Durability of Professional Cyclists and Tour Of Flanders winners.

Durability is a great word for the performances of top cyclists who win the big cycling classics like Tour of Flanders. I first heard this word being used as an explanation for the development of professional cyclists development from a first year professional to top professional.

The explanation was by the brilliant Sport Scientist Professor Stephen Seiler at an Athletics Ireland coaching event in Dublin about two years ago. I thought that it just described so well what the Cycling Classics and Grand Tours were all about.

FTP and Performance

It was during a discussion about Functional threshold Power (FTP ) and performance. Professor Seiler used professional cyclists and the great Classic Races as an example. He described how at a certain stage of a young pros development FTP might not change so much. However over time with training and a suitable race programme they develop more durability.

I have experienced this with cyclists that I coached myself. This is one of the really useful benefits of using power meters where actual power outputs can be tracked.. After a few seasons the FTP wouldn’t be changing so much but they would still be getting more improvements and results in races .

What is Durability

The Oxford Dictionary describes it as. “The ability to withstand wear, pressure, or damage.

What a great description of Successful Classics cyclists!

If we relate it to cyclists, This is the ability to make repeated effort at, below, or above FTP and still be strong at the end of the race.

Danny Blondeel doing great work for aspiring cyclists

Danny with his beloved Flanders links

The Tour of Flanders is the ideal race to see this in Action. From the very beginning of this race the speed is on. Then there are periods of flat out racing to get team leaders into leading positions for particular sections of the race. They must also do repeated sprints up many cobbled climbs until the last hour when everyone is racing flat out.

Ultimately the rider who has most durability will usually be the one that will break away or win the sprint at the end.

The classics and developing Durability

The Cycling classic races are a number of races which are very long with difficult courses. The Tour of Flanders is one of the most difficult. 260 + Kilometres and about twenty difficult very steep climbs. Some of these climbs are also cobble.

So, back to Stephen Seilers explanation. He explained how a first year pro might get through 60% or 70 % of these very long tough events before blowing up or just getting very fatigued and fading near the end of the race.

Over a number of years of progressive increases in training distance and intensity and finishing the long races durability improves. If you study the results of these races you can sometimes see the progress of the winners over a number of years before they stand on the podium.

If the Tour Of Flanders results are studied its noticeable that the majority of winners and placed riders are seasoned professional cyclists.These would have some years of high level training and major cycling events in their legs.

Building Durability

The very experienced cycling team managers and coaches know how to develop this over a number of years. Traditionally it has been done by gradually introducing new Pros to a graduated racing programme. This is now supported by increased Sport science and coaching.

Some components that require Durability

What needs to be worked on to achieve durability for success in these races.

  • Physical Durability, the ability to just keep going at the required speeds
  • Dealing with all weather conditions
  • Mental fitness. Patience to sit in the Peleton for hours
  • Retaining focus while staying relaxed
  • Tactics Thinking clearly while under pressure
  • Fighting through the bad patches of the races
  • Staying positive and optimistic
  • Being prepared to lose to win
  • Gut Durability Coping with eating and drinking enough food while under pressure to maintain energy levels.

How to Train Durability

Training blocks

Progressive workloads are completed in planned blocks of training for weeks at a time to develop durability. These workloads are balanced with good rest and recovery.

Races

A planned progressive racing plan to enhance physical durability , confidence and experience. The races will also develop many of the components in the bulleted list in the real world experience of pro racing.

Winning younger now?

There are currently a number of younger cyclists performing very well at the top level of professional cycling. However if you look at their trajectory its likely that they have still gone through the graduated increase of training and Races to develop the durability to perform at the very top of Professional Road Cycling.

More sport science and coaching input to Professional development teams from a younger age is probably having a major impact in helping riders get to the top a bit earlier in some cases.

Trinity Sports Racing Team

Andrew Mc Quaids Trinity racing team is a clear example of  how this is working now. Tom Pidcock is a very good example of careful Development through the Trinity Sport Team.

He has gone straight from the Trinity Racing Team into very close to the top level of the classics in his first year with Team Inios. He still has a few years to develop the extra durability to win the Major events.

Theres a list of the podiums for the last five years of the Tour of Flanders and their birth.years

2020 van der poel  1995) – van aert  (1994) – Kristoff  (1987)

2019  Bettiol  (1993) – Asgreen  (1995) – Kristoff  (19867)

2018  Terpresta  (1984)  – Pederson  (1995) – Gilbert  (1982)

2017  Gilbert (1982) – Van Avermaet  (1985) – Terpstra  (1984)

2016  Sagan  (!990) – Cancellera (1981) – vanmarke  (1988)

FTP or Durability?

For me its Durability all the way! Understanding FTP properly is part of this. Be prepared to be patient and progressively build training and racing loads to allow you to deal with higher workloads.

Think Durability !!!

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Written by Paddy Doran, winner of cycling Coach of the year – Coach Tutor of the year.  Coach to successful club – national – international and professional cyclists.

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