March is our heaviest snow month in Boulder, Colorado, where I live, but spring is finally here and the days are getting up into the 60s! Many pros live here. The top pros are in Europe training or racing, while the domestic pros are getting ready for the domestic season ahead. When I’m riding with my buddy, we play a game “Spot the Pro.” We look for these signs:
Chatting, not hammering. The pros ride side-by-side, chatting all the time. Of course, they’re moving much faster than we are! The pros are putting in base miles to maximize the aerobic fitness and muscular endurance they need to do multi-hour races.
Like many coaches, I define this kind of riding as Zone 2 riding, which increases your ability to metabolize your body fat for energy while sparing precious glycogen. On a 1 – 10 RPE scale where 1 is lying on the couch and 10 is a flat out sprint, a Zone 2 ride is an RPE of 2 – 3. A Zone 2 ride is 69 – 83% of lactate threshold (not max heart rate) or 56 – 75% of functional threshold power.
Now that it’s almost Daylight Savings time, a “wannabe” ride leaves after work from Amante’s, the local coffee shop, and hammers for 90 minutes. I never see a pro jersey in that group.
Ride at a conversational pace!
Not on a hill. Olde Stage is right behind my house and is 10 – 15% at the top in either direction. (Beware of roads called “Olde” — older roads are steeper!) It’s a fun, challenging loop, and when I ride it this time of year I don’t see any pro jerseys. They’re paid to train smart and now isn’t the time for steep climbs and high intensity. I ride a touring bike with very low gears so I can climb it and still chat away.
Avoid high-intensity rides!
Powering up a sustained climb. Left Hand Canyon behind my house climbs from 5,500 feet to 9,200 feet in 16.5 miles. We have the occasional warm day even in March, and when I’m ambling up it in my low gears sometimes a couple of pros will pass me. No, this isn’t contradictory. The pros are training in the “sweet spot,” the optimal place to develop sustained power. The sweet spot is an RPE of 4 – 5 and only 93 – 97% of LT or 88 – 94% of FTP.
Use intensity training correctly.
Coffee rides. I see many pros at Amante’s. After coffee some of the pros head north to ride base miles while others ride back into town. The latter are doing recovery rides. They just ride across town, have a cup of coffee, chat with friends and pedal home leisurely.
Spend at least 20% of your time riding so slowly that you’re almost embarrassed to be seen on the bike!
Knee warmers or tights. Mid-day the wannabes ride by in just shorts and a jersey. After all, it’s 60F – time to start working on those tan lines! As a result, many amateur riders develop “spring knee,” a type of patellar tendonitis. Spring knee results from ramping up the volume, and especially the intensity, too quickly, while not protecting the knees. Your knees have very poor blood circulation to keep them warm. This is why the pros and smart amateurs wear knee warmers until it’s well into the 60s.
Tan your arms, not your legs (yet).
Bike fit. When a pro goes by, I don’t see ANY of the common bike fit problems:
- Hips rocking a lot (saddle too high)
- One hip dips more than the other (leg length discrepancy)
- Too stretched out (frame too large or stem too long)
- One or both knees brushing the top tube on every stroke or bobbing out to the side (congenital problem so pedals need adjusting or shimming)
If I don’t see any of these problems it’s either a pro or a smart amateur.
Bike fit changes with your goals, as you get fitter or become more flexible. Fit also changes as you age and lose some power and/or flexibility. If you haven’t had a bike fit in a couple of years, get one.
Flat back. In addition to bikes that fit them, the pros ride with flat backs. Some roadies ride with a rounded back so that the chest is bent down a bit toward the top tube. The rider then needs to hyper-extend the neck to lift up the head to see down the road. Riding with a flat back opens up your chest and diaphragm so you can breathe more fully and lessens the strain on your neck.
Strengthen your core!
A clean bike. Their bikes are also very clean. Pros don’t usually work on their own bikes — they take them to Pro Peloton or Vecchio’s Bicicletteria. But they know that a clean bike helps avoid some of the problems that can arise from neglect, so they keep their bikes clean.
Now it the time to overhaul your bike yourself or take it to a shop. Shops are much busier in the summer when riders want their bikes prepared for events.
My eArticle Intensity Training explains how to incorporate intensity training effectively to meet your personal goals. The article gives all of the training zones in terms of perceived exertion, heart rate and power. It describes which intensities are appropriate for which season, provides sample workouts and describes which workouts are best for health and fitness riders, recreational club riders, and performance riders. Intensity Training for Cyclists: Using a Perceived Exertion, Heart Rate Monitor and Power Meter to Maximize Training Effectiveness is 39 pages packed with information and is available for only $4.99 ($4.24 for Premium Members after their 15% discount).
My eArticle Spring Training explains all about how to train smart this spring and includes four different focused 10-week programs for riders with different goals: health and fitness riders, recreational riders, fast club riders and endurance riders. Each 10-week program is in two 5-week blocks so that you can tailor a program to your available time. Spring Training: 10 weeks to summer fitness is 26 pages packed with information and is available for only $4.99 ($4.24 for Premium Members after their 15% discount).
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written nearly 30 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John's full bio.