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Pros are a lot like the rest of us. They enjoy coffee rides and town sign sprints, eating pastries, and collapsing on the couch after a long, hard day on the bike. But the biggest difference between us and pros is that they ride a lot more than we do. What is your weekly training volume? Now double it, add a few more hours and at least 50 watts to every pedal stroke, and that’s what it takes to train like a pro. For some classics riders and GC men, we’re talking upwards of 30 hours per week in the saddle.
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A typical pro’s season would involve building up a huge base over their winter, sprinkling in tempo and threshold intervals as the season approaches, and then jumping into racing as early as January. 2020 has been anything but typical – after more than two months of isolation, many riders are finally allowed to ride outside for the first time. Many are still training indoors, as this is the only form of group riding or racing that we may have for some time. Either way, our desire to get fitter and faster is innate, and high-intensity intervals are the quickest ticket to fitness.
To break up the monotony and challenge yourself with something other than an Everesting attempt, here are some favorite workouts from the world’s top professionals:
Classics rider and overall fast man, Alexander Kristoff (UAE-Emirates), has some of the biggest power numbers in professional cycling. His sprints top out at over 1,500w at the end of a 200+ km road race, and he averaged 345w for nearly five and a half hours when he won the 2019 Gent-Wevelgem. Add to his palmarès the Tour of Flanders, Milano-Sanremo, European championships, and three Tour de France stages – Kristoff is a powerhouse. His favorite workout is simply a long training ride. And when I say ‘long’, I mean really long.
In the late winter and early spring, Kristoff will spend 6-8 hours in the saddle on a big training day, and sometimes ride the wood trails on his CX bike near his home in Norway. He’ll also hit the gym as many as three days per week, and cross-train with running and field hockey.
How to do an endurance ride:
- Warm-up: 10-15 minutes of easy spinning (40-55 percent FTP)
- Main set: at least 30 minutes riding at a steady endurance pace (55-74 percent FTP)
- Cool-down: 5-10 minutes of easy spinning (40-55 percent FTP)
Multi-time Latvian National Champion, known by his victory celebrations and wonderful sense of humor, Toms Skujiņš (Trek-Segafredo) is one of the brightest personalities in the peloton and a freight train of a breakaway rider in the Belgian Classics to the Tour de France. Skujiņš is a tough rider as well, and when he travels home in the winter, road riding is not an option. However, he doesn’t shy away from the trainer. Skujiņš says he even enjoys the structure, simplicity, and uninterrupted nature of indoor training. When it comes to interval workouts, his favorite is a staple of professional cycling: 40/20s.
How to do 40/20s:
- Warm-up: 10-15 minutes of easy spinning at <60 percent FTP
- Intervals: 2 or 3 ten-minute sets of 40 seconds on, 20 seconds off
- During the 40-second intervals, hold your power ~125 percent FTP and keep your cadence high, around 100-110rpm
- During the 20-second intervals, recover as much as you can by spinning easy at <55 percent FTP
- 5-10 min rest between sets at <55 percent FTP
In addition to indoor training, Skujiņš says it’s still important to get outside (even if it means being cold) and cross-train in the form of skiing, hiking, running, or lifting weights.
Winner of 30 stages of the Tour de France, multiple rainbow jerseys on the track and road, the British national championships, and Milano-Sanremo, Mark Cavendish is arguably the best sprinter in professional cycling history. At his peak, he was called the fastest man on two wheels, and after a long look at his two Wikipedia pages of palmarès, it’s easy to see why. The Manx Missile knows how to sprint, so it is no surprise that his favorite workout is focused on exactly that.
Sprint Training: Perform 1 or 2 full-gas sprints at the end of every ride. Whether it’s following five hours in the rain or 10k feet of climbing in the mountains, Cavendish likes to end his training rides with a long, leg-sapping sprint to simulate race-like conditions. Here’s how:
- Near the end of the ride, perform 1 or 2 full gas, over-distance sprints of ~300 meters
- To simulate lead-outs: roll down a hill while spinning at about 40kph (~24mph). As the road flattens out, jump as hard as you can. When you feel your legs starting to die, go for another 100 meters, or about 10 seconds
- To practice lead-outs: at a minimum, practice riding 2 km total flat-out with each rider peeling off after his or her turn, and then sprinting full gas for the last 300 meters
So when it comes to training, what do the pros do? They keep it simple.
There is no secret sauce. Pros are just like the rest of us. Perhaps they have slightly better genes, and they certainly ride a lot more than we do. But when it comes to long rides and high-intensity workouts, weren’t all that different.
There is no magic workout. If some mix of sprint, tempo, and sweet spot intervals are so complicated that you need to print it out on your top tube in order to remember it – then will make you the fastest cyclist in the world? The pros’ secrets were never actually that secret: ride long endurance miles in the winter, make your hard intervals short and sweet, and practice winning races in order to win races.