How to Create Your Annual Cycling Training Plan

How to Create Your Annual Cycling Training Plan

Here’s how to plan your year-long cycling calendar, from base season to peak form.

The traditional phases of base, build, and peak have changed dramatically over the years. Today, you can find the best riders in the world racing CX or riding on Zwift all the way through the winter and then hitting peak form again in the summer. How do they do it? A carefully planned training and racing calendar. 

The time to start planning is now. If you wait until February, it will be too late. Planning your cycling season is about more than just hitting peak race form — it is about having a healthy and structured relationship with cycling, helping you improve your fitness and reach your goals, and avoiding injury or burnout along the way. Here’s how to create your annual cycling training plan, step-by-step. 

1. Identify Your Race Goals and Make a List

A simple but underappreciated rule for life is to simply write it down. Putting pen to paper can help improve your memory, strengthen your accountability, and improve your chances of completing your goals. The practice is simple yet powerful. 

During the holiday season, take 15 minutes to jot down a few bullet points about your upcoming season. Think about your biggest goals of the year, both in terms of results and the training itself. Prioritize your “A” races, and also write down your “B” and “C” races. Once you have your list, it’s time to organize it. 

2. Create an Annual Calendar With Training Phases

Next, pull out a calendar, or draw a big grid on a blank sheet of paper, and start filling it in with each of your races. It really puts it into perspective to have your entire season laid out in front of you, and right away you’ll be able to spot any time periods that look overwhelming. 

With your calendar in front of you, start counting backward from your “A” race. For the different phases of training, you need to know 6 months out (Base), 12-16 weeks out (Build) and 6-8 weeks out (Peak). Once you have those dates in your calendar, it’s time to start planning your season. 

3. Base Phase: 6 Months Before Your “A” Race

A lot has changed over the years when it comes to base training versus in-season training. Traditional base training in cycling involved lots of long and slow rides at very low intensity (Zone 1 or Zone 2). That prevailing belief has been shattered by more and more riders using high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and polarized training year-round with some pretty amazing results. Look at multi-discipline pros like Wout Van Aert or Mathieu Van Der Poel and it is clear that you can be a successful road rider while doing high-intensity intervals in the winter. 

I believe that the fear for most coaches and athletes is that cyclists will burn out on high-intensity training. But in reality, it is poor planning and lack of rest that leads to burnout — not high-intensity training alone. 

The base training that I and many other coaches prescribe is a mix of some high-intensity interval training, Zone 2 endurance rides, and structured rest. This approach — with no more than three high-intensity interval sessions per week — is proven to be the best way to improve aerobic fitness and cycling performance in an efficient and sustainable way. 

4. Build Phase: 12-16 Weeks Before Your “A” Race 

During the build phase, your training load should steadily increase in both volume and intensity. For a traditional road cycling season, that means a 12-16 week block of training from February through April to set you up for a packed summer of racing. 

The biggest difference between the build phase and the base phase is the introduction of “B” and “C” races and race-specific interval training. Over the winter, most of your high-intensity training should be fun and unstructured such as virtual racing or cyclocross, or a few classic interval sessions such as 4×8 minutes at 100% FTP, or 30/15s (aka, the Rønnestad protocol). This will help keep you mentally fresh and motivated to train, as the hardest work is still yet to come. 

During the build phase, you should begin race-specific interval training, such as sprints for a crit racer or TT efforts for a time trial specialist. At the same time, you should have a number of “B” races and “C” races to help hone your form and improve your race craft. 

As the name suggests, the overarching principle of the build phase is that you are steadily increasing your weekly training load. For most riders, that means increasing volume while maintaining intensity; an increase in intensity will come during the peak phase. 

If your life schedule limits you to < 1-hour rides during the week, then all of your increased training volume should come on the weekends with 2-hour rides turning into 3-hour rides, and then 4-hour rides by late spring. 

5. Peak Phase: 6-8 Weeks Before Your “A” Race

You should begin the peak phase of training — including race-specific interval training and careful adjustments in volume — 6-8 weeks before your goal race. The goal of the peak phase is to put you in peak performance condition for your goal race. This is accomplished by increasing your training load before moving into a taper 7-10 days out from your goal race. 

This taper will give your body (and mind) the rest it needs ahead of your goal race, absorbing the training and bouncing back to be in peak performance condition. You should also adjust the length and intensity of the taper based on your goal event, with a longer taper for longer events, and a shorter taper for shorter events. 

For example, a taper for a 5-day stage race will be longer than a taper for a one-day criterium. This is because you want to have different levels of freshness and fitness for these two races. Ahead of a long stage race, you want to be more fresh than fit, while for a one-day race, you want to hit peak form for one day and one day only. 

Talk With a Coach for Professional Guidance 

The process of planning an entire cycling season can certainly be overwhelming, so don’t hesitate to reach out to a coach for guidance. A coach can help you analyze your goals and schedule your training on a monthly, weekly, or even daily basis. 

It is extremely valuable – and sometimes necessary – to have an objective set of eyes looking at your season’s calendar. It can be impossible to give up on a personal goal, especially with your emotions attached to it. A coach can help you decide which goals are most important to you, and structure your season in a way that is both productive and balanced. 

Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions here.

References

Kreher, J.B. & Schwartz, J.B. (2012, March). Overtraining syndrome: a practical guide. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23016079/


Seiler, S. (2010, September). What is best practice for training intensity and duration distribution in endurance athletes? Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20861519/

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