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As I progress through the year I have noticed a change in my limitations. For example, early in the year during our weeknight hammerfest my heart rate would max and I would become very short of breath. This would lead to getting dropped. Now I can hang longer and have better times. On the ride (and during a race) my breathing remains comfortable and HR manageable, but my legs just become fatigued and/or don't have the strength to either hang with the fast group or continue after bridging a gap. This drives me crazy because I feel comfortable otherwise. What is the best way to improve in this area?
 

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Not a coach by any means, but your cardio system will recover and your legs may not. I was told a while ago, just keep riding and you will build muscle, stength, and endurance. Higher cadence can tax the HR and lungs, but once you recovere, you are ready for round 2....3....4 Bridging up to a group that's already at your max speed will definitely put you in a world of hurt. I learned just a week ago, that it's tough when the group you are bridging up to is small. A larger group can give you an opportunity to partially recover.
 

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The key work is Fatigue and not Strength. You need to work on getting more time doing the exact type of riding that you are getting dropped on. I know nothing about your training or strength and weakness but Cycling is an endurance sport which is dominated by aerobic work. The bigger your aerobic base the less effort it takes to make the efforts to handle the surges and breakaways. Time on the bike solves most problems.
 

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...I learned just a week ago, that it's tough when the group you are bridging up to is small. A larger group can give you an opportunity to partially recover.
I haven't done any group riding yet, so this may be a dumb question but why is this true? Is it because a larger group offers provides you with more drafting or some other reason? Thank you.
 

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By the sounds of it your cardiovascular endurance is up to scratch, but your muscular endurance still needs working on, so try some leg muscle building by doing squats, going to a gym and stretching your muscles off before and after cycling.
 

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As I progress through the year I have noticed a change in my limitations. For example, early in the year during our weeknight hammerfest my heart rate would max and I would become very short of breath. This would lead to getting dropped. Now I can hang longer and have better times. On the ride (and during a race) my breathing remains comfortable and HR manageable, but my legs just become fatigued and/or don't have the strength to either hang with the fast group or continue after bridging a gap. This drives me crazy because I feel comfortable otherwise. What is the best way to improve in this area?
It's highly unlikely you are strength limited, however you are most likely power limited - sustainable aerobic power limited.

Without knowing much about you, it's hard to be specific about what you specifically should do, but in general it involves riding more (e.g. 15 minutes extra per week for a few months) and most importantly, including quality efforts in your training diet, especially those that focus on improving your sustainable aerobic power, and anything else specific to your ride/race demands.

That is achieved with a balance of ride time at various intensities, but especially with regular hard, sustained and sometimes repeated efforts from 5 to 90-minutes duration in and around your threshold power level (i.e. +/- 15% of threshold), or the effort level you could maximally sustain for about 40-60 minutes. Do a solid session once or twice per week, and combine with general quality aerobic work on the other 3-5 days.

Gaining an understanding of intensity of effort really helps.

That will have a far greater impact than any gym work will.

Good application of the fundamental principles of:
- Clear goals (know why you are doing the training)
- Sustainable progressive overload (with load being a function of duration and intensity, as well as frequency of training)
- Specificity (consider and replicate the specific demands where possible, not just physical but technical, tactical and psychological as well)
- Recovery as required

will take you a long way in this sport.
 
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