Peaking for Cyclists

You have followed the principles of periodization unlike the rolleurs and middle of the pack riders – the ones who train the same all year and consequently either do not improve or perhaps get worse.  After your last racing season, you recharged your batteries by engaging in less intense rides, and, perhaps, you did some cross training in another sport.  You then went through a strength building phase where you built up your base mileage and perhaps incorporated weight training into your regimen.  It is now two months from the event in which you want to excel.  Perhaps it’s a local race or it might be your state championships or the U.S. Nationals.  It is time to sharpen your base through the process of “peaking.”  The deeper the base, the more responsive the body will be to intense interval training and other peaking techniques.


Peaking is simply taking to a bit more of an extreme the principles of overloading the body through hard training and adapting to that training resulting in improvements in strength and fitness.  However, if you do too little work/rest, you will not achieve your racing goals.  Do too much work and too little rest and you might get sick or injured.  You will need to experiment to discover your optimal program.


My personal year is based around the goal of peaking around June 1 for the USCF Florida state time trial and road race championships and then again for the first week of December for the Florida Senior Games state championships.


After the Senior Games, I go through a recovery period to refresh and rest my body.  I keep my mileage up over 300 per week, but the intensity is scaled back considerably.  For example, during that period, I will ride with a slower group—the 22 mph group in our bike club ride versus riding with the “A” group as I do during my peaking period.  Then, I evolve into a more intense base building with longer rides and a couple of fast rides a week.  Two months prior to the important event, the actual peaking process begins in earnest.  


Here is one of my typical weeks during my peaking process:




Intervals – 6 x ½ mile 5%-10% above planned time trial race pace.  1 minute or less rest between intervals. Workout to be preceded by at least a one hour warm up and followed by an hour warm down.



Recovery ride – for me this is about 35 miles of easy spinning.




Intervals as on Monday or bridge repeats.  Bridge repeats are done with an all out effort climbing the bridge.  Recovery is the time it takes to position yourself for the next repeat.  I do the repeats in both directions on the bridge to lessen the recovery interval.  Here in Florida, which is rather flat, bridge repeats is often the only choice for climbing workouts.  Those of you who live in areas with hilly or rolling terrain can do a hard workout in the hills.


A sprint workout can be substituted for this workout which, for example, would be 3 sets of 6 x 20 seconds at maximum sprint effort with a minute rest between intervals and 15 minutes of spinning prior to the next set.  A thorough warm-up prior to this training event is particularly important, and should include some pick up efforts which induces lactic acid, and then allowing the body to dissipate the lactic acid prior to the next pickup.  If preparation is for an important road race rather than a TT, I would seriously consider the sprint workout versus the interval workout.




Long endurance ride – for me this is anywhere from 70-100 miles.




Recovery ride.




Fast group ride – take good pulls and contest one or more sprints.




Spin ride – for me, I do a club ride spinning at about 22-24 mph.


Basically, during the peaking process I have three “hard” training days, one endurance ride, two recovery days (rides) and one moderate spin ride.


Two weeks prior to the planned important event, the intensity level should be increased.  The body will adapt to the extra intensity during the tapering process the week prior to the race. Remember that improvement is accomplished during the recovery days when the body adapts to the extra work load.  No recovery days = no progress.


An ideal tool to use during the peaking process is engaging in the type of race that you are peaking for.  For example, if you are peaking for an important time trial event, engage in some time trial races during your peaking process.  There is no better training for racing than actual racing. 


The week prior to the event, you put the final edge on your form by tapering.  It is important to cut mileage back by about 2/3 normal, but do not cut back on the intensity.  One of the biggest training mistakes I see competitive cyclists make is the failure to properly taper for a big event.  By properly tapering, you allow the body to fully adapt to the high intensity training that has preceded the tapering week.


A fascinating study conducted by sports scientist Dave Costill on swimmers showed that when the athletes tapered for 15 days by cutting their training mileage to two thirds of their regular mileage volume, but maintaining their normal intensity level,  their times were better by 4% and their arm strength increased by 25%.  My recommendation for cyclists is a seven day taper.  Discover, however, what works best for you.


I have found that once I have achieved my peak, I can usually hold peak form for about 6 weeks, and then it is time to restart the sequence of recovery, strength/base building, and peaking.


Look for my next article where I will discuss time trial racing techniques, etc…  Good Riding!


Sandy Scott

© Sandy Scott March 2009




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