One of my favorite things about cycling and racing is that the most important part of the sport is the motor. No matter how much someone can/does spend on parts, or fancy equipment – it truly comes down to the motor that is pushing those cranks. What some people don’t see is other peoples love for the sport, their love of cycling. Some folks are into cycling only to be competitive, and attempt to purchase their way to the top.
Take a look at this question for example, “would a compact crank make my bike faster?” The simple answer is no. The compact crank will allow you to spin more on a climb, but is that really a good thing? Check out “Why compact cranks can make your legs weaker” . I did a group road ride recently where a guy was spinning himself off the back of the pack, as I was pulling up beside him, I was going to suggest him to shift & mash – luckily he did just before I suggested it.
Your heart and lungs are the Carburetor, and your legs are the pistons. If you spin the easiest gear all the time it would be like red-lining a sports car in 1st gear on the interstate. For optimal cycling you have to adjust the gears based on A) the terrain and B) on your abilities. Sometimes it is better to spin an easier gear, but sometimes it is better to mash a gear. The thing to remember is that if you always spin an easier gear, then your legs do not get any stronger!
If you were training to ride up a 12 mile climb of 12% in France, would you do all your climbing in the easiest gear? I wouldn’t! I would mash 1 gear harder than I would normally – therefore making my legs stronger. Then when I got to France my legs should be used to mashing a larger gear, which would make spinning up the climb easier. So train harder to make your big event easier.
On the flip side of the coin: A friend of mine wanted me to do a 90 mile ride with him, that was going to include three, 7 mile climbs…. a week before he was going to race Twilight a 1K criterium in Athens, GA. My advise, go for a 2 hour spin with very little climbing. ‘spin’ is the key word. For racing a criterium next week your legs are as strong as you can get them before such an event – the key is to do something similar to the upcoming race – which he did – Sunny King Criterium. 1 group ride this week and a couple easy high cadence spins is all that can be done the week before the race. Doing any climbing causes the legs to become accustomed to a lower cadence, not the high cadence required for a crit!
The best way to set-up a training plan is to find out what your target goal is, then plan backwards. That is why it is so important to look at the overall season as early as possible each year. The more time you have for planning, the more you can do the proper training to bring you into optimum form! This is often where a coach will look at your overall schedule and time for training and place the proper workouts in your training plan to bring you to peak form.