Train­ing Tips

You need the right amount of spin for the loose sur­faces

Canadian Cycling Magazine - - CONTENTS - By An­drew Ran­dell and Steve Neal of The Cy­cling Gym

Train­ing your legs for long gravel rides

Gravel is king, at least in our books. We love the sense of free­dom and quiet roads. Rid­ing on the gravel is def­i­nitely a dif­fer­ent beast than be­ing on the as­phalt. An­drew’s ex­pe­ri­ence of rid­ing back-to-back events one weekend dur­ing the sum­mer of 2019 re­ally brought those dif­fer­ences to light. Day 1 was El Ban­dito, held about 90 km east of Toronto. It is a 121-km grinder of a race fea­tur­ing plenty of sandy sec­tions that suck at the wheels and a lot of rolling ter­rain. Al­though the ride was well-paced, the day was still drain­ing. Day 2 was 160 km, this time on the road for a char­ity event, Ride for Karen. With­out a ton of miles in the legs, An­drew was ner­vous about what Day 2 would bring. To his shock, the sec­ond day was a breeze. After hav­ing spent the pre­vi­ous day on the gravel, with the legs con­stantly un­der ten­sion, the pave­ment felt so smooth and easy that the legs had no is­sue churn­ing out the miles.

When you’re on the gravel, your legs are con­stantly un­der ten­sion. There is al­ways re­sis­tance from the gravel sur­face, so you need to train the legs to sus­tain this ten­sion. Ten­sion on the road only hap­pens when climb­ing or when you make a de­ter­mined ef­fort.

Most road rid­ers, when they are asked to ride un­der ten­sion at 60 to 65 r.p.m. for an ex­tended pe­riod of time, find it quite chal­leng­ing. They can do it at first, but then the ca­dence creeps up.

To ride well on the gravel, you need to per­form across a wide ca­dence range, from 45 to 75 r.p.m. You need to be able to spin at these rates on the hills and the flats, and all while your legs are un­der con­stant ten­sion. You should prac­tise low-ca­dence rid­ing on a va­ri­ety of gra­di­ents, learn­ing how to pedal while stay­ing in the sad­dle and keep­ing the wheels in con­tact with the gravel. In al­most all events – and on the best rides – there will typ­i­cally be some steep, chal­leng­ing piece of road that you need to take on.

To de­velop the abil­ity to ride at a lower ca­dence, start do­ing tempo ses­sions, say 4 x 10 min­utes with 2-minute rests be­tween ef­forts, at 70 to 75 r.p.m. on the gravel. Then, you can progress the work­out in two ways. One would be to lower the ca­dence goal. The other would be to ex­tend the time of each ef­fort, in­creas­ing the cu­mu­la­tive time spent rid­ing tempo. You should also vary the ter­rain on which you do these ex­er­cises.

An­other work­out we quite like is a pro­gres­sion ride. Pick a route that will have some­thing in the range of 30 per cent hills that come mainly at the end. With the flat­ter start to the ride, you can bet­ter con­trol your ef­fort, keep­ing it mainly at an en­durance pace. Then as the ride gets into the hills, you can ride more by feel, pro­gress­ing your ef­fort. In­crease your pace as you feel ap­pro­pri­ate, ride un­der ten­sion, and prac­tise across a va­ri­ety of ter­rain. You’ll have fun and ac­com­plish a bunch of your train­ing goals on gravel all at once.

Keep in mind that these gravel rides are typ­i­cally quite long. The goal should be to build your abil­ity to ride at tempo, with the legs un­der ten­sion, for as long as an hour or more at a time. Then you’ll be ready to blast the fi­nal hour of rollers in your favourite gravel event.

“Prac­tise low-ca­dence rid­ing on a va­ri­ety of gra­di­ents.”

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