Tapering for cycling

Tapering is the art / science of trying to peak for a particular event. This can be a major taper, where you try to gain maximum performance  for a major race (usually once or twice a year) There are also minor tapers, where you try a shorter taper for races of medium importance throughout the year.

The basic principle of tapering is that there are two main aspects of training:

  • Stress – where you do the training and stress the muscles and body. This leaves fatigue and possible muscle damage, but the stress causes the body to adapt to higher levels of fitness. Without this stress, the body never tries to adapt to greater fitness.
  • Recovery – where you rest and give time for muscles to recover and adapt to higher levels of fitness.


The idea of a taper is to gain the optimal amount of fitness, plus freshness. If you train too hard, you will enter the final competition too fatigued and unrecovered. If you rest too much, then you start to lose the fitness gains. The peak taper is to get best combination of fitness, plus freshness.

Generally tapering involves reducing the volume of training, but maintaining a similar number of sessions of the same high intensity. This reduction in training volume can be anything between 5-21 days.

Some people racing every week may do a mini weekly taper of reducing training towards the end of the week. But, I wouldn’t really call this a proper taper.

Out of interest, in 1954 Roger Banister,  took 6 days off before his successful attempt to be first man to run the mile under 4 minutes (3 min 59.4 sec) (link)

Benefits of Tapers

Different studies, suggest that a taper which reduces fatigue from an endurance athlete can boost performance by between 3-11%.

  • VO2 max capacity is largely unaffected by taper.
  • Hemoglobin blood values have been shown to increase by up to 14%
  • Hematocrit values have been shown to increase by up to 2.6% (Correspondingly at the end of a long tour, blood values are expected to fall. Hence athletes which show rising Hemotcrit levels at the end of a three week tour, is a strong indication of blood doping)
  • One of the biggest increases in capacity after a taper is in sport specific muscles. Increases in swimming-specific power,  of 16–25% have been reported in both men and women (9, 53)

How to develop a taper

A taper will depend on several factors. Firstly, it depends on how much you are training. If you are training less than four hours per week, a taper is unlikely to have any benefit, because at the level of training, fatigue is unlikely to be an issue. The greater the training volume, the greater the accumulated fatigue and the greater potential benefit of a taper.

One suggested rule of thumb:

  • 6-10 hours training – major taper – 7 days
  • 10-15 hours training – 14 days
  • 15+ hours – 21-30 days

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Returning to cycling after injury


One thing about cycling is that you will always have time off the bike due to injury, illness e.t.c. In my case, these enforced breaks have been anything from one week to several years. Returning to cycling after a lay off can be a great feeling, but you have to be careful to manage it in the best way.


Firstly, it can be very frustrating to be sitting on the sidelines, nursing some injury – These periods off the bike always seem to correlate to the best beautiful weather. Outside it’s sunny and dry – perfect for clocking up the miles, but you’re still hobbling up the stairs trying to detect any slight improvement in your strained muscle.

How much fitness do you lose when you’re off your bike?

  • After one week, you will begin to lose top end speed quite quickly.  As soon as training stops, you find anaerobic threshold and VO2 max drop off  fairly rapidly. Though after a few weeks, the rate of decline tails off.
  • After two to three weeks, your endurance capacity will also start to fade away too. In one study, Madsen et al, cyclists who stopped training for four weeks found their ability to cycle at 75% of VO2 max dropped from about 80min to just over 60min—a 20% decrease. This is a good approximation of basic endurance fitness. Still 20% reduction from four weeks of rest is not the end of the world.

Taking a month or two off the bike is never quite as devastating as it feels at the time. The body is adaptable – what you lose you can regain – there just needs to be a degree of patience.

Difficulties in coming back after Injury

  • There is always a danger you could do too much, too early and aggravate rather than help the injury to get better. There are no hard and fast rules about how much you should do because it depends on type of injury and recovery. In some cases, light exercise can help get blood to the affected area and speed up healing. For want of any better advice, if you feel  pain, it is a sign you might be pushing too early. If you can ride without pain, then it is a guide signal to begin lightly.
  • During injury, some muscles will have wasted causing imbalances in the body. This can cause knock on injuries, due to over stretching other parts of the body. One thing I’ve noticed about recent injuries where I mainly landed on left hand side, is that I’ve gained muscle strains on my right hand side in my back because I’m overcompensating on the other side.
  • Also, because I haven’t been using my left leg much, I can feel the muscles are really declining in power. When I wake up I feel my left leg involuntary stretching because the previously strong muscles are becoming much weaker due to non-use. Unfortunately, this has aggravated the imbalance between my left and right leg.

