Years ago, when I was an aspiring amateur bicycle racer, I attended several one week pro bicycle training camps sponsored by several European pro bicycle teams. All aspects of professional bicycle racing were covered. One of the topics was that of preseason “base building” and its purpose that I had not heard of up until that time.
“THE MAIN OBJECTIVE OF THE BASE BUILDING PHASE IS TO DEVELOP THE CARDIOVASCULAR SYSTEM BY DILATION AND ADDING CAPILLARY DENSITY.”
Years ago the “offseason” was the “offseason” and lasted from the end of October until the end of December. But the “offseason” has evolved into what would best be described as “base maintenance.” Pro cycling is just too competitive to get that far out of shape. Base maintenance activities include but are not limited to calisthenics, stretching and breathing exercises, cyclocross, and bicycle riding but at a much less intense or structured level.
Generally in late December the European pro teams head south (Southern Italy and Spain are favorite locations) for the base building phase. Base building lasts about 10-12 weeks. These particular teams emphasized the importance of establishing “A PROGRESSIVE SPINNING BASE AND WORKING ON PEDALING TECHNIQUE.” During the base building phase there are no hard efforts.
First 2-3 weeks: 3-4 hour daily rides on the “flats” in a moderate gear at 70-80 RPM.
Weeks 4-7: 4-5 hour daily rides on the flats and “slightly” rolling terrain at about 80-90 RPM.
Weeks 7-10 and 10-12: 5 plus hour daily rides on the flats and rolling terrain at 80-90 and 90-100+ RPM.
The time on the bike, the speed changes, and the terrain must always be progressive. During this base phase the rides are continuous, no stopping. These rides are kept at an intensity level that does not promote fatigue.
When the average person watches these training rides it looks like they are not doing anything, but they are. By riding in this manner, the volume of blood flow that is required to progressively supply the muscles must increase and in doing so it “dilates” the cardiovascular system (i.e. turning a 1 inch garden hose in a 1.5 inch garden hose) and adds to the capillary density. These are the reasons pro cyclists have some of the lowest blood pressures and resting heart rates of any trained athletes. A pro rider’s leg muscles take on the consistency of a firm sponge rather than a hard muscle that one would associate with a weight lifter or body builder. Training at a more intense level than what has been described is actually counterproductive. “A MUSCLE UNDER A HEAVY LOAD RESTRICTS BLOOD FLOW” AND IS AVOIDED. It was also pointed out that the leg muscles are not the only muscles affected as one might think. The heart is also a muscle and benefits the same way by cardiovascular dilation and increases in capillary density.
An analogy would be as follows:
Let’s say you want to get more horsepower from a standard automobile engine. How would you do it? You have to get more gasoline and air into the engine and remove the spent exhaust. Methods would include:
1. Adding a larger carburetor, adding multiple carburetors, fuel injection, or supercharging.
2. Larger fuel lines and a higher fuel pump pressure.
3. A larger, less restrictive exhaust system.
A DEVELOPED HUMAN CARDIOVASCULAR SYSTEM WORKS THE SAME WAY. It supplies more nutrients to the muscle, it supplies more oxygen to the muscle, and it removes more waste from the muscle.
Evening clinics included a question and answer session. Here are some of the questions and answers.
Q: What about amateur bicycle racers and how they train?
A: Amateur racers overtrain. They always want to be going fast. They do not build a solid cardiovascular base that will be needed to support the hard training and race season that follows.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Being a pro rider is a fully supported, full time job. “Very few” amateurs have the luxury of time and the necessary complete team support that is needed to get into this condition.
Q: What about taking days off to rest?
A: Once the season begins there are no days off for the rest of the season contrary to what you may have heard or read. All teams have a team doctor to tend to the riders’ needs and keep an eye on a rider’s condition. When a rider shows signs of incomplete recovery (fatigue), the rider is told to “take a day off.” A “day off” means spinning the flats for about 2-2.5 hours at about a 60% MHR. This is at a level that does not induce fatigue and is used to “maintain” the cardiovascular system in a dilated state and promote blood flow.
Q: I have heard that some riders will try to “ride into shape.”
A: It does not work. A rider that tries to “ride into shape” may do well early in the season but recovery between hard training and races will be incomplete and a rider’s performance will fall off and the rider will no longer be competitive. “THERE ARE NO SHORTCUTS.”
Q: When I watch professional bicycle races, I sometimes see riders on rollers or trainers spinning before a race, but not all races. Why?
A: When you see this it is almost always before an individual time trial so that when a rider or riders come to the “START HOUSE” their cardiovascular system will be in a dilated state. Other reasons are secondary. I would add….. Prior to stages races when you do not see given riders or given teams, be alert. They may be hiding out somewhere on rollers or trainers preparing their bodies to be ready to attempt an “early break-a-way.” You must be vigilant.
Q: Why do pro cyclists shave their legs? Is it to make them more aerodynamic or to help road rash heal faster?
A: No. All pro teams have one or more SOIGNEURS (SWAN-YER) whose main function is to perform massage. The main purpose of massage is to find tight muscles or muscle groups and to loosen the muscle tissue to restore blood flow to the affected muscles, which also clears lactic acid to promote recovery. It is also used to detect and treat any connective or soft tissue that may have been stressed or injured. Soigneurs have a more difficult task with unshaven legs trying to find and treat the affected muscles, connective, and soft tissues. Many soigneurs will not treat unshaven legs.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Soigneurs are very skilled and their skills and techniques are somewhat of an art form. Having had a massage by numerous soigneurs that accompany the pro teams, I can only say that without massage, your body just would not recover fast enough to be ready for the next day. “MASSAGE IS AN ABSOLUTE NECESSITY.” Attendees at the camp got about a 25-30 minute leg massage while the pro riders got a one hour plus complete body massage. When you get off the massage table, your legs feel like you have not ridden even after a hard day of training.
Q: What are the most productive things you can do to get into top bicycling form?
A: RIDE YOUR BIKE, RIDE YOUR BIKE, AND RIDE YOUR BIKE.
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