try to bridge across to it was 1) just put my head down and pull it most of the way back as soon as I saw a good opening. This was only made better if it was on a hill or in a cross-wind, because then my effort would help everyone get to the break, but it would hurt their legs as well as my own. Or 2) jump hard, but not too hard, to make a bridging effort, but not one that I really cared about. Whenever someone attacks in a race, people take notice, and almost always someone will respond, especially if people are on edge about seeing a breakaway forming and riding away from the field. So, if I want a break to come back and it has 10 or 15 seconds, I might try to float back to 10th wheel and then wind-up at 80% effort to jump off the front of the field and get 2/3 of the way across the gap. If you do this right, then someone else will get on your wheel and 3 or 4 other people will get antsy and chase after you. Before you know it, you’re most of the way across the gap with the field scrambling to catch you and regroup, but at that point, the breakaway is barely ahead of the field, which has a lot of extra momentum. At this point the field will regroup as the break sits-up, someone else in the field assumes the chase, or a few other guys see their opportunity and jump to the break, closing the gap.

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Those are just examples, but hopefully you get the idea. There’s often more than one way to get what you want, and you just have to look for the easiest one.

  • Many people realize how important it is to be efficient and save energy while racing bikes, but this leads to a lot of racers being too complacent, too often assuming that other people will do the necessary work. Sure, it’s smart to let other racers do your work for you, but when people become too passive and only race negatively, it doesn’t make for fun, exciting, dynamic racing, and those riders who do absolutely nothing until the finishing sprint or climb usually don’t get the best results. Rather, always look for the decisive moments or situations in every race and be ready for them, willing to put in the work required to make it. Sometimes you need to dig deep to get over a climb, make it across a gap, or make a split in the wind, but you need to be willing to bury yourself if and when it’s necessary. This is a part of why cycling is such a great sport. You win races by being smart but also by being willing to turn yourself inside out if and when you need to. Sometimes these moments are predictable, because the course has a hill on it that you know will get harder every lap until the last lap or two it will shatter the field, or because there’s a strong wind and half-way through the road race there’s an extended stretch of crosswinds where the field will break apart. Be ready for those predictable moments. Also watch and pay attention to what the field is doing. Sometimes there are unpredictable moments when you may have to put in a lot of work to make things happen. Often these are the moments where that work may not pay off with anything but fatigue, but they may allow you to win or get on the podium where if you hadn’t acted, you would have had no chance of finishing well.
  • Racing to win has to be proactive and not just passive or reactive. Sure, you can get top 10 results or even top 5s and occasional podium spots, but in order to win you have to either be stronger than everyone else [usually not the case] or you have to make a decision or series of decisions to put yourself out there and invest in pushing a position that may win or lose you the race, but at least you have a shot at winning, whereas if you sat back, you would never win it. This isn’t license to just put your head down and hope for the Hail-Mary solo move from 10 miles out. Yes, these suicide moves can work, but usually they don’t. Rather, look for the moment of weakness in your competitors or look for where the race course will be hardest or suit you best. Look for hesitation, inattentiveness, or complacency. When you think the odds might be in your favor, and you think you might have the legs for it, you just have to go for it if you want to make things happen. There are many instances in which this won’t work out. You may waste a lot of energy, but if you’re smart and stubborn, you may still win it if you keep your eyes open and don’t let yourself give up. Sometimes you may lose the race, but if you had never done anything in the first place, you would never have at least had the chance of winning. You will lose most of the races you start, but if you keep at it, keep training, keep learning, and putting in your best effort, you may well get on the podium or win. [Again, something that applies to other activities throughout our lives.]