Tips in Coming back to Cycling from Injury

  • After long break, start with short distances and a very steady pace. Build up distance and intensity gradually. The last thing you want is to over-stretch yourself. The good thing about cycling is that it is ideal for taking it gradually. You can cycle a few kms whilst maintaining a very low effort. It becomes nice if each day, you can add a few kms, taking it step by step.
  • Be careful of setting goals too early. We are tempted to start thinking. ‘Right this injury is going to be over in 2 weeks.” But, you can’t put your own time scale on it. If you have a deadline, you are likely to suffer from failed expectations.
  • If you have a target for a 100 mile sportive 3 weeks after injury, it can become very tempting to push too hard. To achieve a big target requires great determination, but recovery from injury requires listening to the body and patience rather than stretching yourself. Once you have a fixed goal, it’s hard to be patient with yourself.
  • Manage expectations. To use the oft-quoted line from A Fish called Wanda ‘It’s not the despair I can’t stand, it’s the hope’ Be wary of giving yourself unrealistic expectations of recovery. To use a footballer manager cliché just take each day as it comes and do what you can with that.

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Left – right leg imbalance

In the past several years, I’ve had recurrent knee problems. It usually starts to occur at the end of a long winter training season. This year I’m trying hard to prevent the problem rather than wait for pain to develop.

its all about balance
It’s all about balance

In previous years, I’ve visited a good sports physio in Oxford (David Jones, Oxford Sports Rehabilitation) who has helped diagnose why there is knee pain and what to do about it. In a nutshell, the problem was related to having one leg significantly weaker than another. Therefore, by the end of a long ride, the weak leg is struggling to keep up. Rather than move up and down in a straight line, the weak leg starts to flop around. It is this unnatural movement which causes pain in the knee to develop.

There was nothing intrinsically wrong with the knee. The problem was in the cycling action which was causing the knee joint to move in a way that caused friction.

The physio had a good model of a leg. When it works properly the leg is like a lever moving up and down in a straight line. When the leg moves at an angle you can see how it causes problems for the knee.

Solution to weak leg

Having a correct diagnosis of the problem is an important starting point. It was a relief to learn that I didn’t have a fundamental problem with my knee, and that it could be solved.

The solution was then to increase strength in the weak leg so it would be able to keep up with the other leg. This was a simple collection of exercises, which involved standing up from a chair on one leg, leg squats on one leg.

I have a series of leg exercises, I try and do them for 20 minutes or so on off days for the bike. I make a particular effort to do these exercises if I’m having a period of time off the bike.

Checking left leg – Right leg imbalance

A good way to check leg strength is to use a leg press machine.

In February 2013, I could only lift 25kg with my left leg. With my right leg I could lift 40kg. It was a huge imbalance in strength. To be honest, I was shocked at how weak that left leg was. 25kg is not very much, when you considered how much I was cycling.

When I tested in April 2009, we didn’t use a leg press machine, but my legs were weaker than in 2013. I couldn’t do a proper leg squat without my legs wobbling all over the place.

Joining a Gym

I’ve always felt a gym is a waste of money. I’ve never been inspired to go to a gym and join a few other sweaty participants with horrible music blaring out. But, I thought that testing my legs could help to self-diagnose any weakness and work to prevent leg imbalances before the problem returns.

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A Century Ride

It might be early December, but it’s always nice to get a century ride in. Cycling 100 miles in a day, is always a little bit of an achievement, even if you do race 25 times a year and ride 10,000 miles a year.

The last time I managed to cycle 100 miles in a day was the National 100 mile TT  back in July. It was up in the Lake District in the midst of a heatwave, I managed to complete the 100 miles in 3.46. I finished exhausted and dehydrated. Today, was just a bit slower (2.25 hour), and there was certainly no chance of heat stroke!

