Poor Man’s Guide to Bike Racing

I frequently get asked questions regarding training to race road bikes: “When should I do what?” “How much should I do?” and “What should I not do?” They are all simple enough questions and most have simple enough answers, but I have decided to condense down a good chunk of my “knowledge” into one easy to read month by month guide to American bicycle racing Nirvana.

4 Months to Race Season (January):

During this point of the year I like to focus on enjoying the bike! Every year I have to weather months of riding the trainer with nary a day outside, so I find the most important part of riding this time of year is to just enjoy the riding that I do (both inside in the pain cave and outside in the frozen pain cave). When I go to the gym I do primarily leg work (2-3 times per week) and focus on easier rides anywhere from 3 to 5 times a week (as time allows). Any intervals will focus on growing aerobic base and will therefore be 15 minutes or longer.

indoor ride

3 Months to Race Season (February):

To be honest, February is basically the same as January. If you have been doing longer sorts of efforts (time trial practice) then your efforts should be getting a little harder for the same periods of time. Just keep hitting the gym, riding the bike, and enjoying the acts of self-improvement. Intervals in this month should be focused on longer time periods: 5 minutes or more.

2 Months to Race Season (March):

I generally start picking up the intensity and the duration at the beginning of March. This is mostly because the frozen hell-scape that can be winter in central Iowa sometimes warms up. I generally aim for at least one longer ride a week (2-5 hours), coupled with some shorter more intense rides, and tapering off the time spent in the gym. When doing intervals, I focus on shorter time periods, around 2 minutes, but still continuing to work on TT style intervals.

1 Months to Race Season (April):

Generally the frozen tundra has receded and is replaced by almost acceptable weather to ride in April in Iowa. At this point I start to really ramp up the intervals! I will begin working on cultivating my sprint around April 1st (or even mid March), as nothing is worse than getting to the racing season without a decent end-of-race-kick. It only takes about 6 weeks of high intensity specific training to get the anaerobic power system (the high intensity power system) firing on all cylinders!

Race Season Months 1 through ? (May-August):

Once the race season rolls around I can summarize what your weekly training needs to be (assuming you are racing every weekend):

Monday: Recovery from Saturday and Sunday
Tuesday: High intensity short ride focusing on time intervals used in races 2 weeks to 1 month away
Wednesday: Long ride, lower intensity, but I always throw in a couple sprints to break the monotony
Thursday: Either off or very easy recovery ride
Friday: Race prep, with leg openers of between 3 seconds and 5 minutes depending on the following days event
Saturday: Race, recover, relax
Sunday: Race, recover, relax

The racing season is all about balancing long term stress (fitness), short term stress (fatigue), and motivation to ride your expensive bike. About midseason it is good to take a week really easily to just make sure the mental game is up to snuff for the rest of the season. Also, it is important to be making connections during the season to move onto a better squad for the upcoming year. If you are looking for a Pro contract and you don’t have really good leads by August, you won’t get one for next year.

After Race Season Month 1 (ARSM) (September):

I always race some cyclocross as a “reward” for a successful road season, but I never do too well. Basically I just tell people to enjoy the offseason for the first month or two. It is time to recharge the brain and body, so enjoy it. Do some running, swimming, or whatever you enjoy for cross-training!
off season

After Race Season Month 2 (October):

I continue racing ‘cross into October and November, but do little to no intensity during the week, as I get my intensity on the weekends. I love to do long rides with my Garmin in my pocket to focus on enjoying the activity again. I also continue cross training and just take the sport a little less seriously for a little bit. October is also the time to figure out who the heck you are racing for for the next season, assuming you aren’t chasing UCI teams. Also, try to start getting into the gym again. I generally start off with only 1 day in the gym per week for two weeks, so by the time November 1st rolls around I am not a total weakling.

After Race Season Month 3 (November):

I try to focus on not putting on weight in November, but Thanksgiving can be problematic. If struggling, look at my other article on how to lose weight on the bike! Just ride base miles (long and slow) when on the bike, hit the gym 3-4 times a week, and make sure you are having some fun!

After Race Season Month 4 (December):

Similar to January, December is all about improving aerobic endurance while balancing the holidays and your disdain for riding indoors (if you live somewhere cold). Basically focus on long rides and also hit the gym when possible!

Road bike racing is very hard and time intensive, but if you follow the Poor Man’s Guide to Bicycle Racing, outlined above, you will be greeted by solid early season fitness and solid end of season fitness. Most importantly, never lose your love of the sport! It can be far too easy to not actually take an offseason, in hopes of improving following season fitness, but doing so too many years in a row will wreak havoc on any long term goals you may have. Most of all, remember: unless your sole source of income is from race winnings or a UCI salary, the point of bike racing is to stay fit and have a good time!