  • Over the years, I think that I started being less anxious about winning or losing, and that freed me up to go for it more freely when I did in fact go all-in. It also meant that I could often take more of a step back and observe, look for opportunity, and try to take advantage of situations that presented themselves. I’ve always been an aggressive racer and more often than not was one of the people forcing the race to go a certain way, but the better I got at racing, the more I think that I wasn’t looking for ways to win and trying to force that to happen so much as I was looking for the ways in which I was likely to lose the race and try to avoid those scenarios. There’s many ways to win a race and you can’t necessarily know until it’s done which way is going to be the right day at that particular race. But, there are a lot of ways to lose a race and those are often much more predictable. Doing a ton of effort for little or no reason, putting a lot of energy into a tactic or strategy with little chance of success, or missing the key move are all things that greatly increase your chances of getting a poor result… On the starting line of any race, there are a lot of people that could potentially win the race if the circumstances are right for them, but by the end of the race there are usually only a few riders who still have a chance. Between the start and the finish, the potential winners usually avoided falling into losing situations, whereas the people who are no longer fully in the race are the ones that put their efforts into the wrong moves, the wrong tactics, missed the big moves, or wasted energy making up for blunders. If you can minimize all of the scenarios that you see as working against you, then you will slowly but surely home in on an end-race scenario that has better chances of a good result than when you started the race. But, of course, realize that you can’t control the race. You can be proactive and help shape it, but never see a loss as a failure. Losses just show you yet another way that a race can go and you can look back on it to see where you might have done things differently to get a better result. [This is no doubt true elsewhere in life. You have to see failures as learning experiences. Anybody that does anything interesting or exceptional in life no doubt sees a lot of failures, shortcomings, or detours before they see success. You just have to learn and keep going.]
  • Emotions are great, or can be. They make things interesting and if we didn’t have them, we literally couldn’t enjoy anything in life. But, it also exposes us to pain and fear… We have to be aware of these things and keep them in check when we make decisions racing. A lot of mistakes are made because people are anxious in races, angry, or question themselves and lack confidence. Sometimes people are afraid of losing or afraid of pain. Much of the time, the self-talk people may engage in or the anger, doubts, or fears they have will influence the decisions they make, and often this isn’t working in their favor. If you’re afraid that you can’t win a sprint finish, then you attack 5 miles out and hope for a solo win off the front. [I’ve done this.] If you’re afraid that you can’t sustain your effort as long as you have to, you ease up and stop suffering, and get dropped over the climb or through the crosswinds when really, everyone else was suffering too and if you had just held on for another minute or 30s or even 15s sometimes, you could have stayed with the group or been just close enough to catch back onto the group on the descent. Sometimes if you are angry at another racer for something they said or did against you during the race, then you might proactively race against them, but hurt your own chances in the long run… Emotions are fine, just be aware of them and try to make a fair assessment of the situation that isn’t too heavily colored by your feelings about the situation. Being Stoic like this can help you out immensely in races.
  • Lastly, be just a little more patient and watch the race just a little more than you do. Or maybe a lot more. If you watch and read the race better, then you can be more decisive when you act, and you can act less frequently. The less you react on impulse at every little twitch of the field, the more energy you save. The more you watch for the key, decisive moments, the more you can be ready to give the necessary effort into the task at hand. Smart racers don’t react impulsively. They watch and wait. Sometimes you may not be sure and have to just make a choice to act or hold back. Sometimes you may question your choice, but until you reach the finish line, you won’t know for sure… Sometimes you may be forced to make a half-measure of doing some work but not fully committing. If you are engaged in a half-measure, be sure that there’s a good reason for it. Hedging in races is smart, but only if you’re hedging in the right ways. Sometimes your only option is to go one way, and when it is, you have to go for it.

