Confused Beginner

Hi all,

I’m fairly new to cycling and started riding in groups and racing as a cat 5 last year. I used trainer road for the first time over the winter and made huge gains and definitely carried them over into the start of 2020 expecting to hit the ground running racing. Obviously there aren’t any races going on but I have been doing some small group rides that are the fastest in my area with other racers that are extremely strong. I am by no means a strong rider, I started this year with an FTP of 203, and I usually get dropped about 75% of the way on endurance and race style rides giving it all I’ve got.

On to the point of the question I have… as a new cyclist everyone wants to give me their advice, which I am always receptive to and have been trying it. The premise of the advice on training has been “its warm out, just keep riding as much as possible with the fast guys and you’ll keep getting stronger, don’t worry so much about structure.” This hasn’t worked too well for me. My FTP has steadily fallen down to 190 over the past 3 months. The other kicker is I work crazy hours as a surgeon and don’t have a lot of free time, so time on the bike is a precious commodity.

My plan going forward is to get back to some basics. I was planning another round of Sweet Spot Base with the addition of choosing one ride per week with the group to do, since I usually have about 4-5 days a week to ride. I seem to do well with structure. I know SSB has some specific physiologic goals and I don’t want to wreck that by doing additional rides that are obviously going to be pushing me well past threshold. In your opinion do you all think this will help or am I overthinking? Im pretty committed to becoming a stronger racer when the time comes, but I’ve found this really hasn’t been a cake walk. Appreciate any advice.


I’m a retired surgeon. I train and raced in my 40’s til my mid 50’s. My usual program back in the day was 5 am intervals on the Computrainer 3 days/week and about 100 road miles between Sat and Sun, all modified by my schedule and fatigue level. I was able to stay mid-pack in NorCal masters, but finally succumbed to stress related health issues that threatened to derail my surgical career. Stopped riding completely until retirement. Don’t hesitate to pm me.


There is a huge difference between doing intervals on your own based on your physiology and a unstructured hammerfest with seasoned more fit riders. There is a time and place for that, just not the best way for someone new. Going into the red within the first few minutes and hanging on for as long as possible doesn’t necessarily do much good.

Much can be learned and gained by unrelenting and continuous pushing z2-ish power for hours. I really think most new to this sport could benefit from slowing down and riding (constant power), doing it solo, and being consistent day to day. Just systematically building aerobic capacity.

edit: sweet spot is a economical use of time if really limited each day (most of us). If time permits do some long rides at lower intensity to really work on fatiguing your slow twitch fibers forcing fast twitch to help out.


As a surgeon, you’re clearly a smart individual so I’m going to assume that you’ll have figured out that getting dropped on a ride is par for the course. We’ve all been dropped. This is where listening to the advice you’ve been given can be critical.

Aside from the training aspect of things, ask the group you ride with if they’ll allow you experiment with moving around in the bunch as the pace picks up. Try sitting mid-pack. You’ll be able to work on drafting and your ability to recover whilst still working at a reasonable effort. In my personal experience, skilled, seasoned racers love bringing new riders on and they can really help you develop.

I would go back to Sweet Spot Base, start building out your foundations and couple that with the knowledge you’re able to gain from your group. Accept that you’ll get dropped in the short term but that will also enable you to build mental resilience.

Good luck moving forward :+1:

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It’s not just training time that is limited: your body can also only recover so much. How much you can recover from training stress depends on your physiology, sleep, diet, stress and I’m probably forgetting other things. Hard rides produce more stress, and if your FTP is going down you’re either overtraining or losing fitness.

I don’t have an answer to your question, but I don’t think routinely riding past threshold / to the point of exhaustion has much (any?) training benefit.

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A couple thoughts:

  • If you just started in 2019, give your body some time to get used to cycling. Not to say you can’t hammer with the big boys, but takes your body like a year or two to really get your cycling legs under you. This doesn’t mean that you can’t go fast in that time, but just your body gets more used to the stress.

  • Assuming you don’t quite know your limits just yet, I think the hammer fests might be wearing you down. Maybe also your live is stressful now with COVID in the hospital?

  • Agree with most people here that base work is key, but definitely go outside and ride, otherwise it’s pretty boring. Or you can be really OCD (a lot of doctors are) and stick to the structure of TR… consistency is key, but I find most gains come in build phases, but your base has to be solid enough for the extra work.

  • Treat these fast rides as races and hone your race craft. Not sure how many races you did this season before Covid came down, but try to focus on efficiency and producing the LEAST amount of average watts to hold onto a pack. It’s an important skill in races to know how to sit in, and ride efficiently when you need to. Let others cover moves, always bee in someone’s draft. Try not to spike power too. This will smooth your power out, put you in the red less, and allow you to hang onto the pack longer

Good luck!

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Two thoughts:

  1. This is as much psychological advice as it is physical advice. A lot of serious riders can’t handle TR-style structure, so when they hear beginners doing it, I think it’s easy to say, “Oh, you don’t need that, go enjoy the sun!” If you’re non-compliant on your TR plan, then yes, that’s good advice. Poor structure but lots of riding is better than hitting 20% of your structured rides.
  2. I think that, generally, that’s a bit outdated of advice, stemming from a time (not even that long ago, it’s how a LOT of us trained up until ~~2010) where powermeters were SUPER expensive, learning how to train with power meant buying books and building out your own plans, and structure was just not that common. Even now, it’s not uncommon to read about people losing fitness over summer. You spend 6mos indoors doing great structured training, then summer comes and you ride 3-5x a week 60-120min after work, maybe a long easy ride on the weekend, and then you lose fitness. That’s not to say no one should ever ride outdoors, obviously, but if your goal is “becoming a stronger racer when the time comes,” then structure, be it on TR or something else, is the most optimal way to do that on a limited time schedule, which it sounds like you are.

All that’s to say: if your goal is to get stronger, and you don’t mind riding indoors and can stick to your plan: that’s gonna do more for you than going out and getting dropped over and over. There’s no wrong way to train, but there’s ways to be more efficient.


I think there’s huge benefit in doing the kind of rides you describe, but only if you have a good enough base to actually adapt to them and get stronger. If the training load is just overwhelming you and wiping you out for a few days they’re detrimental. So going back to SSB is a good plan, maybe aim to do those rides every once in a while to mix things up and gauge progress. Or find a ride that still has some experienced racers to learn from and practice your handling, group positioning, etc, but is a bit slower so that you’re middle of the group not hanging on at the back.

I take the “don’t worry so much about structure” with a pinch of salt. I have found that there are certainly some very fast racers out there who don’t seem to have a formal training plan - look at their Strava feed and you won’t see TR workouts or structured intervals. But if you look at the mix of riding they’re doing you’ll see it follows a pretty solid approach. E.g. a typical club will have an after work “wednesday night worlds” ride which is shortish and fast, a long Saturday ride with some climbing or fast flat sections, and a Sunday coffee ride. Do those every week and you’re getting a nice hit of VO2 max work midweek, a long endurance ride with a load of tempo/SS/threshold work on a saturday and a Z2/recovery ride on Sunday. That’s a pretty solid foundation on which to build your training around. And while doing it you’ll also be picking up all the skills needed for racing.

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