To conquer an event such as L’Etape du Tour, as Team Alpecin set its sights on, you need to ride your bike a lot. As long as you do regular rides that get within touching distance, or ideally surpass, the Etape’s 135km length and 4,500m elevation, and at the same time reduce your weight and boost your watts per kilo ratio, you’ll be absolutely fine.
There’s no question that when you get to a certain point in your cycling experience, adding a bit of structure to your training will help increase fitness when gains become increasingly hard to make.
“Put simply, not everyone needs structured training,” says Florian Geyer, a coach at Radlabor in Germany who’s been taking care of the trio’s training since their initial fitness tests back in March.
“When you are completely untrained and new to cycling, then you don’t need any structure to improve. Just riding your bike more often will increase your ability. However, there comes a time when your body reaches a threshold for adaptation.
Structure helps you adapt to the demands of your event.
“There are two options to move the threshold upwards. Either you increase the intensity of your training, the duration, or you do both. Therefore, up to a certain level, it is sufficient to simply continue riding more often. However, it is impossible to continue increasing training duration indefinitely. This is where intensity comes into play and you need to stick to a structure in order to prevent over- or under-training.”
Structure not only helps you monitor your training volume and load, but helps you adapt to the demands of your event. For example, if you’re racing, only training to improve your functional threshold power (FTP – the power you can sustain for an hour) won’t help you cope with the constant bursts of power required in a road race.
Numerous things can get in the way of a structured training plan: a lack of time, illness and injury, family life – even where you live. Team Alpecin’s Nick Mayer has been frustrated by a few of these issues.
“I work for London Ambulance Service and it has been challenging to fit training in around work. Twelve-hour shifts mean that I need to get up early before work to try and squeeze in the training session for that day. There have been a fair few 5am starts!
“Living in London means it is hard to conduct training sessions out on the road. I have struggled with a lot of the tempo training sessions that require me to build up a bit of speed/power to get my heart up. Some days the traffic, pedestrians or traffic lights just don’t allow me to do it.”
Team Alpecin: Nick Mayer, Marie-Louise Kertzman and Michael Rammell. © Henning Angerer
For Michael Rammell, it’s been a psychological as much as physical battle. “I’m finding the variation in efforts and power zones to be a challenge. It’s as much a mental challenge as it is physical. Some mornings I wake up and just want to go for a ride, but the agenda calls for a disciplined session of 6 x 30-second sprints. I have to consider what time of day to get out and train, and which roads will be best suited to the schedule for that given day.”
Marie-Louise Kertzman’s triathlon background, a sport more conducive to following a structured training plan,has come in useful. “My target in terms of training was to improve my FTP, and to extend my endurance. I have surprised even myself with how much difference a few short months of coaching have made. It requires discipline, especially with polarised training, where the easy should really be easy, and the hard should really hurt.
“Training to a plan is never without its challenges and having a remote coach means that sometimes there are communication issues. The coach may expect you to do one thing, whilst ‘real’ life has another idea entirely!”
What do you do when you don’t meet the targets? “It’s very important to get right to the heart of the issue, because if you don’t understand the reasons for missing a target, then it is impossible to define a new one,” says coach Florian Geyer.
“It’s a good idea to set milestones along the way to reaching a defined goal or target. That way, it becomes clear early on whether you are on the right track and can still take mitigating action without the whole season going to pot.”