There’s a million ways that races can go, and you can keep learning for years through hundreds of races how to race better and smarter. Above are just a few thoughts of mine on how I think about racing and how to win races. I hope some of that is useful or interesting to you, and again, there are a lot of ways that you can frame things in your own head. It isn’t right or wrong to think of things in these terms or another, but for most of us, it just matters whether we can work towards our desired results, so hopefully some of this helps you to that end. Or if you have your own way of thinking about racing, just be sure to evaluate from time to time whether your way of thinking is effective or needs some change… Life is change, after all. I’m pretty sure we stop changing, learning, and evolving when we die.

Q & A: Some guidelines and some lessons I’ve learned

What should I do to get faster?

Well, faster how? What do you do now? What are your weak areas? Do you want to have a better top-end speed sprinting against your buddies or at the finish of races? Do you want to be able to hammer short 2m rollers better? What about finishing a long ride with a quicker average pace? There’s a lot of ways to get faster, but of course this question is probably the most frequently asked in one form or another. But of course, it’s a very open ended question, ultimately raising the issue of specificity.

Training is all about getting better at the kind of activity that you practice, or becoming more resistant to specific types of fatigue. Whatever you want to get better at is what you should be doing in training, and you should also include any similar intensities or activities so that your strength is more well-rounded. If you want to sprint better, then you need to practice sprinting. If you want to do long climbs better, then you need to ride long climbs. You will want to train at the goal intensity as well as above and below that intensity by 10 to 20%. If your goal is to do a 30m hill climb at, say, 300w because that’s about what your previous peak 30m power is or perhaps it’s slightly more, then you should do some 30-60m threshold efforts at 90-95% of your goal power. You should also do 3-5m intervals at 110-120% of your goal power. By doing this, you can increase your aerobic efficiency and muscular endurance by doing longer efforts than your goal, and you can get more comfortable at or near your VO2-max so that when you’re doing your goal effort it’s well below that upper limit. You’ll be more comfortable when you need to go a little extra hard to get up some steep pitches or get out of the saddle for brief periods. If you’re trying to become a better sprinter, for example, then you need to increase your leg-speed, power, and efficiency. You need to practice sprinting, but also sprinting with high leg-speed as well as with high-torque (i.e. lower leg speed).

 

How much should I ride?

In short, as much as you can while still enjoying or improving your riding. That benefit may be fitness related, or it may have to do with personal satisfaction. Your main constraint may be time availability and scheduling, in which case you want to build up your volume as much as you reasonably can fit into your week. Or if you have a lot of flexibility, then you may want to train as much as you will enjoy or will help enable you to reach your goals. If it’s the latter, remember that more riding is not better, rather more riding may be good as long as you can recover effectively from it.

Training is ultimately always a matter of stress and recovery. The best training has these in balance, hopefully stressing your body at higher and higher levels as you adapt and continue to recover from the stress you expose your body to. You can enhance this recovery by having good diet and good sleep, but also to a lesser extent by other things like self massage, light stretching, swimming, etc. If you can’t recover and get stronger from your training, then you should look at ways to increase or enhance your recovery (eat better post-ride meals, sleep more, get more massage, etc.), but if you are doing what you can and cannot bring your recovery to a level that allows you to progress in your fitness level, then you should consider reducing your overall training load. Sometimes you may be able to maintain the intensity of your hard workouts, but just reduce your total training volume just a bit. Sometimes just that extra hour or two of riding each week means that your body can’t recover as well as it could. Just reducing your calorie expenditure by that last 300 or 500 or 1000 calories each week may be the difference of progress and stagnation.

Once you’ve built up your volume as much as you are going to, then it’s a matter of increasing the difficulty of your training within that time by slowly increasing the average intensity of your training, by increasing the maximal intensity of your hard efforts, or by making training more challenging by doubling up on workouts or modifying your diet. This can become more challenging and complex, how you balance workouts, training volume, recovery between workouts, and diet as you strive for ever increasing performance or satisfaction in your riding. It’s probably worth it’s own article. 🙂

 

How often should I ride hard?

Again, this comes down to what your training routine is like and how well you can recover from harder training sessions. For many people, just two hard workouts each week is plenty of stress for them, and it may take 2 or 3 days to recover from the hard workouts, leaving the rest of the week to be taken as off or easy days. For many people, they may manage well with a couple of hard workouts each week, one or two moderate workouts, and a couple of easy or off days. For high level athletes training to peak or getting prepared for multi-day events, they may occasionally do multiple hard workouts in a week or in a row as a hard training block. This is usually the exception to the rule, and wouldn’t be done too regularly. If it was the rule, then probably the workouts aren’t actually hard enough to make them totally worth while. As a rule, riding somewhat hard all of the time isn’t the best way to progress.

For most people, the best strategy is to do a hard workout followed by 1-3 days off or easy. This strategy is effective and easy to implement. It allows you to be pretty sure that you will be fresh and ready for a hard workout when you plan to do one. Or if your schedule is highly variable, you may just plan 2 or 3 workouts each week, and you can work them in on the days that you have time, and all of the other days can be taken as they come with off or easy workouts, or maybe some cross-training. Depending again on your goals, you may want to do some workouts back to back either to enhance your ability to deal with intensity day after day (e.g. if you are planning on doing multi-day events), or to increase your endurance by doing a long or hard ride followed by another endurance session. Doing endurance training in a pre-fatigued state can be very effective for building endurance, but it is also challenging, so you want to be sure to recover well after double sessions like that, and plan accordingly. It’s not usually something to be done very frequently.

