Plans developed by Prof. Ross Tucker and Richard Woolrich, official coaches of the Cape Town Cycle Tour.
Is this programme appropriate for me?
This is the intermediate programme, which means it assumes a reasonable base level of aerobic cycling fitness and strength. You’ll see from the programme that we will start with a weekend long ride of 2h30, so that sets the base level for what will be required at the outset.
Further, the programme is designed around five days of training per week – four on the bike, and one strength session. You do of course have an option to cut a cycle session out per week, depending on how much time you can commit to training, but that’s the optimal commitment for this programme.
Over the course of the next eight weeks, we’ll build your cycling capacity through interval sessions, and the total and weekend long ride distance will increase, which will add up to make you a stronger, better performing cyclist. Combine that with the weekly strength sessions (sometimes two), and you’ll be stronger on the bike, better able to leverage your strength into cycling power, and fit enough to improve your Cape Town Cycle Tour performance.
The speed of your rides is less important, and that’s why we prescribe the training by time, not distance. Also, it doesn’t really matter if your Cycle Tour goal is to break 5 hours or 4 hours (or faster), this programme will work for you as long as your goal is to improve.
How to use this programme
Our goal for you in the next eight weeks is to develop your riding ability and to make you stronger, more stable, and ultimately more powerful on the bike. The programme assumes that you have a base level of aerobic fitness that allows you to handle a ride of about two hours in length. You’ll see that from week 1, your weekly long ride is 2h30, and so that’s the base level from which you’ll begin.
It doesn’t matter how fast you do that ride, by the way – whether you cover 50km or 70km is not irrelevant initially, the point is that you are capable of that volume, and now you’re ready to build onto it, becoming stronger, fitter, and faster 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.
What to do when your schedule interrupts your training
First, the programme is prescriptive in the sense that we advise you to do certain sessions on certain days. However, we appreciate that life doesn’t always comply with our sporting goals, and so work and other factors may pop up and prevent you from doing the rides we suggest on the days we suggest. When that happens, don’t panic, you can make small adjustments and do the rides on other days, but within reason.
What we need to prioritise is to avoid overtraining. That happens if you load too much training on your body too soon, and so the golden rule, if you’re going to make changes to the programme because of your schedule, is try to avoid doing three rides in a row. You’ll see that we currently have you doing a Saturday ride, a long ride on Sunday, and then Monday is a rest day. We do this to allow you to recover from the weekend on Mondays, and the Friday before the weekend is also intended as a training day, but without leg and cardiovascular load.
So, if you make changes, just be careful that you don’t move rides around to suddenly do three, or even four rides in a row. If you have no choice, then make sure that you drop the intensity so that those rides are really, really easy. You’ll see that most of your riding is done in Zone 2 and Zone 3 – if you find yourself riding consecutive days, drop to Zone 1 for some, and stay out of Zone 3 as much as possible!
Cycling indoor vs on the road
Another practical issue that may come up in the next eight weeks is that you may find time or opportunity to jump on the indoor trainer, either your own bike at home, or a gym, and you may find that this is more convenient than getting out on the road. There’s no problem with that – in fact, those midweek sessions are easier to control and ‘perfect’ on the indoor than when outdoors. This is particularly true for Thursdays, where you’ll see that we often prescribe an interval session at low cadences to help develop leg strength. That’s a session that can be tricky on the road, because uphills and downills and traffic and traffic lights play havoc with your ability to control the ride. So if you have access to the indoor option, it might really pay to use it for those sessions.
For the weekends, it is best to get out onto the road, and gain the experience you’ll need for race day. These rides may be especially helpful to practice your nutrition, learning what you like to eat and drink on the bike, how often you need to eat and drink, and of course, to practice riding in groups of other cyclists. But keep those indoor rides in mind as you work through the programme.
How hard should I ride?
When we prescribe your cycling sessions, we advise you on the 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 handy 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:
You’ll also notice in your programme that we advise that week 4 should be a recovery week. This is really important, though it may feel unnecessary at the time. The idea is that you gain fitness, strength and performance not directly from training, but from the recovery after training. So the programme is structured in such a way as to build the load, volume and intensity over the course of three weeks, and then give you a week where the volume and intensity come back down, just to allow that adaptation to occur. Then we build again from week five to week 7, and allow week 8 to be a taper week ahead of the race.
For instance, you’ll see how your long rides on Sundays increase from 2h30 in Week 1 to 3 hours in week 2, and 3 hours with high intensity climbs in week 3. That’s how we load progressively over time. But then we come down to 2h30 on a flat course in Week 4. This is linked to similar reductions in the interval session on Thursdays, and shorter rides throughout the week. We know that when your fitness is emerging and you’re riding well, you’ll be tempted to push hard all the time, but we hope that you’ll reign it in during these recovery weeks, trust the process, and take it easy, because it will allow you to launch again the week after and take advantage of the consistency of training!
The strength training component
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.
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