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Cycling - Planning the Training

The Tour de France, with its harsh regime of hundreds of miles of race cycling on consecutive days, must represent one of the peak challenges in sport. If you are a keen cyclist, however, you are unlikely to be training for such a feat of endurance. More commonly, you will be doing road races at the weekend and occasional time trials, cycling during triathlons, or you may even venture onto the track.

Demands of the sport

Racing cyclists usually possess high levels of aerobic endurance since most road races last well over an hour. Due to their long duration, aerobic efficiency is also a vital requirement. If you succeed in endurance cycling, you need a well-developed oxygen transport system, which often gives rise to high VO2 max values. Elite cyclists have been measured to be able to pick up, transport and utilise 7 litres of oxygen per minute. A high VO2 max is not enough, however, to guarantee success in cycling events. Due to their long duration, aerobic efficiency is also a vital requirement. As with marathon runners, you must be able to work at a high percentage of your VO2 max without accumulating lactate. Once it does start to accumulate, indicating a more significant contribution of anaerobic metabolism to the energy supply, you must reduce the workload to avoid premature fatigue.

The high levels of aerobic conditioning needed to give you this aerobic efficiency also hold another advantage, the ability to use a higher proportion of fat rather than carbohydrate for muscle fuel. Aerobic conditioning enhances the ability to use abundant fats while exercising, thus sparing your limited precious carbohydrate stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen. Nevertheless, the ability to use anaerobic metabolism is another training aspect that must not be neglected. If your opponent or rival puts in a burst of speed that you need to cover, you may have to dig deep and rely on a more significant contribution of anaerobic metabolism to the energy supply. This may also be the case if you encounter a tough hill. In other words, low-intensity aerobic work alone is not enough if you want to succeed as a cyclist. Sheer muscle strength is another essential requirement. Cycling, after all, is a power endurance activity, so if you have a high level of muscular strength, you will need to use a smaller percentage of your maximum strength to maintain the same workload.

Phases of training

As with many sports, the main competition period occurs in the summer. The season can stretch for as long as 30 weeks, so planning your training to suit your racing requirements is essential. Since it is not realistic to maintain a peak over several months, you may have to choose the part of the season that is most important for you and peak then, or you can plan two separate peaks. This will depend on your own racing goals. Whether you aim to win the national championships or to perform well in a couple of league races, you must try to be single-minded and not expect to race well for successive weeks before and after the peak. It is more realistic to use additional races as hard training, which may come in the middle of hard weeks, so that when you ease up on the training load, your performance will be boosted for the competitions that matter.

The pattern of your year will be higher mileage and endurance work during the winter, which for safety reasons may be carried out indoors on rollers. During the spring, you may want to change the emphasis to more quality work, with less training volume, bringing you towards your competition period, where the focus is on sharpening with a tapered volume. IIt is not sensible to train hard during the weeks you want to race well.

The training week

Throughout the year, you should train the whole fitness spectrum; the proportions change as the months pass. You must perform long steady-state rides at a low intensity to encourage and improve your ability to metabolise fats. These rides will last several hours. You will do more during the winter, but they should be kept up throughout the year. These rides will typically last around 30 minutes, outside of warm-up and cool down. Threshold training will help to increase the speed at which the anaerobic threshold occurs and should thus elevate your racing speed. High-intensity training may help raise your VO2 max and increase your ability to tolerate acidic conditions in fast bursts or up a hill. You would generally perform these sessions in intervals. e.g. 10 x 1 minute hard, split by a minute's recovery.

Hill training is another way to help your body cope with the demands of sudden bursts. You can cycle hard up a hill and freewheel down before you repeat. Alternatively, you can find a hilly circuit and perform reps around this, putting in more significant efforts uphill and recovering going down. This training will help improve your power and strength and also regular workouts in the weights room. Here work on the hamstrings, calves and quadriceps is particularly essential.

How you put all this together is a matter of individual preference.

Cycling Workouts

Training Session
To improve your one-hour time trial performance 20 to 60 x 10-second repetitions at the required one-hour average power with 20 seconds recovery/rep
Improve acceleration and ability to tolerate blood lactate 8 to 12 x 30-second repetitions at 100% effort with 4min 40sec recovery/rep
Cycle like Lance Armstrong to avoid fatiguing larger gears Spin as fast as possible for 1 minute in a comfortable gear such as 39x19. Shift back to your usual pace gear for 2 minutes. Repeat 6 to 10 times
Improve endurance and 10-mile time trial performance 3 to 4 x 5-minute sprints at around 110rpm with 5 minutes recovery intervals at 90rpm.

Article Reference

The information on this page is adapted from Dunbar (1993)[1] with the kind permission of Electric Word plc.


  1. DUNBAR, J. (1993) Daisy, Daisy, you did not know the half of it, did you? Peak Performance, 36, p. 5

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2003) Cycling - Planning the Training [WWW] Available from: [Accessed