Just as this question will  have different answers for different people, then This question is likely to have different answers at different times of the season. If you are trying to build up volume and focusing more on strength and endurance, and less on high-aerobic or anaerobic fitness, then you may only do 1 or 2 moderately hard workouts each week, but may include more mileage in your overall routine and maybe a few drills in most of your rides. Or if you are getting ready for a peak in the middle of the season because you have some target event(s) to prepare for, then you may do 3 or 4 hard workouts in a week, before taking a several day long taper, while still maintaining some level of intensity.

What do I do with my power meter?

The most basic thing you can do is to use it as a measure of intensity on your rides or during intervals or hard efforts. Usually for longer efforts, I would use it early to make sure you don’t overdo it. Late in efforts, it can be good to keep you on task and help prevent you from letting your power drop too much when you’re tired. For shorter efforts, it can be good to gauge your intensity from start to finish, again, but the more intense any given effort is, the harder it is for you to always achieve your best power. So, you can have a target power in mind for short intervals, but you may want to adjust accordingly depending on your fatigue or other circumstances. Ideally, you will always use the power meter to maximize the overall quality of your training. Usually this would consist of trying to do all of your intervals at about the same power, and for anything longer than a minute or so, would probably include keeping a fairly steady power throughout each interval.

You can use power to see peak performances, and then to estimate sub-maximal performances. Each season or over all of your data, you can see what your personal best power is for every duration and then see how your current performances stack up against them. You can see how your power compares to other athletes. You can see how good your workouts are from week to week, month to month, and season to season. Often, if you know what your recent peak power is for various durations, you can use that data to help set guidelines for workouts. For example, if you know your peak 60m power, then you may try to do 95-100% of that power for a 3x15m threshold workout. Or you may use your 10-12m peak power as a goal for a 4x4m VO2-max workout.

Over time, you can gauge the overall difficulty and quality of your training. You can see how much work you do each week. And maybe you’d even track how much power you do over time relative to your HR, as a means of tracking aerobic fitness.

There’s a lot you can do with power, but those are some of the basics and some of the more important ones.

What do I do with my HR monitor?

Like power, HR is a very helpful tool to use to gauge intensity, but it’s even a little more helpful with respect to aerobic intensity and current fatigue levels. For shorter efforts, a small to large portion of your power may be derived from anaerobic energy sources, and power can be good for measuring those kinds of efforts, but for longer efforts, power and HR are both very useful metrics to pay attention to. Often, it’s good to use HR as a goal and as an upper limit for your training intensities, and maybe sometimes, but rarely as a lower limit. E.g. you may do VO2-max intervals with the intention of reaching a HR of 170 or close to it, but over your 4 minute intervals, your HR will likely climb for the first 2-3 minutes and only peak a bit in the last 1-2 minutes, so you’d only be interested in seeing your peak HR numbers in that last portion of each interval.  HR is most effective for measuring efforts lasting longer than 4 or 5 minutes. It can also be good to keep you focused on longer rides, where you want your HR elevated so that you’re getting a workout, but not so high that you can’t sustain the intensity or so high that your long ride becomes so stressful that it takes days to recover from it. Often longer rides are best done with a mix of comfortable endurance riding and some shorter moderate to intense efforts, so maybe 90% of your weekend long ride is done at, say, <140 HR, and maybe for one or two 10-20 minute climbs in the middle, maybe you ride at >160 HR to get a good tempo or threshold workout in, for example.

Should I make a training plan?

Yes, but make it work for your routine. Some people will benefit from having a set routine that they follow every week and just vary the details slightly from week to week. Some people will benefit from having a progressive training plan with detailed workouts throughout the whole year. Others may benefit from just having a check-list of workouts or types of workouts that they want to include in their training every week or every few weeks, and then just fit them in as they can with a variable schedule. Set yourself up for success and plan according to your personality, training goals, and scheduling opportunities. Don’t set up a highly detailed training plan that is ultimately impossible to follow and sets you up for thinking that you’re failing at your training goals. Likewise, if you will benefit from having specific tasks to accomplish on each ride, it may be in your best interest to have specific workouts or workout guidelines to follow for each ride so that you can head out every day with purpose and come home at the end of each training session thinking that you did a good job and accomplished your goals. Many people will have their needs met somewhere in-between the fully structured and the totally unstructured training plan, but having some sort of gameplan is totally worth while.

