An alternative to the specialty phase?

This season, after 12 weeks of Sweetspot Base and 8 weeks of Build, I felt ready to compete. Throwing myself into the Specialty phase, which is just as intense as the Build phase seemed too much and I tired somewhat. Could it be that 20 weeks building to a competitive peak is sufficient and perhaps we then need to plateau with a maintenance programme for a while. Then recover, maybe do a mini Build phase and then another competition phase/plateau.

I think you have a somewhat valid point.

The idea behind a 28 week Build->Base->Specialize cycle is to get you ready for a very specific peak or A event at the end of those 28 weeks. For people that are doing many events or races throughout a season doing 28 weeks of prep to start the season is not necessarily a great idea as you will be just hitting that peak at the very beginning of your season and will, almost necessarily, need to allow yourself to drop off a bit during the weeks following that first event.

If you are racing a handful (read: 1 to 3) of key events then it is worth doing the 28 week cycle going into the first high priority event, but if you are racing throughout a season (say a 3 month long crit series) you almost certainly do not want to hit that first crit after a full specialization block.

My general calendar is something like this:

A race in February
No races until late March
B races in March-May
A race in June
B races in June-July
A race in August

I do the full 28 week treatment going into my February race, and then mix in races with a build plan for the rest of the season but allow myself a decent break after my February event to get my health (both physical and mental) back before starting the progression back to my next A event.

Everyone is different and can maintain different levels of fitness, but if you are doing a 28 week cycle you should absolutely plan on a break afterwards to let your body recover and your mind settle in on a less stressful cadence

Edit: Also worth adding that I’ve raced an entire year without doing specialization - this is absolutely viable, but you do need to get your sharpness (for me this means short hard efforts needed for racing) somewhere