November and December are very unstructured in terms of training. Basically I go out cycling whenever I feel like it. That generally means cycling quite a lot. I tried to make myself have a break after the national hill climb championship at the end of October. I managed a quiet two weeks before I got an itch to get on the bike, and for want of a better phrase ‘get the miles in’. Despite trying to have a break, I still managed nearly 900 miles in November, with quite a few 80 mile + rides thrown in. I could have made a few centuries in November, but the light fades pretty fast. The biggest challenge to riding a century in deep mid winter is finding enough time in the day to complete the miles. You can’t dawdle for too long in the morning coffee shop if you want a 100 miles in December.

Bourton on the hill. Possible the most scenic village climb in England

A few weeks ago, I went out to Bourton on the Hill with a dismally slow 15.7 mph average speed. Over 6 hours for 95 miles. Any other time of the year, I might have done a 5 mile circuit, but it was already on the dark side when I got home.

At the moment, I’m not quite sure whether I’m training or just enjoying riding the bike. Even if I wasn’t doing any racing next year, I still think I’d be going out for a six hour bike ride. It’s a bit bonus if you can enjoy training for its own sake.

I’m never entirely sure of the benefits of six hour long slow distance rides when you’re a hill climb specialist. But, although I’ve no qualifications in cycle coaching, I assume it’s better than sitting on the couch stuffing my face with maltesers.

There’s a great freedom to this time of the year. In the race season, I tend to ride the same routes. I don’t want to be thinking about where to go. When interval training, I tend to go South East towards the Chilterns. It’s either flat or a very good long hill; excellent territory for interval sessions. But, interval sessions feel a different lifetime at this time of the year. So for a change, I love to go towards the Cotswolds and enjoy the quiet country lanes and picture postcard villages. Some are so beautiful, you think you’ve gone back in a time warp to the 1930s (well, at least until that Audi driver comes flying around the corners whilst speaking into his iPhone…)

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100 mile time trial – Training and pacing

A reader asked if I had any ideas training for a 100 mile time trial. Next year, the National 100 mile TT will be one of my main pre-hill climb season targets. Last year I finished 5th in a time of 3.46, and I hope to go a bit better next year. I set a pb of 3.34.17 in 2014


Basic Training for a 100 mile TT

At the risk of stating the obvious, the 100 mile TT is a formidable challenge. It’s one thing to ride 100 miles, but to race 100 miles, is quite a challenge. A quickish rider will be able to do it in 4 hours.

The record for 100 mile TT is  Kevin Dawson (03:22:45) in 2003. If you think that sounds fast, Ian Cammish did 3:31:53 in 1983 before tribars and discwheels.

A 100 mile TT is possibly cycling’s answer to the marathon; it’s a similar effort in terms of time.

Base Endurance

The obvious starting point for doing a 100 mile TT is to do sufficient aerobic endurance training. If you are starting from scratch, this will take a good 6 months to build up. You can do 10 mile TT or 25 mile TT on little training, but unless you want to suffer like anything, you need that base endurance to be comfortable sitting in the saddle and able to complete the distance.

Minimum base endurance

As a minimum, I would suggest you need one long ride of 3-4 hours every fortnight. If possible, you would make it more frequent and longer. In winter and early season, I would do these training rides around level 2, so it is around 70% max heart rate. around 60-70% max threshold power.  These aerobic training slowly build up aerobic fitness, fat-burning capacity and ability to cycle for long periods. There are also smaller benefits for top end performance, such as increased lactate threshold. But, this is the first priority in terms of training for 100 miles. At the least, I would do a ride of 80 miles before racing. If you’ve already done a 100, it will be good for your confidence psychologically. But, it’s not essential. I know a few good time triallistswho will only do over 80 miles in a 100 mile TT.

Optimal base endurance

To maximise my chances in the 100 mile TT, I will be concentrating on the winter months in building up a strong aerobic endurance. At the moment, in November, I’m trying to do two long rides a week of 5-6 hours (averaging about 16mph). The average speed is not important. These are the classic long slow distance rides (LSD); you can easily do it with other riders. With a couple of shorter rides, it provides quite a strong framework for later in the season. At this time of the year, I don’t see these as ‘junk miles’, but an important foundation for increasing intensity in Jan and Feb.

Throughout Dec, Jan and Feb, I will continue to work on this aspect of cycle fitness. I don’t rigidly stick to level 2, but sometimes in the year it is good to concentrate on a particular type of training, after a long seasons hill climbs, endurance training seems a nice break from top level intervals.