The Essentials: My Personal Rules

Over the years, I’ve gone from runner to mixed-sport athlete to cyclist to limited time cyclist. I’ve learned a lot from reading and researching, as well as from personal experience. I’ve done everything from running 5 hours a week, riding 20-plus hours a week, I’ve gone to the gym, and I’ve mixed them all together at the same time. From all of those last 20-years of sports activities, I think there are a few things that I’d say have become pretty core ideas that I follow and routines that I try to do on a regular basis regardless of how much time I spend training. I do these things in order to stay fit and fast, try to maximize health and longevity. They follow in no particular order. And, it’s worth noting that I say in my title that these are “rules,” but I really mean “rules of thumb.” Our bodies react well to a lot of things, and a little bit goes a long way in making ourselves fitter or healthier. Doing everything “right” all of the time will likely get you a little bit better results, but stressing over trivial details is probably not necessary for all of us just trying to stay healthy and fit. If you’re trying to set records and win championships, then you should pay attention to all of the details you can, but for the rest of us, much of that is just noise. If you can get some of the key stuff down 90% of the time, you’ll probably get 99% of the benefits.

Train for endurance by getting glycogen depleted on a regular basis. One of the best things you can do to enhance endurance is to deplete your glycogen stores in training. This shifts your metabolism more and more towards fat-burning and glycogen sparing. It forces your body to cope with the perceived stress of having a lack of glucose available, and it responds by producing more fat-burning enzymes. The more enzymes you have, the more fuel you can burn. If you always consume a lot of carbohydrates in your diet and during training sessions, then your body may be able to avoid ever being really stressed from a fuel-availability standpoint. Some researchers have seen high-level endurance athletes capable of burning 50 or 60 grams of fat per hour, whereas even trained athletes with little fat-burning capacity, may only burn 30-40 grams per hour. This may be half or less of the amount of work you want to do on your bike. Fat takes more oxygen to burn than carbohydrate, but most people could theoretically burn much more fat than they do if they really needed to and their body produced more fat burning enzymes to do so. The best way to do this is to ride to the point of bonking. Or, if you’re like me and you don’t necessarily bonk so much as you just ache more and get slower, then go for that. You can even hasten the process by limiting carbohydrate intake in your diet some or all of the time. You can skip breakfast before your weekend long ride, or you could avoid having carbohydrate for breakfast so that your body has to burn more fat right off the bat. I’ve found that a 5 hour ride with food may leave me even less depleted to a 3 hour ride without. If you’re trying to increase endurance and metabolic efficiency, then it’s worth considering dietary changes, or doing back-to-back medium-to-longer rides. Both techniques will preemptively reduce your glycogen stores and will increase your fat-dependency during and after the training session.

Train for endurance by stressing your strength endurance. The metabolic component of endurance is very important, but it’s only a part of what makes a strong rider. As you get fitter, you can probably maintain a low level of power more or less indefinitely. For a moderately fit rider, the difference between riding 3 hours and 6 hours is more just a difference of how long you’re out there and how much you eat and drink, and a lot less about your average power or your average pace for that ride. But, for anyone that is concerned about racing or finishing a ride strong, it’s not just a matter of how much you can keep moving for your weekend 5 hour ride, road race, or endurance mountain bike event, it’s also a matter of whether or not you can cope with short bursts of speed and power getting over hills or making big changes in pace along the way.

To put it in perspective, we could do a thought experiment. How long is the longest ride that you think you could do and still finish without feeling totally cracked? Maybe for you that’s going to be a 3 hour ride, maybe 5 hours, or maybe 8 hours. Anyway, just imagine riding for that amount of time at a pretty steady pace on flat to rolling terrain. You would never really let your power or HR drop much, but you’re also never pushing the pace above, say, 3/4 of your threshold power/intensity. At the end of that ride, imagine doing a time-trial as hard as you can go up your favorite 10 minute climb. You’d probably be pretty slow, right? Maybe it will take you 13 minutes instead of 10. Maybe it’ll take you 15 minutes. The more fit you are, the less you will slow down when you’re fatigued.

