A quick recap – I’m trying to get fit for my first big time trial of the season, and I’ve got six weeks to do it in. My aim is to find out how much faster I can become with expert help. That help is coming from Professor Greg Whyte and his team at 76 Harley Street.
A ramp test using CPEX test equipment established my VO2 max and lactate threshold. A few days after the test Greg sends me my training schedule. The programme includes strength sessions in the hills, climbing at a low cadence, and sprint sessions with short 10-second bursts flat-out.
These workouts are very different from the three- to five-minute intervals I typically use to get race fit. Greg explains that by addressing my weaknesses, such as a shortage of pure strength and top-end power, I'll “delimit” my time trial performance. “Each element of your fitness is underpinned by another," he says. "First we build strength, then sustainability. Speed is the icing on the cake.”
I spend much of the first three-hour training ride climbing up Box Hill in Surrey, stomping down on the pedals in a gear I'd normally use going down. There’s another tough ride the next day, and again the day after that. It’s a bit of shock to the system, but Greg assures me that’s the point.
Six weeks isn't a long time to make meaningful progress, so the schedule is tough. Rest days and easier rides are included in the programme, built around my work commitments so I make the most of every opportunity to ride, knowing that the days when I just don’t have time to ride will allow me to recover.
In week two I start on some cadence work, designed to improve my pedalling technique. Greg tells me these are best done on rollers, spinning up as high as 140rpm for short bursts. It’s a tough workout and takes a lot of concentration to avoid bouncing in the saddle.
“Cadence is crucial in producing optimal power both in terms of economy at sub-maximal speeds and peak power at maximum,” Whyte says. "These sessions focus on your ability to develop a fast cadence as economically as possible, a critical determinant of good time trial performance."
Week three brings lactate tolerance sessions – high-intensity intervals with next to no recovery in between. Of all the workouts I find these the toughest, fighting to keep the power high while getting more and more fatigued. “These workouts are beneficial physiologically and psychologically,” Greg says. “The body deals better with a build up of lactate and the rider gets used to the pain.”
These sessions are made harder when I pick up a knee injury which makes pedalling or even climbing stairs painful. I try to push through but the pain gets worse, so after a few days I agree with Greg to take a short break from training. It’s frustrating to lose training time when there’s little to spare.
When I do get back on the bike I can tell that I’ve improved, even though I’m only halfway through the programme. For one of the medium-paced rides Greg has scheduled I wheel out my time trial bike and ride the route of my target event, the East Surrey Hardriders Time Trial. I comfortably average over 20mph even though I’m not riding hard.
It’s a boost to my confidence after the knee trouble, and I get stuck in. More sprints for peak power are mixed with cadence sessions, lactate tolerance workouts and sustained efforts at time trial pace. There’s no riding for its own sake – every session has a specific purpose.
The weekend before East Surrey Hardriders I start the season off with a warm-up time trial. I’m quicker than the last time I rode this race, but not by much. I tell myself this is because I’m in the middle of a hard block of training, not because the form isn’t there.
For the final week I taper down towards race day. The volume decreases, but the intensity stays high. The day before the event Greg has me ride some sprints and race-pace intervals. I feel like I should be resting but I trust him when he tells me that these hard efforts will prime the motor ready for race day. There’s not long to wait...
In my next blog I'll reveal how I did in the race, which took place last month.