For most of us in the Northeast, the competitive cycling & triathlon season winds down in autumn as the days grow shorter, the leaves start to turn and fall and the temperatures drop. Although there may not be any races in the next few months, fall can be a great time to jump-start your cycling for next season. Here are some tips to keep you on track and start your next season at a higher fitness level.
Take a Short Break, but Don’t Go Off the Wagon:
Historically, pro cyclists took a long break at the end of the cycling season, from 1-3 months, but the current trend favors a shorter break, and a few weeks of “unstructured” riding or cross training before resuming base training. Your body will benefit from a rest from the rigors of week-in, week-out training and racing, and mentally, some time “off the grid” may help you re-focus and refresh your attitude toward training.
After your last race or training block, give yourself 1-2 weeks off the bike, or just biking for fun, when you feel like it. Try a little cross training and enjoy some activities you normally can’t do in the thick of racing season. Then use the next 2 weeks for unstructured, recovery rides. Ride for fun, and avoid the temptation to pore over your power meter or chase wheels.
Enjoy a break from a formal training calendar, but set a date to return to base training and re-building your endurance base. Don’t procrastinate and keep pushing back your return to training!
Work on Your Cycling Skills
There’s still a lot of good weather and “road time” left so take advantage of the nice fall weather and get out on the road!!!! Now is a great tie to use those “endurance miles” days to work on your cycling skills. It is easier and more productive to work on skills while riding at moderate intensities than when you’re suffering through intervals and about to blow up.
Here are some things to perfect before next year:
· Paceline riding. You will become a much better rider and you can go farther much faster if you learn to ride good pacelines. Riding closely behind another rider requires good bike handling, proper cadence, smooth pedaling and the ability to anticipate changes in speed or hazards on the road. The goal of good paceline riding is for all riders to stay together and proceed smoothly as a unit. This topic deserves its own post, but in a nutshell, learning to ride a smooth paceline takes practice. The quickest way to make progress with paceline skills is to find a USA Cycling Licensed Coach with experience Ieading road cycling group training.
· Cornering: Practice cornering to avoid being “dropped” at every turn, and to carry speed thru corners. A good bike fit is key for your position when cornering, and working with a coach can build your confidence and shave off seconds thru turns.
· Descending: Take time to work on your descending skills for greater comfort and control on downhills.
· Shifting to maintain a steady cadence and effort: learn to use your gears efficiently to maintain a steady cadence and effort level. Proper shifting is important to avoid excessive stress to your drivetrain and to improve your cycling efficiency.
· Pedaling. Although it seems simple, adding a few pedaling skills drills now will result in greater power with less effort and improved muscle balance next season.
· Eating and drinking on the bike; practice eating and drinking on the bike. Now is a good time to try different sports drinks and energy bars to see how they affect you.
Ride Some Gravel
Take your bike off the beaten path & hit some gravel or dirt roads in the fall! Don’t use your delicate, all-carbon race wheels; make sure you have a set of sturdy “training wheels” and try some dirt roads.
You will develop better balance & bike handling riding on different surfaces, and the variety will spice up those long “endurance miles” days.
Dress for Success:
As the temperature drops, dress for comfort and performance. A few simple wardrobe additions will keep you riding on the road without suffering.
· Baselayers: These range from lightweight mesh summer models that wick away sweat to heavy-duty long sleeve insulating baselayers for the coldest winter days. Start with a lightweight short sleeve baselayer under your cycling jersey when the mornings are chilly.
· Armwarmers, knee warmers, leg warmers: A great addition to your cycling shorts, baselayer and short-sleeve jersey on chilly day. Easy to remove them and stash in your jersey pocket as it warms up.
· Cycling vest or cycling windbreaker jacket: A versatile accessory to block the wind and keep your torso warm which can be stored in your jersey pocket if the day heats up. (avoid baggy jackets which are not aerodynamic)
· Glove liners or lightweight fall finger gloves: The hands are very exposed to wind chill, so avoid frozen fingers with a light weight polypropylene “glove liner” under your normal cycling gloves, or invest in lightweight full finger gloves for frosty days.
· Bib shorts, bib knickers or Bib tights (for colder weather): Bib shorts keep the torso warmer and prevent cold air from seeping in around your waist. Thermal full-length bib tight will keep your legs warm in frigid temps.
· Cycling cap: You lose over 60% of your body heat from your head, so as the temperature drops, layer a wool cycling cap under your helmet to stay warm.
· Toe warmers, booties: Most cycling shoes are very well-ventilated to keep feet cool in the warmer months, so add toe warmers when its nippy or go to full-footed “booties” over your shoes to keep the feet warmer in freezing conditions
· Avoid baggy “sweatshirts” or loose jackets when cycling.
After a nice break, start back gradually and build duration and mileage sensibly during your “endurance base” period. Riding for shorter periods more frequently will help your fitness more than “binge riding”, or doing infrequent long rides o infrequent very hard rides. Doing one 6 hour ride in a week is not as effective as doing 3-4 rides of 1-3 hours in a week. Likewise, one “hard” interval session will not make up for missing 5 days of riding in a row. The more the body becomes accustomed to doing something regularly, the more efficiently it performs.
Get in a habit of riding and exercising frequently and build your longer rides gradually.
Check Your Equipment:
Examine your bike and your gear for signs of wear and tear, and make a list of any equipment that needs to be replaced or upgraded.
Here are some things to check for now to be ready for next season:
· Chain and cassette: Your shifting will suffer and you may drop your chain excessively if your chain and cassette are worn out. Look for worn-down cogs on your cassette and have a mechanic measure your chain for “chain stretch”. Replace your cassette and chain together for best results.
· Handle bar tape: Replacing dirty, torn handlebar tape will freshen up any bike, and will provide better grip and greater comfort. Choose bar tape with enough padding to dampen the vibrations from the road and avoid numbness or pain in the hands.
· Tires: Wipe your tires after every ride and check for cuts or tire damage. Replace tires if there are signs of deep cuts or punctures, or when the tread begins to “square off” instead of maintaining a smooth curved surface.
· Brake Pads: Since brake pads aren’t easily visible, it’s easy to forget about them. If the brake pad has narrowed, or the “grooves” in brake pads have worn down, it’s time for a new set.
· Cleats: If the cleats on your cycling shoes have lost their sharp edges, buy new cleats. Worn-out cleats will not secure your foot to the pedal, and may result in an accident if you “pull out” of the pedal because the cleat was too thin to hold the shoe to the pedal.
· Saddle: Saddles do wear out; the outer covering wears away and the padding breaks down over time. If your saddle looks “tired”, you’re due for a new saddle.
· Bike Tune-up: take your bike to professional mechanic for a full-service tune-up at least once a year. Your bike will perform better if you maintain it properly.
Make the most of the fall season to come back more motivated and well-prepared for next year!
Ann Marie Miller, MA is a 5-time UCI World Masters’ Road Cycling Champion, a 13-time USA Cycling Masters’ National Road Cycling Champion and is a USA Cycling Category Racer. She is also a USA Cycling Level 2 Licensed Coach and holds an MA in Applied Physiology from Columbia University and is a certified BG Bike Fit Technician from Specialized Bicycle Components University. A Reebok University Master Trainer for over 10 years, she has presented educational workshops for fitness professionals across the United States and in Europe, Asia and South America. She enjoys helping athletes and exercise enthusiasts of all levels improve their fitness and have more fun on the bike, in the gym and in all their athletic pursuits.