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Rapha Winter Training Cycling Plan

Winter Training

The road to a successful winter of riding is paved with good intentions, but inevitably so is the road to idleness. The manual I have says, “to see yourself as the cycling maestro that you have always dreamed of becoming, do the training”.

11 November 2011

I’ve never really been too interested in training plans. I just ride when I can (or feel like it) and seem to keep up with myself. I know the more I ride the more I enjoy it, but I’ve never been the person to religiously watch my weight and make sure I’m not riding the wrong gears on Wednesday hill repeats. I have considered racing once or twice (and this would presumably change my approach) but then I’ve wondered why I should race my bike if I just enjoy riding for riding’s sake… It’s nice to drop your mates or be first to arrive at the café, but breathing out of your derrière for an hour at full gas and then getting dropped just before the last lap is a different notion of pleasure. So I’ve just settled for going the distance, not racing the distance.

However, being in condition for the new season means more enjoyable mileage the further down the road you get. It may even mean I give that circuit race a wallop come the spring. So I need a regime, something to aim for. But what constitutes a good training plan?

In an issue of Rouleur, Tom Southam writes: “the winter signals the rebirth, the hope and aspiration that sees you ploughing through all weathers to be ready for the new year,” this to me sounds good, something I can aspire towards. The old cliché ‘races are won in the winter’ doesn’t exactly apply to an “unracer” like me, but I see it as a way to enjoy winter and embrace the season of frozen fingers and wet noses. To train in winter well is more than half the battle to, as the manual says, becoming a ‘cycling maestro’.

I think for the last five years I’ve said: “I shall train this winter, keep up the mileage and be a fine-tuned machine come the spring.” The author of said manual and the editor of Rouleur magazine, Guy Andrews says this:

“Although I wouldn’t recommend it as a performance enhancing substance, the winter is all about LSD. Winter ‘training’ is about building a base, a foundation, an anchor point – call it what you will – because you can’t shoot a cannonball from a canoe. Long Steady Distance [LSD] is what the winter months are all about, laying down a base level of fitness that will keep you trim and ready for the harder part that starts in the spring. Strangely the long sportive rides of the summer are ideal for this (which is often why riders these days tend to be faster in the autumn). That underpinning fitness you get from many hours in the saddle only comes with some consistency of effort and volume – why it’s always been called ‘getting the miles-in.’ The pace is old school fashion too – not too slow and never too fast, not so you’re out of breath but just so you can still hold a conversation – it may sound a bit unscientific, but it works. So, for now, don’t worry about power meters and heart rates, just get out and ride."

Wintry Tips:

  • If it’s cold, wear more. Don’t be tempted to ride hard in order to warm up, you’ll just get cold again and [usually] sick as a result.
  • Spin. Learn to ride smaller gears, just use a 39 ring from November to January. Big gears are for sprinting and compact gears are for mountains.
  • Chat with your mates, go to the cafe, find the local club run and join a group ride at least twice a week.
  • Don’t make ambitious plans you can’t stick to, just ride nice and steady and long, whenever you can.
  • Go mountain biking or cyclo-crossing, just do something different to what you do in the summer – it will keep you sharp and teach you how to handle a bike.
  • Oh yes, buy some mudguards.

James Fairbank, a former Rapha colleague, his plan has also been formulated by a coach who prescribes similar intensive rep work, core training and, as Guy Andrews emphasises, steady rides. James imparts: “By steady he means a lot slower than you’d expect, also go easy on the hills. Apparently I’ve been cycling everywhere moderately quickly which means I’m too tired to go hard on Tuesday and Thursday.”

And then there’s Rapha’s former product designer and tester, Graeme Raeburn, who (as you may recall) rode 1000km through a week in December in 2009. Graeme is all about:“Preparation: Make a commitment to the ride, check and embrace the weather, kit and bike drill to be 100% correct the night before. Thinking of bailing? Know the difference between a problem, and an excuse.”

That’s a big part of it: making excuses rather than having actual barriers in the way of riding. It is possible to ride in the snow and the dark if you have the right kit, equipment and preparation.

For me, Guy’s appraisal of good winter training is the most appealing so far, but do I have the discipline to get LSD rides under my wheels every week? Perhaps it’s a case of mixing and matching to your lifestyle, diary and family/work commitments. But even if you do plan it well, there’s that motivating element required when the nights are long and the mornings are frosty.

Michael Barry, in the pages of the wonderful Le Metier, distills the efforts modern bike racers have to go to in winter to maintain or build foundations for the form required once the racing season arrives.“During the off-season, we grow mentally and physically stronger, as we step out into the cold weather to ride for hours in the rain or snow […] in conditions that keep most people indoors. In extremes I learn about myself, and my limits.”

For an amateur such as me, who has barely even raced a bus, talking in such a religious tone about riding my push-bike for fun would sound somewhat pretentious, but I can still benefit like Mr. Barry does: Test yourself, put yourself out of the comfort zone and escape from the ‘wooly-mice’ syndrome that Tim Krabbe refers to in the The Rider. Pushing yourself is what makes the difference between keeping fit and evolving into that ‘maestro’.

Max Leonard looks to how one of the greats would approach winter training:

What would Fausto do?

“The weather gods are still being benevolent to those of us at Rapha HQ. Autumn has shaded into winter, but as we approach the year’s hub, the winter solstice, it is light and not warmth that is lacking.

It’s the time of year when thoughts slide inexorably towards the turbo, but it doesn’t have to be like that. For some inspiration, think back to 1946, the year that Fausto Coppi announced his return to the world. Riding La Primavera, he broke away with almost 250 kilometres to go. Ditching his last companions on the Turchino, he soloed to victory, crossing the line 14 minutes ahead of second place.

In preparation for the season opener, he rode 7,000 kilometres, and his training regime included 250-kilometre rides in which he’d arrange for local club riders to attack him remorselessly in the last hundred. Little wonder he made it to San Remo first. For a man who had been a prisoner of war for three years in North Africa, in decent conditions but mostly without a bike, what a release it must have been to get back to riding the cold, slippery roads of northern Italy.

The debonair Italian was an artist when it came to dressing for winter, but even if your aims are more modest, you needn’t go out unprepared. The Winter Gloves are arriving imminently, but the full range of Rapha accessories will make sure you’re prepared for anything these first days of winter can throw at you. The motivation to get out on the road might be falling but remember: there’s more to life than two hours at a steady 125bpm on the turbo, watching Tour DVDs, like a hamster on a wheel. Gravel and snot, and a cold nose, maybe. But also fresh air in the lungs and, perhaps, a view glimpsed through bare branches, never seen riding that road in summer. Steam rising off your companions’ head as they take their hats off. Tea and cake, or a bacon sarnie, in a noisy, packed cafe.

Think back, to a man imprisoned in the heat, pining for cold solitary kilometres, and get out there on your bike.”

Men's Pro Team Winter Jacket

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Women's Pro Team Winter Jacket

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