I think the best summary of what I believe uses the bit of time a normal amatuer cyclist has to invest in their fitness was in the new Velonews Talk Fast podcast. In two parts they addressed what those of us with 6-12 hours a week can do to get fast.
Notice, I didn't say get fit. Building fitness is a part of getting fast - but it's not the end goal. There are a lot of reasons that the training culture has the standards it does for cycling. Obviously molded around the professional environment, as amateur we try to glean and adjust our work based on what the fastest in the world are doing.
But there are 3 essential differences in what Professionals have to prepare for in their events vs ours.
- Their events happen in a much greater ongoing successsion. It is standard for Professional cyclists to be able to race, day after day, for at least 7 days, at most 21. For an amateur we are mainly single day racers, at most 3 days in a row.
- Their events are at longer durations no less then 4 hours as much as 8. A majority of Professional racing is road races. At least in the US, the majority of racing is criteriums. Our Road races are at most 3-6 hrs at the Elite level. Most 60-90 minutes in criteriums.
- Professionals race at least 400-500% more then an Amatuer. Once they start racing, even if it's not a 7 day stage race, they are racing every weekend from February through dates in September.
Why peel these particular things out? The base FITNESS needed to be a professional is vast. Not just to do well in the events, but to keep doing wheel in event after event, race after race. If professional racing was all single day events it would change the training dynamic quite a bit.
The duration of their events also requires a much higher level of fitness before they get into speed work. I'm not saying 4-6 hours rides won't help an amateur cyclist. The physicological changes that happen on those rides help your fitness and racing ability in events of any duration. BUT if you don't ever have time for 6 hr rides it doesn't take away from your ability to go fast for Amateur events at any level.
That brings us full circle to the world of Amateur cycling. Where even guys going after national titles are looking at 12-16 hrs being a big week of training. Quality and Intetionality become the focus of your ride time. Even if it is "intentionally" having fun rides where you aren't staring at a power meter. There are plenty of formulas we all want to champion for training.
Here is the basic recipe I've used the past year:
For 3 Weeks:
- 1-3 days a week "Training Period" focused work. (Races/Events auto-matically count as 1 for each day).
- 2-3 days a week Aerobic Endurance
- 2 days a week Recovery
Then for 1 week:
- Monday - Thursday recovery rides
- Friday through Sunday Volume, ride how you feel days.
For the next 3-4 months that has my "training period" work being in Zone's 3 & 4. It's not an area you need to spend a lot of time in once you are racing a bunch, especially criteriums. But during this part of the year when you are trying to up the needle on fitness as much as you can afford - they are perfect.