We often preach how your cycling training plan should be based off the demands of your goal event. While this is true, how you decide on the training plan that’s right for you will differ if you have more than one goal event (aka A race) in a season.
When you have a goal to peak at a specific time, then maintain that high level of fitness for a 2-3 consecutive months, planning can become slightly tricky. The good news is, tricky does not mean impossible. With a solid training plan in place you can prepare your body to perform its best at all your season’s key events. Here’s what to keep in mind.
In the same way you would prepare for a single goal event, the process is no different when you have more than one A race. Over the course of several weeks, you will progress through your Base, Build and Speciality training phases. As you come out of your Base Phase training (we recommend the Sweet Spot Base approach for this) you should feel confident enough to weave in your C-priority races.
Next, as you move through your Build Phase training, you can begin to incorporate your B-priority events. This is the point you should start to see greater fitness and some respectable placings. By the time you complete your Build Phase and begin your Specialty Phase training, it’s likely your fitness is already at a very high level. That’s assuming you’ve prioritized enough recovery time along the way, which I’ll touch more on a bit later.
Now that I’ve covered some fundamental knowledge, let’s get into the meat of things. For road cyclists, mountain bikers, and even some triathletes who are planning their season around more than one goal event, there are three common scenarios to help decide your next steps.
First things first, an athlete simply cannot be at peak fitness for the entire duration of a lengthy race series. It’s inevitable that your performances will diminish over time. So, if you have the temptation to consider every race in your series an A race, it’s a sure sign you need to re-prioritize your events. A prerequisite for a successful race series is to be disciplined in how you select your A-priority events (we’ve got a good blog post on that here).
If you’re an athlete in this first scenario, your principle step is to decide which races you want to be good at (i.e. your B races) and which races you want to be your best at (i.e. your A races). Once you’ve got that figured out, the next step is to time your Speciality block just right.
Ideally, you want to end your Speciality Phase right before your first A race. By this point, you should have achieved peak fitness. Now, it’s just a matter of maintaining that fitness as well as possible until your next A-priority race. How you do that is through what I like to call “maintenance mode,” which is essentially repeating your taper weeks.
The goal of your taper weeks is to preserve the sharpness you’ve acquired through your Speciality training. The only decision you really have to make is whether you want to repeat week 7 or week 8 of your Speciality block. Your best course of action is to choose whichever week you feel keeps you sharpest.
Maintaining properly established fitness takes comparatively little in comparison to what was necessary to build it. Often just 1-2 days of intensity a week does the trick. Whether you do this work on the trainer or via a race is really up to you and your race schedule. So, for example, if you have intervals scheduled on Tuesday, you might instead want to race your Tuesday night World Championships to get more race-intensity experience. Same thing goes on Saturday. If you have intervals scheduled, you could swap them for a drop ride or a road race/crit.
Remember: Just like you would during your training, if your series lasts more than 8 weeks you will need to schedule a downturn, i.e. a recovery period. It will depend on your race schedule and how you’re feeling if you need a week of recovery or just a 3- or 4- day block of toned-down riding.
Depending on how long your gap is in between your events, you will return to your Build Phase training. This is what I like to call a “rebuild,” in which case you will do the latter half (typically 2-4 weeks) of your Build training.
So, let’s say you have 12 weeks in between your two high-priority events. This would, of course, not be enough time to revisit your full Build and Speciality Phases. The solution is to repeat one half of your Build.
If you’re feeling like you need to back things off a bit, you would choose to repeat the first half of your Build. On the other hand, if you feel like things are going good and you can handle a fair amount of stress, you would do the second half of your Build. Whichever route you choose, after you complete it you should reassess your fitness as you jump back into your Speciality Phase.
In this scenario you are given the opportunity to restart your training and take a different approach, if you choose. When you restart your training you will be forced to modify what you’ve done in the past. (It’s impossible to do a full cycle, 28 weeks, of training more than once in a single year.) The way you will modify your training in this situation is by reducing your Base, Build and Speciality Phases. This is precisely when you’d start shortening those 8- and 12-week plans to accommodate for whatever gap you have.
For your reduced Base Phase training, I recommend doing 6 weeks (versus 12 weeks) of Sweet Spot Base. Then, following the same “rebuild” approach I mentioned above, choose to do either the first half or latter half of your Build Phase. Once you’re ready to enter into your Specialty Phase, evaluate how much time you have. If you’re time constrained, do either the first or last four weeks of your Speciality block. If you’ve got some time to spare, it’s advantageous to do all 8 weeks since this is arguably the most transformative training phase.
Before you start a whole new cycle of training, there’s one thing important to note. It’s highly recommended that you plan a break in between each cycle. Take a couple weeks of easy or fun riding. Or, if you choose not ride at all during this recovery time, do so, but don’t go more than a week off the bike — that’s when you will start to see significant drops in your aerobic fitness, which can be a lot of work to re-establish.
I hope I was able to shed some light on a thorny, but all all-too-common problem cyclists face when planning their season. For questions or clarification on anything I discussed, leave your comments or listen to episode 12 of the Ask a Cycling Coach podcast. Myself and other certified cycling coach cover this topic and more.
TrainerRoad’s Ask a Cycling Coach podcast is dedicated to making you a faster cyclist. It gives you the chance to get answers to your cycling and triathlon training questions from USAC certified coaches Chad Timmerman, Jonathan Lee and special guests. Learn more about other topics we covered in the latest episode with our resources below:
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