A very rough target is to manage 1,000 miles a month in winter. But, these days, I’m less religious about clocking up the miles. It’s important not to get carried away and maintain a good balance between rest and training. This balance is different for different athletes. In my first season, 1,000 mile a month would have left me pretty tired, after a few seasons accumulation in fitness, it is more manageable. But, in the winter, I still leave a good two days of rest or very easy riding. Also, in a month, it’s good to vary effort from week to week. Perhaps 3 weeks of 200-300 miles, and in the fourth week have much lighter week.

Sweat Spot training

A typical cyclist might be racing a 100 mile TT at around 80-90% of threshold power. e.g. if you average 300 watts for a 25 mile TT, you might do well to average 250 watts for a 100 mile TT. This effort level of 10-15 % below your threshold for an hour, is often termed sweat spot training or ‘tempo’ training.

It is called the sweat spot because you can gain big improvements in fitness, with only relatively limited muscle damage and tiredness. If you race at threshold or above, you can make more gains, but also face greater fatigue and need more rest.

Therefore, in training for a 100 mile TT, a very good training schedule will be to incorporate these ‘tempo’ rides into your training.

Early in the year, you can start off with just doing one hour at this tempo of 80-85% threshold power. You will need to concentrate to maintain the power and effort, conversation is no longer really possible; it will be difficult to do in a group, unless you have a small number of riders of similar ability.

As the year progresses, increase the duration of these tempo rides from 1 hour to 2, 3 and even four hours. This is training which closely matches your race pace, so it is targeted training to the race effort of a 100 mile TT.

The good thing about sweat spot training is that it is a lot of fun and rewarding. You can do quite a bit of it without excess fatigue. If you have limited training time, then I would concentrate on this sweat spot training. Effort at this intensity will bring substantially more gains than low intensity level 1 and 2.

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Winter training rides

Winter training rides. Do you see winter training rides as something to be endured – long slow miles in cold, wet weather or an opportunity to enjoy the rigours of the British winter and display you’re the Flanderian hard man of your local area? Do you’re winter training rides involve 30 minutes on the rollers once a week or will you clock up 250 miles per week, whatever the weather?

There are some compensations for riding in winter – especially late Autumn before it gets really bare

Sean Kelly’s attitude to riding through winter, could be summed up by his quote

“I go out on my bike, I do my ride, and when I get back home I decide if it’s too wet or not!”

a bit of water never hurt anyone

I don’t think Sean Kelly would approve of long fuzzy socks and full length gloves in races… My attitude to winter training rides varies enormously. Sometimes, I’m an amateur who will spend 30 minutes on the rollers rather glad to listen to the rain beating down on the conservatory. Other times, I’m motivated to ‘get the miles in.’ and religiously clock up the miles and write them down in the training log. I become the proverbial mile-eater churning up the lonely Cotswolds miles through eerily quiet countryside and grim weather. After last season’s hill climb championship, my winter break lasted one day, before I couldn’t contain my ambition for next season, and before I knew it I had 2,000 km for November alone. This year, winter training rides are a bit on the back burner. I’m winding up a bit more slowly to those epic 100 mile winter rides. The only problem is that if you leave it too long, winter will fly by before you can say ‘who ate all the pies?’

Secret of Winter training rides


1. Do you need a winter break? It depends on your season and how tired you are physically and mentally. I would take a break, if you really want one or if you have a niggling injury. Winter is a good time to take a break. But, generally I don’t like to take a winter break. The reasons are:

  • After hill climb season of October, I’m actually quite keen to get on the bike and do some ‘normal’ cycling. The end of my season is very low mileage high intensity. If I’d done a 1,000 miles in October, I might feel like a break. But, in last few weeks, you’re not really on your bike that much anyway.
  • Not taking a winter break gives me greater freedom to take days off. If I took three weeks off in November, I would be keener to be quite strict to go out in December and January. But, I tend to find you might get an awful week of weather In January, a cold in December, and another week where there’s so much going on that you give the bike a miss. The winter is one time, where I prioritise non-cycling over cycling. I have even been known to make a vague effort to be sociable. Not taking a winter break works quite well for me because it gives a flexibility for taking time off at odd intervals throughout the worst of the winter.

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