To climb or not to climb: specialty plan

in the third year of TR I had a doubt after reading the answers given here: Implementation and modification of TR plan for gran fondo focused race season
and here Building strength for alpine climbing for a recreational road cyclist

First of all some data about me:

  • 50 years, 178x78-80kg
  • 8 Grand Fondo a year: my only type A is the Sportful Dolomiti Race, aiming to reach the first half of the standings, obviously as much as possible close to the firsts
  • my second seasonal goal, the easiest, is to be fit (have a peak in fitness) the last 2 weeks of August that I usually ride by bike (last 3 years in the Dolomites) with my family
  • third season of TR: I have always followed, in the previous seasons, the plans SSB1, SSB2, SustainedPB and Climbing Road Race

The last 3 years (2016-2018) were very different from each other: 2016 was problematic because of a fall resulting in a broken shoulder, 2017 was perhaps my best year, obviously compared to the age, leading a good result at GF Sportful, “pushing” for the whole race
The 2018 was a disaster: I did a lot of “long rides” at the beginning of the year because I hoped they help me to face the GF Strdae Bianche but not only the race didn’t finish well, I had cramps after the first 100km when I had a good average speed, but then I had the same problem of cramps in many other subsequent races.

Surely I made the wrong preparation in 2018.

Now I’m halfway through the SustainedPB and my doubt, as I said, when I read the answers above, is how to proceed, so as in the past with the Climbing Road Race or, maybe, the Century plan could be better.

I had to say that it is true that I do not intend (nor have the possibility) to make or respond to attacks in the race, my goal is to finish in the first half of the standings, but it is also true that I love the climbs and I enjoy, at least for how I can, to “attack” always, even when I’m alone: ​​in short, I’m not happy just “to reach the top” … sorry for my english, I don’t know if I made myself clear

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For your race goals, the Century Plan would be a better choice :slight_smile:

In a Gran-Fondo, the fastest way to finish is with a constant effort level, which the Sustained Power Build and the Century Plan are specifically designed to prepare you for :+1:


ok, this sounds like a confirmation to other answers I had written about.

is also valid considering that the GFs in which I compete often have a high (> 3K +) elevation gain ?

I question that.

Last year, prior to joining TR in August, I only did long rides (Z1-Z3). My sole focus was 4x 100mi GFs, each of 10kft. With very little high intensity efforts, my FTP dropped, as you would expect, from 252 to 218 (~15%). HOWEVER, my Normalized Power for 6+ hours increased from 140W to 180W, a 30% increase - each GF was faster than the prior one, including setting a PR). And, as one further measure of success, as @Bryce knows being from Northern California, I set a goal to circle lake Tahoe (72miles; 4500ft of climbing) in 4hrs 30mins (my previous record was 5hrs). I broke the 4 hour mark at an average speed of 18mph. All of this was due to the riding as described above [and, of course, proper nutrition and proper pacing using a power meter].

I am a heavy cramper, and there are 2 things critical to my GF success - significant volume from long rides (my CTL increased from 42 to 95) and proper nutrition, including lots of electrolytes. I am not suggesting that the TrainerRoad plans that Bryce has suggested is not your best path. I’m only suggesting that it is highly unlikely that your lack of GF success is due to just doing long endurance rides. I don’t know what each of the TR plans beyond base includes, but I would highly encourage you to include long rides in your training plan. Similarly, you should very much evaluate your nutrition, including electrolyte consumption - long training rides are the perfect time to do so.

If you are a user of Training Peaks Premium or WK04 and want to DM me your PDC and PMC chart (showing your CTL, ATL, and TSB) for the period up to and including your big event, I’d be happy to give you some more detailed feedback on your event preparation from last year and what might have gone wrong.


Yep :+1:. As long as the pacing will be steady, the Century Plan will be the best choice.


Probably the fault in my preparation was not only doing many long rides, I agree, but certainly was part of the problem: I also lowered my already poor FTP of 10% but in my case the gain in NP was not so high as yours.

I think that having done too many long rides during the weekend, in the first two months of 2018, has tired me beyond measure and that this tiredness has influenced my midweek training.
At the end I think to have lost a lot in ON / OFF effort: not surprisingly I had most of the problems in GF with many climbs \ descents (ie. Strade Bianche) than in those with few very long climbs.
this was the problem and that’s why my intention, this year, (and as before 2018) is to reduce, not eliminate, long rides: with this reduction I already see a greater freshness in training during the week.

I totally agree with you about the right nutrition during the competitions: not so much about electrolytes that I consider overrated.

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@Bryce I am in a similar predicament. My A race is really a Granfondo with long sustained climbs. I know that the recommendation is to do the Century plan. However, there are several steep pitches (for me) at 10%-16%. With my low FTP, I would be dipping into my Anaerobic and way beyond my V02max.

I think the recommendation for a climb where you hve 107 miles and 11k feet in climbing should be the climbing plan. Here is why.
Lets say my FTP is 202 (which it is presently). At my current weight, even if I go 4mph, I would be at 280-330 watts. I need to raise my FTP ceiling by quite a bit which I hope will happen in a few months.

