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This article is for those who are second-guessing their preparation or those who know full well that they just haven’t done enough – but stick with me if you do think you’ve done enough and that you’ve planned well – after reading this you may want to have a re-think.
Let’s take a look at what lies ahead of us. Yes, it’s a bloody big hill. A massive bloody big hill. One might think that all that is required to train for the KOM is to do a lot of steady stamina work plus a shed load of climbing – and that not quite right.
Yes, you need stamina, because all told it is a lot of cycling. This will take the faster riders around 4 hrs, the middling folk about 5 to 5.30, and the slow – if they make the cut off – from 6 to 6.5 hrs.
And yes, you need your climbing boots on, because this is 85km of uphill, from zero meters to 3275, that sits at about 3.5% to 4% percent for 75km or so. It then pitches up to and average of over 10% for the final kilometers – and that’s up around 2600m til the summit at 3275.
Yet a whole bunch of steady state climbing and stamina work isn’t all that is required to get up the KOM, not if you want to have some kind of control over the level of effort or if you want to ride it in a decent time.
The last 10km
The Jigsaw Puzzle Approach
With any race I have coming up that I am keen to do well in, I sit down and look at the route, which I’m sure we all do. Check the elevation, look at the profile, consider the distance.
But when I’m studying all this, small pieces of a jigsaw begin to form in my head. In my preparation for the race, I have to work to get all of those pieces on the table, and then I can start to put together those pieces to form the bigger picture.
For example, let’s say it’s a 50km criterium with a 500m 5% climb in the middle, and 6 sharp turns, all on a 5km lap.
So, first I look to set up the border of my jigsaw, as you’d do with a real jigsaw.
And the border – or foundation – here is that I need to be able to do 50km. OK, I can do that anyway. But I’m going to need to be pretty fast for this 50km. I’d better be able to ride pretty fast, close to my FTP or a RPE 8, for 50km. That’s not easy, but if I get to work on this in training I can build up to that in blocks, increasing intensity and extending the interval blocks so I have that kind of powerful base this event will require.
Next, I have to be able to get up this 500m climb too – sure I can do that from the sofa, but this is 10 laps. A 500 meter 5% climb by lap 6 is gonna be painful, if you want to be up at the pointy end. So, another piece identified, I now have to find a similar hill – or a little harder, say 6 or 7%, even better – and get to work. First I’d be doing repeats at a tempo, to get the legs used to that, then I’d add quicker laps, building up lactic threshold so that, eventually, I can handle multiple climbs at a high pace – as I’ll need to do in the event.
Then there are these sharp turns. 6 of them on a 5 km route run 10 times. 6 sprints x 10 laps… 60 sprints! Ouch. Now, I’m not going to go out looking to do 60 hardcore sprints, but what I do need to do is to add sprinting to my program, at first separately, and then to combine them with the hill work – and again, this is what I will be required to do if I’m going to have a chance to win this crit.
In the crit itself, not every sprint will be at full gas, nor will they all be 20 seconds long, so I have to mix it up in my training too. This event is going to require me to breathe deep, hit the VO2, it’s going to load me up with lactate, I’ll need to be able to recover quickly from those shots on each hill and some of the corners, and it will test my stamina too.
And these are the pieces of this jigsaw. Over say two months, I work one each piece, and slowly start to bring them together, and now my puzzle is taking shape, I can see the image of my performance in the crit.
On race day, all going perfectly (and it rarely does but you can get close): ‘click’ – there goes the final piece, and it’s a win, or a podium, or my goal of a top ten.
And this is what we need to do with the KOM Challenge.
Training Specifically for the Taiwan KOM
So, the KOM jigsaw.
Super long, super high, so get out there and do 3 months of steady state long ass – oh wait, only 4 weeks to go and we are a bit behind.
OK, so, we need to go a little mad here.
The foundation for this is longish but hard work, not the steady eddie stuff. Get out there once a week and work on pushing hard – RPE 7 or 90-95% FTP (imagine being in a breakaway) – for steadily increasing long intervals.
Week 1 could be (depending on base fitness, less or more) a 30 km hard push with just very small on-bike breathers. Flat or rolling terrain is best so that you aren’t freewheeling too much. Do this once a week and increase the distance each week. You may get up to 80km the week before the KOM but you need not, as you will be riding steadier at the event – but the ability to go say 60km hard like this will translate into an improved ability to get up the KOM mountain.
I used to do a 90km loop with some very hard climbs, and I knew that if I could do this in under 3hrs I was ready for just about anything.
Now, 30km hard as you can go does not really take too much time on flat or rolling terrain and neither does 60km, if you are up to that, so the other ride, one weekend ride, should be a steady ride with lots of elevation. As you get fitter, add a hill or two to the ‘breakway’ ride, and / or incorporate a steep longer climb into your longer steady ride. These could be 80-130km with 2000 – 3000m+ elevation, ideally. If you are going for a big ride, go easier the day before to allow this.
One another day, get out and do hill repeats, the steeper the better. This steep ascent doesn’t have to be 10km long – it could be a 500m or a 1km section of road nearby that is steep (preferably up and over 8%). Just get used to going up and up and up. This will hammer your legs with lactate, hurt the back, pain the forearms – exactly what you’ll experience at the KOM in the last kilometers, and is another piece of the puzzle. If there’s nothing like that near you, do it indoors.
This will also be hitting your VO2 max – you’ll need all the help in the breathing department as you get over 2500m, so this will help there.
That’s three days a week covered – hard breakaway riding for that deep base power, longer rides for stamina, and steep hill to rely on in the closing kilometers of the KOM.
If you have one more day in the week and the energy for it, do shortish intervals, preferably on the flat for speed, to increase to ability to recover on-bike, and in-race. These could be anything from a series of 20-30 second sprints, up to 3 and 5 minute hard, TT-like work. Mix them up each week to keep the body guessing and you on your toes.
With 10-7 days to go before the event, get out and do a KOM ‘simulation’ – not a full 75Km all out and then 40 intervals up the next door neighbour’s 15% incline driveway – but a 40KM smash with say 4-5km of steep intervals. Tongue out, nose on stem, proper, proper hard work.
One of the things that the majority of people who take part in a big event say a week after the event is “Wow, I feel great on the bike today!” And that’s because they didn’t train properly, got battered at the event, took time off to rest, and then reaped the rewards from going so deep a week earlier. So, we do this race-sim 10-7 days before the real thing, to get that same uplift at the actual event.
Try to fit at least some of this in, keep an eye on fatigue and rest well, and your ‘KOM jigsaw’ might just turn out to be a good one!
All images by Paolo Penni Martelli.