Well, it's taken the first few months of the year to work out what sort of events are most likely to "go ahead" given the ongoing global pandemic. In reality, it looks increasingly likely that UK events may be the best focus for the year. This does mean that my initial "A race" of the Haute Route Dolomites is probably going to be put on hold until 2022 in favour of closer to home events. All being well, the HR, and the Tour of Flanders sportive (full distance) will form my two A races of 2022, but perhaps we're getting ahead of ourselves! The first event that I've targeted in 2021 is "The Struggle Dales" at the end of May. If the current lockdown plan stays on track, then this should be possible, and so has been the training focus for the past number of weeks.
Before we look ahead to that, let's take stock of how the end of 2020 went.
Winter 2020 Review
With so much uncertainty in 2020, the focus was to improve at Zwift Racing. It was the most reliable form of competition, and certainly kept things exciting during lockdown, and the winter months. Although I'm not a big fan of intense training in the evenings (it affects my sleep and therefore recovery too much), I was keen to represent Team Vegan in the inaugural Zwift Racing League (Season 1). This exciting team competition attracted thousands of Zwift racers from around the globe, and comprised 10 events with a mix of Scratch races and Team Time Trials. The competition was a league format, and after the first two "pooling" races to determine which league each team should be placed in (within the usual Zwift categories), the leagues were locked down. As with many league formats, the top and bottom few teams in a division would be promoted or relegated accordingly.
After taking part in the top A league for the two pooling events, Team Vegan Alpacas (one of two A teams we put forward) were placed in the 3rd division of the EMEA 2 East region. One difficulty of such team events is ensuring enough riders are available each week to field sufficient riders to not only avoid a DQ (3 riders for Scratch races and 4 for TTTs), but also to remain competitive. With a global team of working age racers, this can often be a challenge, but we did a good job of fielding enough riders each week (even with a few last minute technical hitches!).
I don't want to go into the full details of each race, here, but suffice it to say, each race was very competitive and "short and punchy". We represented Team Vegan well, and managed to attain 4th in our league in Season 1 (just missing out on promotion - or so we thought until a team above us didn't register for Season 2!). During this 10 week season, I really worked on my punch as a rider (something I'm not particularly blessed with as a Time Trial Phenotype), and this really helped on some of the required short climbs (< 2 mins) on most events.
I really enjoyed ZRL Season 1, but it clearly impacted my recovery (as expected), so after a successful first season captaining our A team, it was time to hand over the reins for Season 2, and refocus.
Although I knew that evening racing wasn't something I would be able to sustain, I wanted to double down on my work on my "punch" as a rider, and the off season (and in this case the festive period) offers a good chance to work on your weaknesses. My coach and I set about a plan to improve my short term power duration, including a focus on sprints. Training your weaknesses can take more of a toll on the body, but sprint work isn't too hard on the body due to the limited duration, and I found myself enjoying, and adapting to this training well.
A mixture of low cadence strength work, and high cadence leg speed drills, along with plenty of dedicated sprint drills really helped improve this aspect of my racing.
My peak power improved from around the mid 800W range, to over 1000W, and my 5s power best improved to 980W.
To capitalise on the sprint training, I decided to target Crit City races on Zwift as my playground. With long efforts around sweet spot and threshold being a strength, staying with the pack for around 25 minutes (the typical length of a 10 lap Crit City race) was not a big issue (especially if drafting well), and I found myself actually "hoping" races would end in a sprint (generally a > 90% chance in these races), so I could test the new sprint power.
