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Training in cycling: Fit for the Ötztal Cycling Marathon

Amateur athletes have to prepare differently for their seasonal highlight than professional cyclists do

Not only professional cyclists and amateurs prepare meticulously for their season highlights. In our work at XP Sport we are always dealing with amateur athletes who are specifically preparing for the highlight of their cycling year. Sometimes we even have the feeling that many racers could take a leaf out of this motivation and discipline. After all, at the top of their game, even amateur athletes often ride well over 15 hours a week, on top of a demanding 40-hour work week, family and other commitments. Something like this already requires a very high degree of discipline in the implementation of the training.

Good basics

How does this training look like in the last four to six weeks before the main competition, e.g. the Ötztaler Radmarathon? A prerequisite for successful implementation is, of course, extensive basic and strength endurance training in this class as well. In general, many elements are quite similar to the training of professionals. But there are also important differences. For most amateur riders, although it is important to achieve their set goals and times in the competitions, they are still usually unable to compete for victory in these races.

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Because if you take a look at the winning times at events like the Ötztal Marathon, you can see that these are performances that are almost at professional level: Last year’s winner of the Alpine Marathon covered the 238 kilometers with an average of 34 and was thus just as fast as the pros in difficult Tour de France stages; true amateur athletes are no longer such athletes. The stark differences in the level of the participants have a great significance for the training control: The hobby riders often do not have to orientate themselves directly to the competition in their race design; “keeping up” is not the first priority at such marathon events; it is therefore not so important to simulate loads in the top range in training and to train a high lactate tolerance for attacks and pace changes. Instead, you can focus on strength endurance and endurance performance.

If everything has been implemented according to plan in the previous training, then you can concentrate fully on the special preparation in the last six weeks. First, another block of strength endurance training should be scheduled. The sixth and fifth weeks before the competition are ideal for this. Strength endurance training should of course already have been incorporated into the training in the spring, whereby this form of training should always be used after rest days. Block training is also particularly effective.

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“With the help of strength endurance training, prerequisites are worked out to be able to pedal high ratios over the entire duration of the competition while maintaining a high pedaling frequency,” writes Lindner (LINDNER 1993). This means that “the fatigue resistance to high cyclically recurring force loads” (SCHMIDT 2007) is improved. Power endurance is particularly important in cycling, as this ability comes to the fore especially when riding uphill or at high speeds with high gear ratios.

Power on the mountain

We define the strength endurance range for the special K3 training with intensities of 80 to 100 percent of the threshold power. This involves riding a relatively flat incline (3-6%) with a high gear ratio (large chainring) at pedalling frequencies between 40 and 60 revolutions per minute while seated. It is important to perform the movement evenly over the entire pedaling cycle.

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Strength endurance training is performed in the aerobic-anaerobic transition zone. The maximum load level in the range of the individual anaerobic threshold (IANS) should avoid strongly increased lactate values. Too high an intensity is therefore counterproductive with this form of training. Consequently, both fat metabolism and aerobic and anaerobic glycolysis are stressed.

After these two already quite demanding training weeks (table below left) a much calmer week should be built in. It is very important to start the strength endurance training with some distance to the main competition, because only then the muscular changes can really take effect.

Special feature for everyman

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Now comes a special feature for the amateur athletes. Professionals usually look for a smaller tour in further preparation to fuel race toughness, but this is not possible for the amateur rider. That’s why we simulate some more intense loads this week – for example, by tightening up the pace in the training group. It’s not about high-intensity, short bursts, but about bursts in the basic endurance 2 (GA2) and developmental endurance (EB) ranges. Because these are the ranges in which a hobby athlete competes. The loads in the peak range, which are important for the professional, can usually be omitted.

Shortly before the competition GA1

Regarding the penultimate week before the competition, one has to take a closer look at the athlete’s performance level. Well trained hobby riders should plan longer GA1 rides here. Somewhat weaker riders should once again put an emphasis on regeneration and focus on shorter GA1 units.

Reduced circumferences

As for the last week before the competition, there are two philosophies. Some athletes want to catch up on all the training they have missed in the last six months. The others want to recover as well as possible and not train at all. Neither tactic is particularly successful. The most sensible thing to do is to reduce the circumferences, but do not set the intensity too low. It is important for every athlete to find the optimum. Here’s an example.

In the competition itself, it is then important to always orientate yourself to your own performance limits. Long climbs should be ridden in the lower development range at most. Here the pulse values – or even better the watt values, if available – should be used as a control. Often in long races you are tempted to keep up with the pace of the faster riders, and you get the reward in the second half of the race. Here the break-in is preprogrammed. So it’s better to always stay within your range. Often, in the second half of the race, you’ll catch up with a lot of riders who left you at the beginning.

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