Peaking for the Big Race
Being able to peak for the “big race” is one of the hardest things to do in cycling. Even after 20 years of racing I still had races that didn’t go well after doing everything perfectly to get ready. There are things you can do, however, to improve your chances of having that “perfect” day at the most important race of the season.
Peaking for a race begins months earlier in the off-season. This is the time when athletes sit down and plan out their entire race season. Most cyclists know that they can’t physically race at their best from March through September, so most will prioritize their races by order of importance. Once a rider has established which races are the most important, she can then build her schedule around those particular events.
Designing a training schedule that brings you to your most important race in peak form takes years of experience and a little luck. Based on what kind of race you are peaking for, you’ll want to design your training so that the month before you’re doing the most race specific training possible; workouts that are most similar to the kind of race you’re doing. For example, if you are peaking for the Cyclocross National Championships in December, it doesn’t make sense to do 4hr endurance rides the month before your race. You instead need to be doing lots of short intense anaerobic power workouts.
It is also important to reach your peak event in not only super fantastic race shape, but rested and mentally motivated. You can use something called a “taper” in the weeks leading up to your big event. A taper is a way to maintain intensity and peak race fitness, while allowing your body to rest and recover at the same time. A taper typically lasts 1-2 weeks, depending on the athlete. In a taper the intensity stays high, but the volume goes way down. You can still do high intensity workouts leading up to your big race, but don’t add any extra mileage during your taper. You are basically doing short interval workouts and nothing else other than recovery rides. And skip the big weekend group rides as well during your taper.
The last two days before your event are the most important and can also be the most challenging. In these two days you need to make sure you are 100% rested, but also 100% opened up and ready to race. If you’ve had a few easy days leading up to your event, it is super important to get the legs “opened up” before your race. Pre-race openers can be done 1-2 days before your event and involve maybe some tempo riding and then some short, high intensity efforts. If you are doing a mountain bike or cyclocross race, your pre-race openers can be done on the course.
On race day it is super important to get a good solid warm-up before your event. I recommend doing a combination of endurance and tempo and then finish with some short high intensity efforts as close to the start as possible. In general, the longer your event, the shorter and less intense your warm-up needs to be. For example, if you are warming up for a 24hr solo race, it doesn’t make sense to do a bunch of vo2 intervals.
We all know there is a lot more that goes into having a good race than just fitness. There can be crashes, weather, and mechanicals that unfortunately affect the outcome. Coming into your most important race in peak fitness will give you the confidence to handle not only the physical stress of the race, but any unexpected bad luck that might derail your effort. When you cross the finish line you want to know that you did absolutely everything possible to have your best day. Don’t have any doubts or “what ifs”. The athlete that wins the big one is the athlete that is the most prepared.
Good luck and happy trails!