8-Week Beginner Programme – Cape Town Cycle Tour

8-Week Beginner Programme

16 Aug 2021 - Cape Town Cycle TourTraining

Plans developed by Prof. Ross Tucker and Richard Woolrich, official coaches of the Cape Town Cycle Tour.

This programme is intended for cyclists who are starting out on their journey and looking to finish the Cape Town Cycle Tour comfortably, confidently and in control. It does require some degree of cycling proficiency at the start – in your first week, for instance, you’ll do a ride of one hour and another of 90 minutes, so that’s your starting level. 

Speed doesn’t matter – we are not concerned with how fast you can ride, only that you are able to ride for 90 minutes, and are ready to build that up over time. Basically, if you have a bike, and a desire to get faster, this programme is for you!

How to use this programme

Our goal for you in the next eight weeks is to “become a cyclist”. To achieve this, we need to build up the weekly riding time to a point where the 109km that awaits in October is not as daunting a prospect as it may be now.

In order to achieve that, we progressively increase your fitness by applying the principle of overload. That is, we add a little bit more each week, in terms of time, and intensity, so that your body and mind adapt, and you get fitter as a result.

A couple of important points will guide you through this process, and it’s really crucial that you understand these in order to “roll with it” over the next eight weeks, and take ownership of your own journey.

First, we have tried to avoid being too prescriptive about training days in our programme.  We know how it is – you can have the best laid plans on a Sunday evening, and then work, family and general life gets in the way and you can no longer stick to the plan. Instead of being derailed by an inflexible plan, we want you to have options. So, instead of prescribing training on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday etc, we give you option days, where you can make some choices depending on your schedule.

So, you’ll note the following:

  • Mondays are always rest days – you ride long rides on the weekend, so take the day off, get back to the work week without any additional stress
  • Sunday is typically prescribed as your weekly long ride, though this can also be done on a Saturday – it’s your choice.  There is therefore a weekend option for you, and you can decide whether to ride on Saturday, rest on Sunday, or vice-versa
  • There’s a Tues/Wed option for you, where you will typically do one easy/short ride, and one strength session.  The choice is yours as to which falls on which day, depending on your schedule.  The strength sessions are explained below.
  • There’s a Thurs/Fri option, where you have a choice, once again, between a strength session, a shorter ride, and sometimes, a rest day.  Once again, your allocate the session to the day that your schedule will allow

How hard should I ride?

When we prescribe your cycling sessions, we advise you on an ideal intensity.  Intensity basically means “how hard must I go?”.  Here, it’s really important to get the balance right – too hard, and you’ll cause overtraining, fatigue and a lot of frustration. Too easy, and you won’t get the necessary stimulus to make you fitter.

Our advice is that you judge intensity based on your subjective perception of effort, using a scale that runs from 1 to 10. Where 1 is very very easy effort, and 10 is maximum effort.

You can also use heart rate to judge your ride intensity, though this requires some equipment, but if you have this, great. And finally, there is a very useful practical test called the “Talk test”, that you can use to gauge how hard you are riding compared to how hard we suggest you ride.

Here is a handy table that summarises the intensities, which we have banded into five zones. In the actual programme, we recommend a training zone, and you can use this table to choose a method of “pinning” the training zone down for your ride:

Strength training sessions

You’ll see that there are four potential strength sessions prescribed over the eight weeks.  We often neglect this part of our training as cyclists, but it’s crucial for both injury prevention and performance that you dedicate some time each week to doing these. They’ll help you develop the core and leg strength that create stability, which in turn allows you to leverage leg strength into power. The specific session that you need to do is indicated (from 1 to 4), and you can follow the videos that are prescribed to ensure that you nail the technique and get the most from the session.

The Programme

With that in mind, let’s take a look at each week, and understand our objectives and goals for that week.