Now in that scenario, you would probably have a lot of neuromuscular fatigue and you would probably be pretty low on glycogen. Now imagine two other scenarios. Let’s say after doing this long ride that finishes with a time trial, you take a few days to recover and you do the same time trial again. But, instead of riding for 5 hours beforehand, you go warm up for 30 minutes on the bike, and then go to the gym. You spend the next 45 minutes doing as many squats, lunges, leg-presses, dead-lifts, quad extensions, and other leg exercises that you can. During this workout you focus on doing about 75% of your max lift for a few dozen sets of 12-20 reps, and almost every set after the first few is done to failure or one rep short of failure. After 20 minutes, you might only be doing 5 or 6 reps, because you’re getting tired. Now, get on your bike and go do a time trial on that same climb. Imagine your gym is 5 minutes’ ride away from the climb. You aren’t going to be glycogen depleted, and even if you had drink mix or gels during your workout, you’ll still be well off your best time up that climb.

Or, imagine a very different scenario where you eat less than 50 grams of carbohydrate per day for a week straight. You could still be riding and training, but you’d be taking it pretty easy. Then, after a good 45 minute warm-up, you go out and do that same hill-climb time-trial. How fast do you think you’re going to go? Not very fast. But, this is because you’re glycogen depleted from dietary restriction.

In each scenario you’re seeing diminished performance, but for different reasons.You can see your power drop because of a lot of different things. Glycogen depletion and neuromuscular fatigue are the two biggest limiters, and those are two of the main things to focus on in training to improve endurance performance. Just be aware that they are not the same thing and that they are trained differently. Often, good training will train both, but sometimes you may focus on one or the other.

 Train the neuromuscular system to be strong, powerful, and durable. It’s a skill to be able to pedal your bike at high power levels. You need to practice it. Even if you aren’t trying to be in peak shape, and you’re just building strength early in the season, you can still work on improving strength and power. You don’t want to create too much stress by doing multiple sets of all-out intervals lasting 30s to 2m long, but you can still do a lot of time at those high power levels and high levels of torque without creating huge amounts of stress. Include drills in your training to work on peak power and sustained power for short periods of time. E.g. 6-10s sprints, 15-20s big-gear sprints, 30s seated accelerations at about your 2m peak power at 85-90 rpm, long 2-5m intervals at tempo or threshold power but at 75-85 rpm. Over the course of a 2 hour training session, you could do a few dozen 20s seated accelerations at your 1m peak power and it will create a lot of muscular fatigue and will help you improve your efficiency and power, but since the efforts are so short, it won’t create nearly as much metabolic and hormonal stress as it would if you did, say, an 8x1m interval workout as hard as you can.

Train high-end aerobic power every week. It doesn’t take a lot of stress on your body to maintain a lot of your fitness. Every week, after you’re warmed up and feel ready to push the pace a little bit, I would be sure to push the pace up a few climbs or along a stretch of road where you can keep pushing the pace a bit. You don’t need to set any PRs or turn yourself inside out, but if you do a 2 hour easy ride after work and you find that you’re feeling pretty good, then maybe in the second hour you can ease into a pretty stiff pace over a few of the climbs. If you feel really good, then feel free to let it go and do a full-gas effort up a favorite climb. Don’t do that every week, and definitely don’t do that every ride, but once or twice a month is good for you.