IMO, the century plan does not allow for raising one’s ceiling significantly nor getting accustomed to riding at beyond Vo2Max levels.

This is why I am torn between the century plan and the Climbing plan. I am leaning towards the climbing specialty plan. Interested in your (and anyone else that is interested) thoughts.

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Unless you really plan to be “extra active” in the event, I would simply follow the Century plan to start. But then I would steal one of the more “intense and active” workouts from the same week in the Climbing RR plan. Essentially make your own blend of the two to get a bit more intensity.


@ktimesk points perfectly to my doubts: I appreciate even the answer of @mcneese.chad

probably there are useful points in both plans and, perhaps, the best is the union between the two: maybe the first half of the Century and the second of the Climbing?

Riding in the anaerobic zone is going to be burning matches VERY quickly, and will make completing the climbs a tough ask. On a long GF, this is something you should avoid.

I’d strongly recommend looking at your gearing to be able to maintain a reasonable cadence at low speeds and lower power levels - the latest groupsets now offer 1:1 gearing (and potentially even lower) with 34t and 36t cassettes.

You may also want to practice your out-of-the-saddle climbing, and low cadence efforts more generally during your training.


@mcalista I recently upgraded from a 28 cassette to a 32 cassette. Compact cranks on the front. Even at 32 sprocket, I will still be pushing the 280-330 watts. As you know while the bigger cassette makes it easier, you are still pushing the same amount of watts.

Point taken regarding burning matches, OOS climbing, and low cadence. Hopefully, by September, my FTP will be high enough and have lost enough weight to avoid burning matches.

The real gain isn’t a drop in power (assuming you still plan to ride up the same speed). The difference is the CADENCE that it takes to do that. With gearing that is too high, you will be grinding at lower cadences that will take a greater toll on the muscles and could fatigue them earlier than your aerobic system. So, the big gain is the opportunity to get into a more aerobic cadence range and push the load more towards the lungs and heart, than crushing the legs directly.

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You need to get way below this.

That’s a 14% improvement in gearing right there.

It is worth remembering that all these things are cumulative. If you can drop 5% bodyweight between now and September, improve your FTP by 10%, and with the new cassette, that is nearly 30% easier (not 30% faster, but 30% easier on your legs). And at 200W, you will probably find you can get more than a 10% bump in FTP between now and September.

In late January, I completed a 150 mile GF with 16k ft of climbing, including 6 miles @ 9%. At 185 lbs, I’m no featherweight, but running compacts with a 34t cassette (after switching from a 32t), was able to climb 9-10% gradients seated at about 85% FTP, and keep the OOS efforts for the 12-14% pinches.


I like this :arrow_up:

Getting the lowest possible gearing sounds like it is going to be crucial for your success in your chosen event. Once you’ve achieved the lowest possible gearing within your budget, I would look to training your ability to ride at a low cadence. By mixing in slow cadence work, you improve your ability to generate power at a slow RPM when climbing a steep hill.

Let’s say when climbing a steep hill with your current gearing, you’re pushing 270-300 watts with an RPM of 80. If you can comfortably drop your cadence to 60 RPM in the same gear, you’ll be pushing closer to 230-260 watts. In other words, you’ve shifted from 140% FTP to 120% FTP. One is completely anaerobic and unsustainable, while the other is squarely in the VO2 max zone, which can be sustained for a short period of time. Training your ability to ride comfortably at a low cadence helps make this possible.

And equally important, pace smart during your event. It may be tempting to get the hill “over with”, but that is not a sustainable tactic in a Century event. It is much better to grind it out as slow as possible and try to keep your power output as close to your targeted zone as possible.


@mcalista Thanks for the tips. I am at 202 and 182lbs right now. By Sept aiming for 154 and at least 220. FTP. The latter number is a conservative estimate.

P.S. That is amazing that you were able to do seated climbs. Gives me a lot of hope. :slight_smile:

@Bryce Thanks for the suggestions. I think weight loss will be the main thing for me. I have great potential to lose weight as I am only 5-8. Per my dexa, I can lose tons of lard. FTP will steadily improve.

I love the addition of low cadence work too.

I applied this in prep for my Tour of Utah Ultimate Challenge ride and I feel that it really helped, along with my 34x32 low gear and low body weight.

I think a good effort in all those avenues are worth the time.

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sorry if I push up the question: it make sense to combine the first half of the Century plan with the second half of the Climbing or it’s better to mix workouts of both plans inside every week?

consider that, during weekend, I will certainly ride outdoor (races or rides) and, in general, always over 100km and 1500m (rides) 2000mt (races) elevation gain.

That could work too. I just see it as being separated and a big shift from one set of energy systems to another. Blending between the 2 plans each week just seems better to me, but it’s really a guess.

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something like Century WO on Tuesday and Climbing WO on Thursday?
to leave the “anaerobic” WOs at the end of the week?