Question: The 58-mile cycling Tour of the Tucson Mountains is in late April. Two years ago I barely finished in the “platinum” group by riding it in just under two-and-a-half hours. Now the organizers have lowered the platinum time to 2:20, an average of 25 mph. How can I train in the next 8-10 weeks to push my average speed up by 2 mph on my bike? The course is fairly flat and I’ll be in a large group. — Weldon J.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: I recommend a three-pronged approach.
First, you have to select the right group. It has to be fast enough to get you to the finish in your goal time but not so fast that you get dropped. I’ll leave that to your experience with the event. I’ve ridden the 111-mile El Tour de Tucson a couple of times starting with the platinum group. Finding the right pack wasn’t a problem. Staying with it was tougher!
Second, how’s your riding technique in a group? Do you shelter out of the wind and rarely or never take pulls? If you’re barely hanging on to meet your goal time, try to sit in as much as possible. Don’t expend unnecessary energy, either on the front or dangling a few feet off the back.
Third, training. For a mainly flat ride around Tucson, you’ll probably get the most help from increasing the amount of power you can sustain at your lactate threshold.
That means longish intervals at an “annoyingly hard” pace. Start with 1×15 minutes and work up to 2 or 3×20 minutes. These are tough and tedious, but they work.
Also include some shorter intervals so you can get over the occasional small hill. I recommend 5×3 minutes very hard on a climb. The upper part of Gates Pass would be ideal. To avoid the tedium of structured intervals, find a hilly loop and ride it hard with a training partner. Saguaro National Monument East would be a good venue.
Schedule your long intervals on one weekday, the shorter ones on another spaced at least a day apart. Do a fast group ride each weekend.
Monitor your progress to see if this is too much intensity. If you are losing enthusiasm and getting tired instead of stronger, eliminate the short, hard intervals.
Will this program increase your speed by 2 mph? That’s a big increase if you were quite fit when you did the ride before; not so much if you have more room for improvement. I bet you can do it.