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Winter Training Revisited
WORDS: Joe Hall
Like most riders, I struggle in the battle to become the cycling maestro I occasionally imagine I am. While there is evidence to suggest some success in my pursuit of effective winter training, it’s not because my legs are burning. Neither is it because I’ve just clocked 200km in six hours. It probably has more to do with the fact I’ve got into the habit of using Winter Embrocation (which still works long after a three-hour ride in sub-zero temperatures, by the way).
Anyway, the arrival of some properly cold weather seems like an ideal chance to recap on the winter training advice we brought you last November, not to mention an appraisal of how one rider (me) has applied this advice/conjecture:
Firstly, I’d asked the advice of Guy Andrews, Rouleur editor and author of a rather handy training manual. Guy suggested LSD and something about not firing cannonballs out of canoes. At first glance this seemed to suggest that, over the years, Guy had overdone it on the LSD he was advocating. The kind of winter riding he was endorsing, however, ‘Long Steady Distance’, is something I’ve adopted. He also stressed:
“Spin. Learn to ride smaller gears, just use a 39 ring from November to January.”
Well, it’s February now and I had been doing exactly that, piddling about in a gear that wouldn’t churn butter, mainly over distances ranging from 75 to 150km. Guy also advised to ride with a group once or twice a week. I’ve done that and it really does make a difference, unless you are riding with a bunch of absolute hitters who decide to drop you. Fortunately this hasn’t happened. Yet. Guy also added:
“Go mountain biking or cyclo-crossing, just do something different to what you do in the summer.”
Great advice, which I’ve chosen to meld with that offered by those travel loving rogues at La Fuga, who helpfully suggested:
“Read between the lines, look for the underlying themes […] and tailor them to your own, specific lifestyle.”
So I’ve read between the lines and opted for a physical pursuit far removed from road racing. It’s something that’s more pleasant than running, is fun and more demanding than you realise. It also takes place indoors and is an Olympic sport. What is this great discovery? Er, badminton.
While it’s easy to moan about the winter and become demotivated, cycling writer Max Leonard referred me back to Il Campionissimo for these sage words:
"Think back, to a man imprisoned in the heat, pining for cold, solitary kilometres, and get out there on your bike."
Just think, in a few months time you’ll be complaining how hot and sweaty you are and bemoaning the problem of having to apply sun cream before you go out for a ride. OK, hopefully you won't find yourself a prisoner of war like Fausto Coppi, but you get the drift. Rapha product designer Graeme Raeburn, a grizzled winter veteran, was another to tell it like it is.
"Know the difference between a problem, and an excuse."
In the UK, we can’t really use the weather as an excuse most of the time. Indeed, at the moment, residents of most of eastern Europe are dealing with proper winter weather – huge snow drifts and temperatures as low as minus 34°C. Pro rider Michael Barry, whose book, Le Métier, details the rigours of winter training, had this to say:
"In extremes I learn about myself, and my limits."
Michael’s teammate, Juan Antonio Flecha, famously trains in the snow. And he’s from Spain. Be careful of the ice though, I took a little slide on a country lane that was still defrosting and fortunately there were only a couple of horses to see me land sideways and shout: “bastard.”
So, percentage-wise, how successful have I been at following my rather sketchy plan? I’ve certainly kept up the mileage overall but slacked a fair bit on the hill reps. I didn’t complete the Festive 500 but did ride a decent amount leading up to Christmas and I’ve been keeping pub visits to a minimum. So I’d say 66%. I plucked that figure straight out of the ether but then I don’t even use a basic speedo/computer.
And what of the other winter warriors here at Rapha Towers? James Fairbank, who has been gearing up for the Winter Series (see Racing the Winter for his opinion), won his first race a fortnight ago and gathered a respectable fourth spot last weekend. His namesake, James McCoy, has similarly been punishing himself on the turbo and trying to fit in intensive training sessions whilst juggling work and a young family. From his derision of the turbo, it seems he’s on track and his first race comes this Sunday.
Yes, as the pros’ winter training regimes ramp up earlier than ever, and with UCI races such as the Tour Down Under and the Tour of Qatar meaning the off-season is markedly short, so, too, are amateur racers plunging into competition increasingly earlier in the season. Soon, it seems, LSD will be merely a flashback to the days of old.
Personally, I think strict regimes are good for pros and serious racers and undoubtedly provide a useful guide for those wanting to improve performance. However, in my view one should approach riding and training in winter in the way that best suits you. Yes, effort is required but be yourself and enjoy it. In 2010, Stijn Devolder, former Belgian champion and two-time Tour of Flanders winner, commented on his Quickstep teammates fleeing to Spain to escape the cold weather saying:
"I'll be away from home enough this year. I got in five hours of training, a good 160 kilometres. All alone but that does not bother me. I still do not see the point in a flight to Spain. It is not so cold that you freeze on to your bike. You go from a temperature of zero (Celsius) to minus one and you're not dead. It hardens your character."
All he needed was a good base layer, long-sleeved jersey, a gilet, tights and overshoes:
"I am content with my winter training. What others do is their business."
Scans courtesy of flandriacafe.com