It took a few races to get my timing right on the sprints, but didn't take too long for me to be regularly attaining podiums, and also a lovely end to the year on NYE, where I nailed a sprint victory! (See full race here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5r2zlIjtc_s&ab_channel=PhilRich)
This win, was accompanied by some additional "sprint wins" where a lone leader had taken the win, but I was able to take down the sprint from the remaining pack. One pleasing example was in a race around Innsbruckring. Not only has my sprint training helped with that aspect directly, but I've noticed a direct boost in my sub 1 minute power efforts. This helped open up races like Innsbruckring to me a lot more too (Sprinting to a podium: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hfoyLdqeJgw&ab_channel=PhilRich)
Shifting focus, and resetting in early 2021
Having worked a lot of my short term power weakness, and had a lot of racing over the winter season, it was time to take stock a bit in January and freshen up a bit over the early part of 2021 with some low intensity base. I supplemented this base with a bit more strength work by way of some free weights work at home. This was the focus until the 3rd week February, after which we started to add in some tempo and some z5 surges to get used to the feeling of a bit more power again to round out the base period. The base supplemented with more tempo continued until the 3rd week of March. At this point, it was looking fairly promising that our first outdoor event of the year (The Struggle Dales) was likely to be on track (from a lockdown perspective), so it was time to begin the first of a few build phases before the event.
Build phase 1
My Chronic Training Load (CTL) at the start of this phase was 109 (as modelled by Training Peaks (TP)). A small amount of this is contributed by the continued strength work, but this is typically no more than 80TSS a week (modelled by TP as hrTSS). My plan was to increase this over the course of the first build block to around 120.
As with a lot of my training, I supplement a few prescribed intensity sessions a week from the coach with a good amount of steady zone 2 riding (preferably outside when appropriate). I find this really helps with the endurance aspect of my riding, but also has a "resetting" effect on my body (as observed by HRV increases the following day).
The focus for the first build has been increased time at tempo and sweet spot. As my target event is likely to be 6 hours of effort, and over 300TSS, this means some decent length sessions, with a lot of time in zone. Fortunately as someone who is able to commit a solid amount of time to training, I'm generally able to put in the hours, and still dedicate a good amount of time to recovery around such sessions. An additional focus is on performing intervals after a solid amount of work (e.g. tempo blocks after 2500kJ of work being done). This is really valuable in improving fatigue resistance, but also puts a premium on how well you have fuelled up to that point in the ride (which will be key on these longer events).
These longer sessions were supplemented with some shorter, high power sessions (typically sub 1.5hrs so I can complete them before work - I'm an early riser!).
In terms of periodisation, the initial aim was to take a traditional 3 weeks on, 1 week off approach. Although we would monitor sensations throughout the build, and adapt accordingly.
As the build block progressed, I found I was feeling good, and was often increasing the interval bias a little bit on many of the sessions (something I only do when feeling very solid). To that end (and also to synchronise nicely with some annual leave I had around the Easter holidays), we decided to run the build block as 2.5 weeks, with a half week de-load (with just some zone 2 riding) and then go straight into the second Build straight away.
At the time of writing, the first week of the second build block has been planned, and as expected, we are shifting through the gears a little after a solid tempo/SS block. There is a little more emphasis on VO2max and NM efforts (for the short and intense sessions), but we are still keeping at least one longer session with some solid tempo blocks deep into the ride to ensure we remain specific to the target event. My plan is to give some more granular reports during the second block (mainly for self accountability, and also, I'm writing reports for the coach in Training Peaks anyway, so it makes sense!). I think it will be interesting to demonstrate how not every workout goes "exceptionally", and how I deal with such things, and what I look to in terms of diagnosing, and improving for next time. This is going to be particularly poignant with plenty of time above threshold in the pipeline (something which is tough for everyone if done properly!).
A short, intense VO2max session(6x3mins @120% FTP) coming in Build 2:
A longer, session, with repeated intervals (some after 3 hours) in Build 2:
As you can see, things are certainly going to be getting a bit more "spicy" in this phase. Although VO2max sessions are always tough, I did find last season that after a decent block of tempo/SS work, a VO2max block really helped to maximise the gains. So with excitement, and trepidation (!) I look forward to the coming weeks.
As mentioned above, I intend to produce some more granular blogs during Build 2 to indicate how the sensations are as we progress, so look out for those in the coming days.
Until then, Ride On!