Peter Sagan has pure cycling talent and racing skills, but that is not enough to become a world-class athlete. Not a pure sprinter, he nevertheless has won many sprints; and though he is not a threat in mountaintop finishes, he still does very well on climbs.
There must be something in his training program that gives him an edge over others and makes him a rare cyclist who excels in all facets of the sport.
Sagan is training a total of about 19 hours a week, more than any of us ride unless we’re at a training camp or on a tour. This is not recommended for an amateur cyclist, but other aspects of his base training, specifically – his approach to intervals – can be instructive.
At the start of his base training he’s doing:
- 2 endurance days totaling about 8 hours
- One of the rides includes long intervals
- One of the rides includes hill intervals
- 1 long endurance ride of 4 – 5 hours.
- 1 ride of 3 – 3:30 hours including short intervals
- 2 easy recovery rides totaling 3:30 hours. These are what the pros call “coffee” rides, i.e., a very easy ride to meet buddies for coffee.
- 2 gym workouts
All of his intervals based on his aerobic threshold. The aerobic threshold is the classic conversational pace, the pace he can sustain for hours of racing. Remember seeing the pros chatting in the peloton? They’re able to do that at a pace that would destroy most of the rest of us.
Sagan rides three kinds of intervals:
- Long intervals of 4 – 6 reps of 10 minutes close to but below aerobic threshold (conversational pace).
- Hill intervals are climbing 2 or 3 hills a little harder but still below his aerobic threshold. Each hill is about 10 – 20 minutes long, and he rides at an “effort that’s sustainable for a long time” – the effort at which he’d climb in the Alps or the Pyrenees in the Tour.
- Short, harder intervals are blocks of 12 repetitions at or slightly above of his aerobic threshold, which he rides on short hills. “The goal is to introduce a small amount of intensity.”
Base training doesn’t have to be just grinding out long, slow miles in crappy weather. Sagan’s intervals are built into his endurance rides, totaling only about 25 – 30% of the duration of each ride. You can do this, too, to avoid the monotony by mixing up your efforts as follows:
- Multi-hour endurance ride — The pace at which you can easily talk in full paragraphs. These rides increase your endurance.
- Long efforts — The pace at which you’d ride into a headwind. You can still talk in full sentences but you can’t whistle. These efforts, along with #3, increase your cruising speed.
- Moderate efforts — The pace at which you’d ride a sustained climb. You can still talk in full sentences, but the sentences are shorter.
- Brisk efforts — The pace at which you can talk in phrases but not full sentences. These efforts start to increase your power.
Sagan’s training includes other wisdom. He has only four longer and/or harder rides a week, two recovery rides and one day with no training.
He does his rides with intervals on his own so that he can dial in the right pace for him. One or two days a week, he rides with friends. If he wants to push a little harder on those days, that’s okay.