Week 1

The aim is, quite simply, to start.  You’ll ride three times this week, and do one strength session.  The three rides will consist of two short (an hour or less) midweek rides, and a weekend long ride, either on Saturday or Sunday, your choice.

The strength session this week is Session 1 – you’ll see that there are four options for strength sessions, all of which have explanatory videos available, and which are advised over the course of the eight weeks. Cyclists often neglect these strength elements, to their detriment, because adequate strength is important for both injury prevention and performance.

This sets up a pattern that we’ll follow all the way to the Cycle Tour, with one or two exceptions.  That is, your weekend brings your long ride, and midweek has your maintenance rides.

Week 2

The name of the game here is to build.  We increase the time spent in the saddle, just slightly on that weekend long ride. We also add a second day of strength training to the week. By doing this, the ‘stress’ (a good type) is increased, which causes your body to adapt, making you fitter.  Your goal should be to challenge yourself, in all these rides and strength sessions, but not to overexert to the point of feeling absolutely exhausted at the end. If you don’t feel capable of riding another 30 minutes or so, minimum, at the end of each ride, then you’re going a little too hard, so reign it in and get control!

Week 3

We build again, with the addition of an hour to the weekend ride. This takes you to 3 hours, which is a significant time on the saddle. But don’t panic about the volume, slow down as much as you need to, and just get the time done at the pace you need to. By now, you should already feel that you’re coping better, as you improve your fitness and strength. 

You’ll also see the inclusion of an interval session in mid-week, where you will develop leg strength by doing blocks of riding in a heavier (harder to push) gear, with some recovery time between. 

Week 4

This is a recovery week, where we take a small step back and reduce the weekly riding time slightly and go back to one strength session. We do this just to give your body the time and space to adapt – remember, we get fitter and faster in the times of recovery from training, so be really disciplined here, and just let the last two weeks “embed”, recover and we’ll build again next week.

Week 5

The build resumes. Your weekend long ride is now up to three and a half hours. Again, don’t worry about the pace – you’ll see we advise it should be in Zones 2 and 3, which means “easy to medium” (see the intensity table), and you should be able to talk comfortably for a lot of this ride. If the distance or time feels too great, slow down, and ease up on intensity in order to finish the ride as prescribed. You’ll also see that your Option 2 (Thurs/Fri) ride is another interval training ride where you find a heavy gear, as though riding up a moderately steep climb, and ride it out at a slow cadence in zone three for two minutes at a time, repeated six times. Again, this is a leg strength session that develops the ability to handle the climbs on the Cycle Tour, and during these 2-minute intervals, you might well find that your intensity drifts into Zone 4 on the intensity chart (see above).

Week 6

A similar week to week 5, but we add in a second ride on the weekend, which means your Weekend option now has two rides. One is your weekly long ride, which is up to 3h30, and the other is a short ride. We recommend that you do the short ride on Saturday, and the long ride on Sunday, but if you absolutely can’t, slot them in in the other order

Week 7

Our final push towards Cycle Tour fitness resumes, as we add back the second strength session, we increase that weekend option long ride to four hours. We keep that Option 2 (Thurs/Fri) ride at a low cadence to work on your leg strength, and we also suggest that your weekend long ride be done on a hilly course so that you can learn to adapt to the changes in rhythm and intensity that the hills force on you

Week 8

This is race week!  It’s also a taper week, where we cut right down on the riding time from Monday to Friday. We want you fresh for the race, and you’ve earned the right to back off the volume in the last few weeks. However, it’s also really important that you stay “sharp” for the race, which is why we prescribe those two acceleration sessions, ideally on Thursday and Saturday, to keep the intensity up, and your legs turning over in readiness for the race.


Prof Ross Tucker is one of the world’s top sport scientists and an avid cyclist while Richard Woolrich is a personal trainer and cycling coach who specialises in strength and conditioning

Follow Ross: @scienceofsport (Twitter) RossTucker10 (Instagram)
Follow Richard: @rwoolrich (Instagram)

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