Question: I’m a reasonably accomplished velodrome racer but I want to switch to criteriums and road racing. I train on Wednesdays with Pete Penseyres’s group in San Diego.
I suffer on the climbs but have improved. Would I be better off avoiding hills in midweek training sessions and doing flat, fast speedwork instead? My teammates say I should forget the hills because of my genetics. — Kelly M.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: Say hi to Pete for me on the next ride! He was my teammate on our record-setting senior Race Across America team.
The classic method of converting track speed and power to road stamina is to do long endurance rides once or twice a week during the off-season. It takes several months to see appreciable benefit. The off-season gives you a relatively long window of time to build your aerobic fitness.
Do these rides on a variety of terrain including flats and rolling hills. Avoid extended climbs for the first couple of months. Do them at an endurance pace (about 70-85 percent of max heart rate). An occasional foray into higher heart rates on steep climbs is okay as long as you don’t overdo it.
Here’s the caveat: Your ability at endurance activities like road racing is limited by your genetic makeup. Many great roadies can’t sprint to save themselves because their muscles are mostly slow-twitch fibers. (Pete is a good example.) All the speedwork in the world won’t make them truly fast.
If you’re a good velodrome racer with a powerful sprint, you probably have the genes to excel at criteriums. If you train yourself to last the distance in flattish road races, you’ll still have your natural speed for the finishing sprint and do well.
Don’t forget, too, that some former elite track riders, like Bradley Wiggins, make themselves into successful time trialists and road riders. So you owe it to yourself to train right, and see how it goes.
You need to treat yourself to an off-season of endurance riding as outlined above to see what happens. Pete is a very knowledgeable coach and could probably advise you on the particulars of a program.