Automatic Endurance Training
Forget the data. Forget the watts. Forget the hours, the heart rate, the nutrition, the weight... hell, even forget the sleep. Speed wins races. Now of course all these factors play into speed, but if I had a dollar for every time someone said, "But I did 20w more than you," I'd have enough money to buy, like, I dunno, maybe a Twix or something. Shut up. Point is, at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is speed: how fast you can go. No training metric will ever beat speed. And that's something that I think has been lost lately. We overanalyze every little aspect of our training, down to the coffee we drink, and as a result, we sometimes forget that nothing beats plain old Fast.
Now, if you want to go fast, you've got to train fast. Simple as that. Nothing can prepare you for sprinting off a wheel moving at 60kph, like sprinting off a wheel moving at 60kph. Whether you do this behind a moto, or down a hill, or with your own personal leadout train, you must get the feel for engaging the pedals at speed with your maximum effort. If this sensation is new to you on race day, then allow me to extend my sincerest congratulations on your 9th place.
If you want to be fast, the first thing you must do is stretch your strength. You've built peak strength through your standing starts and tractor pulls. Now it's time to work a percentage of that for a sustained period. Got 1200w in the bank for 5 seconds? Find a hill of roughly 30 seconds, pick a spot in the road, and focus on holding an even 700w though the line. If that's too easy, then go a little deeper next time, but make sure it's something you can hold. We're building what I refer to as your Fade Point: the point at which the decline in your power production levels off. By doing these efforts evenly throughout, you're training your body to hold a high power even as the world starts melting around you. These are not efforts for peak value, but rest assured, by 30 seconds you'll be seeing black. As you do them, stay out of the saddle for the full duration and work on maintaining your form while keeping the power down: get low over the bars, and work on holding a straight line. Often you'll see someone open a sprint and start zig-zagging all over the road in an attempt to get other riders out of their draft. It almost never works, and they've just increased the distance they have to travel. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Take that line, and if you've built your quickness, the person on your wheel will be out of your draft before they even have time to react.
As the season draws closer, you're going to take that sustained effort, combine it with your peak, and apply it at speed. As mentioned earlier, it doesn't matter if you do that effort behind a moto, or off the back of a leadout train, or by just rolling down a hill, but you must get the feel for pushing at a speed that will win races. 1200w at 20kph is not the same as 1200w at 65kph.
Training Fast is a whole-package kind of deal. You're not so much training adaptation as you are practical race readiness. Because of this, rather than having my athletes sprint for a given amount of time, I have them set a line in the road, and practice pushing their limit through that line: no looking at numbers, simply getting to the line in the shortest time possible. Start with a set distance of 200m, hit it at speed, engage at your maximum and plow through the line. When 200m becomes something you can do without fading, push the line out 50m. Keep going. After each effort, take a minimum of 10 minutes rest. If you're not recovered enough to fire at capacity, then you're defeating the purpose of the workout. Most of the efforts we do on the bike focus on optimizing our ability to clear acid from our muscles. These efforts are just a sheer acid dump. Because of that, carrying any fatigue from one effort into the next will limit its benefit.
Too often we put ourselves in a box: "I'm not a sprinter. I'm not a This, I'm not a That." Good news is, if you're "not a sprinter," you have a huge deficiency that, when addressed, will make a world of difference. If you can survive a race without any sprint ability, you'll be amazed how easy racing gets once you've dedicated one session per week to working on peak values. And it comes quick. Just by doing the efforts, you'll see a huge improvement.
Now get out there, and push the pedals. Punxsutawney Phil says only 6 more weeks of winter.