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Boost your power on the bike

With a forced break from racing, now is the perfect time to hone your bike skills and really work on developing power and strength.

Photo by: Kevin Mackinnon

Try these power-building workouts that can be done even on dead-flat terrain to nail a faster bike split once we get back to competing again.

Not all of us live near the Rockies or the Laurentians, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still get some good training done if you’re surrounded by flat terrain. Though undulating and diverse terrain is arguably more fun to ride on, training sessions with less than 100 meters of elevation gain can still be challenging, and can be made even more so if you try to maximize speed or power output.

So what kind of rides are most beneficial on the flats? I have spent many weeks training on flat roads and certainly saw many benefits from the work I put in on the many canal bike paths of Belgium, and the flat roads in Florida. The key is to keep up a good average speed and nail your specific intervals for the day’s training. Yes, putting out sustained efforts on a 10 km section of a canal can be boring, but there is nothing better than the satisfaction of hitting prescribed numbers in a specific workout. From time trialing to sprints, or even motor pacing, make the most out of your flat riding this season with these workouts.

Time trial efforts

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Most riders out there will have at least one loop with only right-hand corners that they have smashed some intervals on. As a rider with a soft spot for time trialing, I enjoy getting out on a flat, straight road with few interruptions and just opening up the throttle until I can go no more. While there’s not much science behind it, here are a few of the sets that I’ve found work well. The best way to assess your time trial efforts is through power – while speed can be used, it can sometimes be misleading as weather variables could have you flying through the interval with a tailwind, or barely moving as you push into a heavy headwind. If you know what kind of power you would like to push on race day, your life is much easier. Start with an interval set that might be one quarter to half of the time of your goal bike split and try to hold around 75 to 90 per cent of your race pace. A workout such as this might be 35 minutes of effort to simulate a portion of a standard-distance bike. Break the set up into interval lengths from five to seven minutes, with a fairly good rest (at least half the time of the interval) and try to hold the same watts you’re aiming for in your race.

The short stuff:

These are my least-favourite intervals and, as a triathlete, you probably don’t like the sound of short intervals with limited rest, either. I have always used short intervals for my higher intensity sessions at what could more easily be described as “over race-pace efforts.” This kind of work is a great way to help increase your average power or FTP numbers. The goal for these intervals, which should last for 30 seconds to two minutes, is to hit numbers 10 to 40 per cent above your race effort. By incorporating intervals of this length, with a short recovery of no longer than one or two minutes, you can develop more power than you would be able to if your training only includes longer, sustained efforts. Stringing together a set of these shorter intervals and will very quickly get a sense for just how much you might be able to increase your race power. Try 10 x 30 seconds with 30 seconds rest, followed by 10 x 1 minute with one minute rest and see what kind of watts you can generate.

Even Chris Froome, who has won the Tour De France four times, used to train on the flats. The British rider spent his early years riding around on flat terrain in South Africa, squeezing his brakes for more resistance. If you’re ready to put in the effort, you can achieve the results you’re looking for, regardless of the terrain around you.

Sean Mackinnon trained as a triathlete before becoming a member of Canada’s national cycling team. This story originally appeared in the May, 2020 issue of Triathlon Magazine Canada.