Question: “A month out from the beginning of my race season as an expert/open rider focusing mostly on XC and some 50miler/100k races, what should I be aiming to achieve in my workouts?”
Answer: Sounds like you are in for a fun season! Your goals one month out from your first XC and endurance races will depend on what you have been doing through the winter and up to now. Assuming you did a solid winter of training to develop your aerobic base, beginning at steady state endurance work, followed by a large volume of tempo training, and some threshold and surge work on top of that, one month out you should be adding some race-specific top end that will allow you to dig deep to go hard at the start, attack other riders, cover attacks, and make the decisive move when the time is right and other riders are pinned.
There are a few different workouts I recommend to address these goals. A fast start is more important in an XC race than an endurance race but in order to be competitive in your longer races, you will need a fast start for these as well. This is especially true if the course funnels into singletrack quickly or if the course causes some initial splintering of the group that will require you to be near the front to avoid getting caught out when a split occurs.
There are two main components to improving your starts; first is the simple act of getting quickly clipped into your pedals and powering off the line, second is being able to ride at a maximal effort, then drop to VO2/threshold effort and maintain, without recovery. To address these goals, perform the following workout. Warm up by spining easy for 10 minutes, then ramping up to tempo from minute 10-12, back to easy spinning for one minute, then up to threshold for two minutes. Do a couple of 10” jumps then spin easy for another two minutes and begin the following intervals; start with one foot on the ground and one foot clipped in, like a race start. Clip in and sprint off the line, riding as hard as you can for 2-4 minutes, then settling into threshold effort for 8-10 minutes. The best way to do this workout is to find a course that mimics a race course, i.e. beginning the interval on pavement or dirt road and funneling into a singletrack climb within a couple of minutes. Use visualization during this workout; imagine other riders around you and the mad dash for singletrack. You may get some relief at the singletrack but you will still need to hang on and push the pace. Do a total of two of these intervals per workout, then finish the remainder of your ride at endurance pace. Do this workout once per week for 2-3 weeks starting 3-4 weeks out from your first goal event.
You will want to improve your anaerobic capacity to cover surges and short climbs. For AC intervals, I like 2-3 sets of 1:30 – 3 minutes at AC with 5 minutes recovery between intervals and 10 minutes recovery between sets. Anaerobic capacity should feel like a 9 out of 10 for your Rate of Perceived Exertion. Unlike the Starts workout above, you should control your effort for these intervals so that you do not have to back off at the end and you can keep the intensity even and high through the interval. Cool down with at least 15 minutes of easy spinning. Do this workout once per week for 2-3 weeks starting 3-4 weeks out.
To put the final touches on your top end, you will want to do a few sprint workouts. You can do these on flat ground or on hills and I suggest doing some of them starting with one foot clipped in, one foot on the ground (like a race start) and some from speed. You should start with 6-8 reps of 30” all out and work up to 8-12. Take at least 4:30 recovery of light spinning between reps and cool down for at least 15 minutes after the workout. Do this workout 1-2 times per week for 2 weeks starting 2-3 weeks out.
These workouts will set you up nicely to head into your season fast and ready to mix it up!
Sarah Kaufmann is a USAC Level II coach under the PLAN7 Endurance Coaching brand. She is a member of the Stan’s NoTubes Women’s Elite Mountain Bike Team and has been racing mountain bikes at the professional level since 2008. Sarah is based in Salt Lake City, Utah.