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Training Tips

7 Things Cyclists Should Do After the Race of the Season

By: Jim Rutberg, TORRE  November 04, 2021

For a Great Next Season, Make the Most of This Season's Transition Period

Although cycling is a year-round sport, athletes can only maintain peak fitness for a portion of the year. For many this is the summer season, while other athletes – like cyclocross racers – aim to achieve peak fitness in the fall and winter. At some point during the year, however, cyclists benefit from a period of physical and mental recuperation before re-engaging in focused training to build to another peak. USA Cycling Coaches refer to this as the Transition Period, and here’s how to make the most of yours.

Stay Active

Following a long season of training and events, the Transition Period can last up to six or eight weeks. During that time you want to allow for physical and mental recovery, but you also want to avoid too much detraining. For many months you worked hard to improve your fitness and performance, and to reach new heights next season it is important to retain as much of this year’s fitness as you can.

Fortunately, maintaining fitness is a lot easier than building it in the first place. Research into detraining – or the reversibility of training progress – indicates that decreasing training by 50% for several weeks will only result in a 5-10% performance decline. And that reduction can come from any combination of lower intensity, fewer rides per week, or shorter rides. The key is to stay active. A total cessation of training for several weeks will result in performance declines of 20% of greater, and it can take three months of training–or more–just to get back to where you started.

Reduce Training Structure

Structured training, from individual interval workouts to scheduled blocks of training and recovery days or weeks, is the most effective way to build and sustain lasting fitness. That said, after a long season, athletes typically need a break from regimented workouts and weekly training schedules. You may want to maintain the basics of your weekly riding schedule, especially if that helps you retain training consistency. But drop the structured intervals for a while and ride according to how you feel.

Take time to play on your bike

During the height of the season when you were training for races and other events, your training rides were likely quite specialized. If you were getting ready for criteriums, that may have meant a lot of group rides, intervals, and road riding, but less time on the mountain bike or doing 100-mile days or multi-day tours. If you spent the summer mostly mountain biking, maybe you didn’t spend a whole lot of time riding gravel or going out to the group road ride. The Transition Period is a great time to jump into the kinds of rides you might not have had the opportunity to do during the season.

Keep in mind, the Transition Period doesn’t have to be all easy or short rides. Overall, you want to reduce the training stress and structure for several weeks, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with riding fast and at high intensity occasionally. Go enjoy pushing the pace at the front of the group ride or joining your friends for an epic mountain bike ride. Have fun, and then take a day or two off or easy.

Include activities off the bike

The Transition Period is a great opportunity to participate in activities you may not have had time for during the season, like hiking, swimming, running, paddle boarding, kayaking, fishing, or even basket weaving (if you’re into that). Particularly, it’s a great time to partake in activities your partner and/or family would enjoy sharing with you. If some of the folks in your family don’t ride the way you do, use this time to join them for the activities they enjoy most.

Diversifying your activities is not just good for your relationships and a lot of fun; it also helps you prepare for off-bike activities many cyclists incorporate into winter training. For instance, spending time in weight-bearing activities eases your introduction to or increased focus on strength training.

Give your gear some love

Bike parts and apparel wear out, but often it happens so gradually that cyclists fail to notice. Your drivetrain – especially your chain and cassette – may need to be replaced. Your brake pads may be getting dangerously thin (unlike clearly visible rim brake pads, disc brake pads can be difficult to see because they are tucked inside the calipers). Tires wear out, and so do grips and handlebar tape. If you are riding clipless pedals, the cleats on the bottom of your shoes may be worn out, or perhaps parts of the shoes themselves. The Transition Period is a great time to address all these mechanical components because your bike can be at local bike shop for a while without causing you to miss important workouts.

Similarly, cycling apparel like shorts and bib shorts wear out. If you’re starting to get chafing or saddle sores when nothing has changed about your saddle or your riding position, worn out shorts and chamois could be a contributing factor. Check your helmet, too. A good rule of thumb is to replace a helmet after any significant impact, or after 3 years of normal use without serious impacts.

Give your body some love

If you have been having some nagging aches and pains throughout the season, the Transition Period is a great time to visit the doctor, physical therapist, massage therapist, and/or bike fit professional to work out the kinks in the system. Because your weekly training stress is reduced during this period, you can take the time to recover and focus on rest or corrective exercises so you can get ready to re-engage with focused training. If you swap out equipment or change your bike fit to address comfort, power production, or aerodynamics (or some combination thereof), this period of reduced training intensity provides the ideal opportunity to adapt to the new equipment or position before ramping the intensity back up.

Evaluate and Plan

With less headspace focused on interval workouts and getting ready for an upcoming event, you can spend time reviewing your training and event performances from this past season. Celebrate and take pride in what you accomplished. Be honest with yourself about what you could have done better, as well as what you couldn’t have foreseen or changed. And then apply the insights you’ve gained to your plans for next season. What aspects of training have been working well and should be carried forward? What areas can be improved upon, and what activities didn’t work and perhaps shouldn’t be part of next year’s plan?

How do you know when the Transition Period is over?

The Transition Period after a full season of training and racing can last from 4-8 weeks, whereas a shorter mid-season Transition Period (1-3 weeks) may be all that’s needed if you are peaking for goal events multiple times a year. Those recommendations are only starting points, however. The goal of a Transition Period is to provide physical and mental recuperation, so you are prepared to re-engage with focused training. When it’s time to train again, you’ll know it because you’ll feel fresh and joyful on the bike, you’ll be eager for the next challenge, and you’ll be excited about structured workouts again.