Let's talk racing. I mean real racing. Not Zwift, not gravel grinders. I'm talking pack racing. The kind of racing where you are elbow to elbow with other riders, the speed is high, and the moment you fall out of the draft, it's all over.
This is survival, and it's also about 90% of the races we do here in the US. To be good at this kind of racing, you need to be good at one thing.
High power. I'm not talking about avg. watts per kilo, or FTP. I'm talking about the ability to surge over 600 watts (for female) and 900 watts (for males).
I was recently having a conversation with one of my athletes. She was talking about how someone had mentioned that she needed a certain 20 minute power number to race the National Calendar races. I then asked her if she thought this was a relevant number and she had no clue.
I asked her when she was racing with the pack if it was nice and steady, or if it was surgey. Meaning, did the pack accelerate with attacks, around corners, for primes, or sprint points? It's nice to be able to hold an average 20 minute power for a 20 minute climb, but this type of power is irrelevant for pack racing.
In the pack, for the majority of the time, you are either producing high amounts of power, or sitting in and recovering.
There is no such thing as a steady effort. Without the ability to produce these power numbers, you will easily get spit out of the pack and it's solo riding from here on out.
Too many riders focus on the wrong things and wonder why they aren't able to make it to the next level. If you look at power numbers across the board, you can see that the good cat 4 and 5's can likely have similar FTP's and 20 minute powers to the Cat 1's.
I see this all the time when I start to coach a new athlete. I think, ok, they have a pretty decent FTP. Then they tell me the story of how they were dropped on the first lap of a criterium.
The bigger difference you see between categories are those abilities to produce the bigger numbers, and then the ability to repeat. This takes target training to learn how to produce these numbers. If you only train for a marathon, how are you going to be able to go fast enough to race against your competitors for the mile race?
Time needs to be spent honing this ability. This isn't just some fluff that you add in right before your first race. This needs to be trained from the foundation on up.
Strength needs to be developed. Speed needs to be developed. This takes time.
Adding strength training in the weight room can pay huge dividends in the ability to produce more power on the bike. Adaptation typically takes a minimum of 8 weeks. You want to allow enough to time to build a strong foundation before the start of the season so you can focus on maintenance once you are racing.
Adding high power on the bike also takes time. By following a specific progression, you can work up to your target number. If you need to hit a certain number of watts to stay in the pack, let's say 600 for females, then you need that to be your goal for power production, not a specific time or effort level. If you can only produce 600 watts for 5 seconds, then you need to start there.
Work on hitting that number, then expanding the time out.
Start with the power, add in the time, then add in the repeatability. This will allow your body to make the right adaptations for producing power.
Remember, there are certain key performance indicators that are indicative of good pack racers. Make sure you know specifically what you need to train in order to be successful. General fitness training won't get you there.
If you have any additional questions on this, feel free to reach out!