Van Aert, Pidcock and the pros pulling on running shoes: Why bike riders run in the off-season

WorldTour pros are casually crushing some seriously fast running workouts – but just how rapid are they, and why do they do it?

Photo: Getty Images

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For many pro cyclists, “off-season” is “run season.”

WorldTour pros are increasingly switching out cleats for running shoes this winter – but just how fast can they go, and why do they bother?

A flurry of files uploaded to Strava in recent months show the likes of Wout van Aert, Tom Pidcock, and Mathieu van der Poel casually crushing extra-rapid runs in the build toward cyclocross season.

The three “kings of cross” are regularly hitting 4:15km pace runs (6:50/mile) without breaking a sweat.

It’s a speed that would see them finish a marathon in less than three hours, a benchmark that many amateur runners shed blood, sweat, and tears for during months and years of training. Van Aert and Co’s running capacity is a testament to the huge endurance engine gained when you pedal for up to 30 hours a week and watch every ounce you eat.

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But the off-season “run club” isn’t just for riders training to sprint through muddy Belgian fields with bikes on their backs. Diehard roadies are pulling on their runners too.

Sepp Kuss and Lilian Calmejane are among those pounding the pavement at a pace that would put even the most enthusiastic amateur to shame.

Calmejane recently ran a 5k in 16:35 – a time that would easily top the podium in a club or regional championships event.

“All flat bike path, not much wind, but some slowdowns for pedestrian crossings,” he rued afterward.

Calmejane, Pidcock, or Van Aert aren’t going to be bothering Eliud Kipchoge’s official marathon record of 2:01:09 at the recent Berlin marathon any time soon.

So why are they doing it?

For the buzz

Pro racers start getting itchy feet early into the off-season breaks.

For athletes that thrive off the energy of activity, even the shortest, “slowest” of runs gives the buzz of the bike, but lets the brain reset from pedaling.

Riders like Calmejane, Adam Yates, and the recently retired Tom Dumoulin strain to pull on running shoes during the winter.

Calmejane finished 30th in the Sky Rhune mountain trail event just weeks after he finished road racing this autumn. Yates and Dumoulin competed in marathons and 10km runs in the first months of their off-seasons last winter.

“An extraordinary event with 20.5km and 1,700m+, but above all a crazy atmosphere. Congratulations to the organizers and all the trail runners. I loved the climbs, a little less the descents,” Calmejane said of the SkyRhune.

“Eighth fastest on the climb… 17th at the top of the Rhune 5km from the end, but the descent to Ascain was too hard for my fat cycling thighs!”

For the bones

But now more than ever, even the most reluctant of riders are encouraged to hit the trail or tarmac.

“Compared to healthy non-cycling males, road cyclists had lower levels of bone mineral density, and this was despite the fact that they were consuming significantly more dietary calcium (considered essential for bone health) than their sedentary counterparts,” found a study in Sports Performance Bulletin.  “The researchers speculated that the combination of high training volumes of these cyclists combined with lack of bone loading might be a factor.”

All top teams regularly test riders’ bone density to check against the risks of the bone-weakening condition osteoporosis.

Geraint Thomas recently spoke of how Ineos Grenadiers staffers encourage off-season cross-training to build back increasingly brittle bones.

Pidcock’s Ineos team encourages riders to cross-train to promote healthy bone density.

“I highly recommend running for cyclists, even pros, during the off-season,” Dan Sims, Performance Coach at the world-leading Hintsa Center, told VeloNews.

“As running is high-impact, it is proven to increase bone density which can be helpful to cyclists who may have ‘softer’ bones from a relative lack of weight-bearing activity. This can certainly help into older age avoid osteoporosis and similar bone degeneration issues.”

For the love

Laurent Jalabert, Abraham Olano, and Rolf Aldag went on to run sub-elite marathon times after they retired. Riders like Yates and Dumoulin pulled on their running shoes for off-season kicks.

But the modern pro peloton also hides some much more regular pavement-pounders.

Both grand tour supremo Primož Roglič and former elite middle-distance runner Michael Woods reportedly run almost every morning, all year round.

Primoz Roglic took the red jersey after winning stage 4 of the 2022 Vuelta a Espana
Roglič runs before he races. (Photo: David Stockman/Belga Mag/AFP via Getty Images)

Roglič even goes out jogging when he’s hunting the yellow jersey at the Tour de France.

“Primož has a habit of doing exercise in the morning, and he wants to continue the habit because he is used to doing something every morning,” Jumbo-Visma performance manager Mathieu Heijboer told CyclingTips.

“In the Tour, he continues running but for less time and at a slower pace, sometimes it’s just a 15-20 minute jog. Other times he will do 20 minutes on the time trial bike or on the turbo trainer.”

Like Woods, Scottish-born Australian rider Freddy Ovett has a running background. He still actively trains his running performance once a week while he rides with L39ion of Los Angeles.

“My teammates totally think I’m nuts,” Ovett told Outside Online. “People in general can’t wrap their head around things that they can’t imagine themselves doing, and that’s what I’ve found with my teammates and other athletes.

“People assume it’s performance-based, and yes, obviously I want to do that, but honestly I just enjoy running. And once you get to a certain level, running is just a beautiful thing that you can go out and do anywhere in the world if you just have a pair of running shoes.”

The days of riders laughing off the idea of even a short walk are very long gone.

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