Double Olympic time trial champion Fabian Cancellara reveals the most common training mistakes made and how to avoid them. Interview: Mark Bailey
Want to be a better cyclist? Follow these top tips from Fabian Cancellara and you’ll see your race times improve and your cycling will begin to feel much more rewarding and enjoyable…
Copying the professionals isn’t always wise
Professional and amateur cyclists live in two different worlds and what works for one doesn’t necessarily work for the other. Using an aero helmet is a good example of this, and it shows why you need to choose the right kit for you. Every year, manufacturers release a new aero helmet that they say is 20 seconds faster than the older one.
But that is probably only the case if your head is perfectly straight for one hour. But if you spend that hour moving your head and your neck and your back, what happens then? Is this longer-shaped aero helmet still so fast? Probably not, as you need to be able to hold the perfect position to enjoy the benefit.
Might you be better with a normal-shaped one? Probably. You have to find a good balance and ask if you are really choosing the right kit for you. Any amateur rider should visit a bike store or a coach to discuss what will work specifically for them.
Don’t assume all bike riders should look the same
Work with your own body shape. I was quite aero but compared to other riders I was never aero enough because I have large shoulders. The thinner I got the smaller I became, and the better my aerodynamics, but it also meant I had less muscle.
We are not talking about square metres here of course, but square centimetres. If someone weighs 90kg compared to a person who weighs 70kg, that is a big difference as your body has less physical material. For the bigger rider, it might be better to have more power in the legs and just improve the aerodynamics in any small way they can, without trying to completely change your body.
Vary indoor and outdoor training sessions
Riding indoors on the turbo is not the same as being out on the road so you should change your training. I wasn’t a fan of training on the rollers, but indoor training has changed a lot with technology and smart trainers.
Remember that training indoors really is different. It is actually physically harder sometimes because you sweat more and so you lose liquid and need more water. That means that power training is not the same indoors and outdoors.
In my later years as a professional I had to learn about the benefits of doing double training sessions. A lot of riders would do an effort indoors in the morning and then go outdoors later on. I had to learn to do that whenever we had bad weather.
I would do a morning session outside and then an afternoon session indoors, perhaps with more intervals. I would do a warm-up for maybe 10-15 minutes then do a circuit of intervals, so the time passes faster. That was the best use of my time on the indoor trainer, and when I was outside, I did longer training and longer power efforts.
Always do what is right for indoors and what is right for outdoors.
Don’t train hard all year long
In training camps over the winter, I was never motivated to do intervals and efforts. In December I preferred endurance riding, but whenever I had to prepare for a big event my training became more intense. So that usually meant shorter training with more intervals and a more detailed orientation.
It was very intense, and it was hard to push myself as I had to go at certain levels to get on the end of all those power meters, heart rates schedules and motor pacing. Sometimes, I even had to do all that alone which is even harder. But the difference is I would soon be racing so my condition and motivation was better.
That is the moment when I could go hard. You have to do the right training at the right time. You definitely need certain habits and you need to train hard with a routine, but my advice now is always to find the middle of everything. It is tempting to push hard all the time because you want to be better, but sometimes the middle ground is the best way to make progress.
Try to avoid repetitive training loops
People were often surprised by the amount of different training sessions I would do and how much I changed the sessions around. For example, if I decided to do two laps of a 25km circuit that sometimes might be interval training, or behind a motorbike for faster motor pacing, or one lap with 2km behind a bike and then 1km alone, or an entire lap at a certain threshold and certain watts.
Another session would involve 1km behind the motorbike at speed, then 5km out of the draft, and then lots of sprints or acceleration to increase my speed and power. I had different efforts which might be over 1km, 2km or 500m and we adapted every time.
Sometimes I would do 10 minutes at 430 watts and repeat that three times on a lap. So even over the same distance or time you can have so much variety to keep things fresh and challenge your body and mind.
Trust your instincts as well as your training plan
When I was an athlete, I had to combine my own personal instinct with my planned efforts and schedules. I followed the training schedule but sometimes I had to look at my mood and my body and not what was on paper. Every day you have a different situation physically and mentally and training will feel harder if you have negative things going on in other aspects of life.
When you look at my last approach to the Olympic Games (Rio 2016, where Cancellara won gold in the time trial), I went home early from the Tour de France as I felt my body needed to recover to get the freshness back. I knew my body was tired and I would not be able to do all those efforts. I listened to my body and it worked.
Fabian Cancellara is a global ambassador for GORE WEAR. He was appearing at the Rouleur Classic in London.