Train anaerobically at least a little every few weeks. If you want to be faster, want to sprint better, want to be a better racer, or faster on group rides and race rides, then you should practice sprinting and doing anaerobic intervals. Even if you aren’t a sprinter, or a bike racer, or care at all about anything but endurance, then you should do sprints and anaerobic intervals sometime. It boosts your fitness both for sprinting and endurance, it’s good for your hormones, it’s good for your strength and coordination, and will help you be a more complete rider and athlete. You can have fun with it and just sprint over little rollers on your normal routes sometimes. You can do group rides that have sprint points or race rides that involve a lot of hard accelerations way above your threshold power. Or, you can just go out and do short 15s or 30s intervals. If you’re just trying to stay fit, then I would recommend adding short efforts for fun a few times a week at random, or include a couple of simple workouts a month. Just go out and do 2 sets of 5 sprints 10-30s long every 60-90s. Don’t overthink it or worry about doing it right or what power or heart-rate you should shoot for, just have fun and do it. If you’re trying to be a successful racer, then you probably need to be more careful about adding in 1 or 2 workouts each week. You probably need to think about whether you should be doing these intervals climbing or seated, fresh or back-to-back with short recovery. These workouts can be very taxing or only moderately so, so you need to pay attention to what kinds of races you’re going to be doing and how much this kind of fitness is necessary. You should pay attention to what races you’re doing and whether you can reduce your anaerobic training because you’re racing this weekend. Just pay attention and be sure not to overdo it. The more intense the workouts are, the more easily you can get to a point of fatigue and diminishing returns or reduced performance. If you are just trying to be healthy and fit and enjoy riding, then it’s not a big deal to just take an extra few days or weeks off or easy. If you’re gearing up for a big race, then you should be careful and listen to your body. Don’t be afraid to push workouts up when you’re ready for them, or delay or modify them if they are too much at that point in time. Sometimes just pushing back a workout by 1 day, or doing 2 sets of intervals instead of 3 may be the difference between continued progress and a feeling of stalled progress.

Sleep as much as you can get away with. This one is simple. Sleep more than you do right now. I’m actually writing this past the time that I would normally want to be in bed. I fully understand and appreciate the challenges of having a lot of work, family, school, and friend obligations. It’s easy to get carried away and put off sleep until late at night or drop hours of sleep because you’re trying to add hours of other things to your schedule. Sometimes there is more to do than we think we have time for. But, when it comes down to it, sleep is one of the best things we can do for our health and our athletic and mental performance. There are plenty of high level athletes who are known for sleeping upwards of 10 hours a night. We’re evolved to sleep about 1/3 of every day. Try to have good sleep hygiene to ensure sleep quality is at it’s best. Sleep at the same time window every day. Anything that can be done at 11pm, can probably also be done at 8am. Sometimes you just need to call it quits and retire for the evening. It shouldn’t be a luxury to get 7 hours or 8 hours of sleep every night any more than it should be a luxury to eat fresh vegetables. They’re both integral to good health and high performance.

Train your weaknesses, especially if you’re trying to be competitive. Many bike racers don’t actively win races, they just don’t lose them. Or rather, a lot of people have the potential to win races or be on the podium, but they do things in training that don’t give them the fitness they need to get there, or they do things tactically in races that sabotage their chances of success. When it comes to training, just look at the races you want to do well at, and consider what your challenges would be. Does the race have big climbs? Will it finish in a sprint? Do you need to work on your ability to climb for 5 or 10 or 20 minutes at a time? Do you need to work on sprinting at the end of several minutes of hard, race-pace riding while fighting for position? Are there things that can help you win the race? Can you outclimb or outsprint people for the win? You should make sure you don’t have big holes in your fitness that will prevent you from winning and make sure that if you need certain tools to get in the podium, that you have them. Then, in races, you need to make sure you’re not wasting energy when you can save it, and you need to make sure you’re not out of position when you need to be. A lot of the time, people go into a race fully capable of a good result, but they squander their energy following early race moves that are doomed to failure, or they miss out on a split in a crosswind that could have been foreseen. Just think about where the challenges will be and think about how you can get through those. If you can get through the tough parts and spend less energy doing it than other riders, then you’re more likely to be in a position to do well at the finish line.  If you don’t see things coming, and have to ride unnecessarily hard to close a gap, get through a crosswind, or bridge across to another group after splits occur, then you’re missing out on energy savings that could have helped you at the end.

Eat lots of vegetables. Eat as few processed foods as possible. Nuts and fruits are totally fine in moderation. Meat is probably fine in modest quantities. Eat carbs in proportion to your high-intensity exercise. Generally avoid processed carbohydrates unless you’re training hard or racing. Avoid dairy (except for cream in coffee).

I’m pretty sure that most people want to be healthy, live longer, reduce their chances of having a whole class of lifestyle diseases, etc. If all you ever did was avoid processed foods, eat mostly vegetables, and exercise moderately on a regular basis and intensely some of the time, you’d be doing yourself a bigger favor than any drug or supplement or set of genes could ever do for you. Not everyone has the genes and epigenetics to get them to the Olympics, but almost all of us has a body that will take care of them 99% of the time if we take care of ourselves.