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Essential Q&As for New Cyclists


As the owner and operator of Cycling Camp San Diego, Robert Panzera coaches performance cyclists who want to make the leap to racing. In his new book Cycling Fast: Winning Essentials for Cycling Competition, Panzera explains how many of the same elite cycling training techniques also translate for beginning cyclists entering their first group ride—even triathletes. He recently spoke with CorePerformance.com.

Core Performance: We’ve seen a boom in running and triathlon, but despite the growing popularity of the Tour de France in the last decade, we haven’t seen as much growth in competitive cycling. Why is that?

Robert Panzera: There’s more accessibility to sports like triathlon. Running is easier to do and there’s a lot of infrastructure to that sport. People get into triathlon via running or swimming from a high school or college background. Cycling is more equipment involved and you have to find a club or a sport. The sport has been slower to take off but it is growing exponentially at this point.

CP: How important is a professional bike fitting?

RP: Very important. There are so many designs, especially with carbon fiber, that hanging over the top tube doesn’t cut it for fitting a bike. A lot of bike shops offer demo programs that will let you demo a bike, if not on a group ride or at least riding the bike locally. You want to get the closest fit you can and then they make adjustments so that you’re in a position that works for you. These days you can get something for $1,000 than you can race in. The higher the price point, the lighter the bike and the greater durability of parts.

CP: What’s more important: intensity or volume?

RP: It depends on what you’re training for. You can’t head into something like a century (100-mile) ride unless you have the volume. At that point, you just want to get up to the mileage point. Once you get past that point you want to add intensity since most of us are too busy to do six-hour rides every week. Once you get to a certain level of fitness you add intensity and then it’s more about quality work and that will help you do longer events. It’s a balance of time and goals.

CP: Aside from providing good aerobic workouts, how helpful are spin classes?

RP: A lot of people I coach come from a spin environment. Spin is really good in that it builds your aerobic engine and teaches you good technique. It does focus more on a good aerobic workout and that doesn’t always translate into what you do on longer road events. I‘ve seen a push in gyms to have road-specific spin classes that translate really well. It’s more structured toward events as opposed to pushing ourselves as fast as possible for an hour.

CP: Why is it harder to raise your heart rate in spin class than on the road, even though it seems like you’re working just as hard?

RP: In some instances, the spin bikes have big fly wheels and the momentum carries you through. On the road you’re fighting wind resistance and the faster you go, the more you have to fight it.

CP: For those of us that live in areas with few hills, is there anything we can do to simulate them?

RP: You have to ride into the wind more to simulate the force of gravity going uphill. Or you can do a stationary trainer workout where you elevate the front wheel and it stimulates the climbing muscles. Bottom line: It’s a good idea to spend a few weeks a year traveling somewhere you can ride in the mountains.

CP: How do you know when you’re ready to move up to a faster group ride?

RP: If you’re able to stay in the front group at every split. Most group rides have regrouping areas. If you can stay in the front group, you’re ready to move to the next group.

CP: What are your nutrition philosophies for cyclists?

RP: I find the biggest challenge is people who have made it far in cycling and don’t have nutrition down. There is so much information out there. The challenge is to reduce it to something simple. How much is going in and out? What can I eat? The main goal is to get clean calories in—whole grains, real foods, things that are carb-based but not sugary. Beyond that having a balanced diet outside of being on the bike. There should be lots of fruits, vegetables, and lean meats—just eating clean.

CP: What can triathletes learn from competitive cyclists?

RP: More group riding would help them. Triathletes tend to get into this mindset that they have a race pace and that should be their training pace riding alone. But to stretch yourself, you have to do group rides, ride harder, and get out of your comfort zone. That makes you quicker and teaches you bike handling skills, which you don’t develop as much riding alone. There’s a reason pro cyclists do motor pacing, getting behind motorcycles or scooters. They get up to speeds they wouldn’t reach at a peloton, but it pulls up their aerobics. The same is true for triathletes. If you’re racing at 24 and can pull up to, say, 27, that makes a big difference on race day.

About The Author

Pete Williams – Pete Williams is a contributing writer for CorePerformance.com and the co-author of the Core Performance book series.

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Tags: Race, Energy System Development, Triathlon, Training, Outdoor Recreation, Cardio, Cycling