12 Авг 2016

Good news! Riding longer doesn’t mean you need to train longer. - By Mark Carroll

The perceived link between long training hours and performance in long-distance events is still strong. We are spoilt in South Africa with rides like the Cape Epic and JoBerg2C, and it’s common to see cyclists putting in 20-hour training weeks for these events.

But are long hours the key to performance? Unless you’re a pro, the answer is no.

If you’ve read Tyler Hamilton’s book, The Secret Race, you will have seen frequent reference to threshold power to weight and threshold watts per kilogram as the measure of how well a cyclist will fare in Grand Tours like the Tour de France. There is talk of high-intensity intervals, and of training hard – but never a mention of how many hours to train each week.

Now, there’s food for thought. Multi-stage, ultra-endurance racing performance is determined by watts per kilogram, not whether you have been training 15 hours a week or 30 hours a week. To win the Tour de France, there’s a magic number of 6.7 watts per kilogram – not a magic number of 25 hours per week.

The Importance of Glycogen

Endurance is determined by how hard you ride relative to your threshold. The primary reason for this is glycogen, your carbohydrate storage.

The percentage of energy supplied from fat versus glycogen depends on the intensity of your effort. Well below threshold, and fat provides a high percentage of energy; whereas well above threshold, glycogen becomes the major fuel source. Glycogen is in fact the vital fuel source for high-intensity efforts; and when it’s gone, your race is over.

A strong rider can burn through 4 000kJ an hour of energy (from fat plus glycogen), and there’s only around 8 000kJ of glycogen-supplied energy stored in the muscles and liver when fully topped up. If your goal is to complete your endurance event at a faster pace, then you have to raise your threshold power. By raising your threshold, you raise the tipping point at which your body becomes more dependent on glycogen to supply energy, i.e. you develop the ability to use more fat to supply your energy needs at higher racing speeds. At 29 000kJ of energy per kilogram, fat is a huge energy pool, even for riders with a low body-fat percentage.


To raise your threshold while earning a living, as a non-professional cyclist, cut the hours and up the intensity. Solid tempo rides of two hours, high-intensity hill repeats, perhaps a four-hour weekend ride with a heart rate of over 70%.

I guarantee this approach – versus the ‘20-plus hours per week’ approach – will see you a faster rider, with greater endurance, at your next race.

Make the hours count

With limited hours and the goal of improving your riding, you don’t have time to waste on noodling around with slow group rides. So find one or two friends of similar ability, and hit some intensity on your rides.

  • Set aside 2 days per week for 1-hour interval sessions consisting of high-intensity hill repeats.
  • One 2-hour tempo ride (heart rate 84%-94%).
  • 1 weekend ride of 3 hours, with a heart rate of over 70%.
  • If you have more time, add in a second weekend ride or second tempo session in the week.

Mark Carroll is the owner of Cadence Cycling Performance Centre and is a Level 2 Cycling Coach registered with Cycling South Africa.

JULY 30, 2013
Mark Carroll