Time tested, old school early season training advice

I just love the article below. I found it on the web years ago. It's a lecture by Dr. Marco Pierfederici, a trainer who used to work with Eddy Merckx and Italian pro teams back in the ’70 and ‘80s. He delivered this talk at a training camp in Miami organized by a long-gone business called 'Italia Velo Sport'. They imported Battaglin and Francesco Moser frames, Campagnolo and Gipiemme components and other Italian clothing and gear. This innovative, early discount mail order company brought champion Francesco Moser to a winter camp with US amateurs in 1982, and then brought over Giovanni Battaglin and his teammates, I believe in early 1983. The pros spent the days logging early season easy miles with starry-eyed US amateurs, and spent evenings giving clinics to imparting old world 'knowledge'.

An old friend and CCB teammate Rick Graham attended that camp. A few weeks later as we were tapping out the miles around Gloucester Mass., I remember Rick talking about his experience.

“Eddy – at the end of every ride, the Americans would wind it up and hammer in. But those Italian pros were the last ones to roll into the parking lot. Every day. They never went hard, I couldn’t believe how much they baby themselves.”

Remember, he was a talking about Battaglin, a star who’d won both the Giro and the Vuelta just the year before. The King of the Mountains in the '79 Tour de France. The last guy to hold Merckx wheel in the ’73 Giro stage to Monte Carpegna, a ride memorialized in Jorgen Leth’s fantastic film ‘Stars and Watercarriers.’

I know this really runs counter to everything written about training today by all the 'scientific experts'. But speaking just for myself, I tried all kinds of training, and I know this advice worked best. At least it did for me anyway.

What!? Go slow to go fast!? Don't knock it till you've tried it. If you've got the patience and the discipline to stick to it, you might just suspend your disbelief.

Training Advice, By Dr. Marco Pierfederici
"What follows are training recommendations based on more than 30 years in European cycling. They are not simply personal prejudices. What I am about to advise is directed to the rider aged 18-25 who wants to achieve optimum performance in road racing. The advice is also workable for the older rider who is trying to realize his potential on the bike. What I offer is not the type of help found in a pill or syringe. It is preventive medicine. It is advice on what to do to avoid losing conditioning as well as what to do to gain maximum conditioning. Evaluate it and do with it what you please. Cycling is a sport of individuals, so find out what does and does not work for you."

Three Things You Must Do
"Very simply, the training that a competitive cyclist should do is based on riding a bicycle. Once the season is over, there is another thing the cyclist should do -- and that is to ride a bicycle. When the cyclist doesn't know what else to do, he should do a third thing -- ride a bicycle. The cyclist must train the muscle group that is responsible for the repetitious motion of pedaling. This is quite easy, because the more you repeat the motion, the more you condition the muscles. Because the other muscle groups hardly work at all, they don't need training. Therefore, the training of the competitive cyclist should take place almost exclusively on the bike."

"To create the desired increase in the size of the capillaries that deliver blood to the muscle fibers, all training should be quite slow and easy, especially in the early season. You must realize that these capillaries are very small. In a square millimeter there may be as many as 40. To enhance their size and ability to transport blood, the best training is not to fatigue the muscle but to maintain it in motion. The result will be larger leg-muscle volume and greater power. If you ride slowly for the first 2,500 kilometers (about 1,500 miles) of the season, your leg-muscle fibers will adapt to accepting a greater blood flow. Once the muscles are well fed through blood, then you can begin to force the pace a bit. First increase the power, then use it."

Never Ride Hard
"I advise beginning the year by pedaling at 60-70 rpm in at 42x17 or 16. Do this for 30-35 miles a day for three weeks, then start riding 50-60 miles. Add more long rides until you are alternating days of 50-60 miles with those of 30-35. It is extremely important that the first 1,500 miles never include hard efforts. Otherwise, you are not training the muscle, you are just training the cardiovascular system. Why pedal so slowly? Why such a moderate effort? We have a saying in Italy that you must feel the pedals, feel the chain. If you are pedaling at a high rpm in an easy gear, you won't feel like there is anything under your feet. You'll just be spinning the air. Your pedaling effort should be above spinning but below pushing. This is a subjective thing, so it is very hard to give a schedule for which gear and rpm to use. As you gradually increase your training, you will gradually increase your gears and pedal rpm. This doesn't mean that by July you should be doing all of your riding in a huge gear. No training should take you to the point of fatigue. It is in the race, not the training, that you should get tired. You should come in from every training ride feeling like you could go out and do it again. You shouldn't come back wasted. When you train too hard there is no development of the muscle mass."

Train Alone
"Cycling is a rather difficult sport to begin with. The training method I advocate makes it even that much more difficult because instead of riding an hour a day, I'm talking about three. Instead of riding two, riding four. Consequently, it is hard to become really proficient in cycling unless you have a lot of love for the sport. It should always be your primary interest to expand your personal capacity and reach full potential. This means you should train by yourself. Each rider has his own needs. You have to be able to ride like you feel. Go slow if you want to, go fast if you want to, vary the pace as you wish. You must listen to your body. If you train by yourself you won't be forced into efforts that are contrary to your feelings."

"When you are going really good, take advantage of that period. Give it everything you've got and try to win races. By the same token, when you are not going very good, beware of the usual response to try to train harder. Putting out more effort at this time is totally counterproductive. What you should do is exactly the opposite. Slow down, take it easy, maybe skip a few races, and try to recover."

"In Italy, interval training is not recognized for road riding, only for certain track events. The reason is simple: A road race cannot be duplicated with interval training. It doesn't help the road rider in any way. A road race doesn't go one minute on, one minute off. A race is not something you can predict the same way you can set up the structure if interval training. When you do interval training, you essentially train yourself for a length of race that doesn't exist. Ten times one minute on and one minute off adds up to 20 minutes of activity. In reality, you should be training your muscles to repeat the pedaling motion for two, three, four hours at a time. This is what road racing is all about. Interval training will not prepare you for it. I know that in many European countries they have stopped using interval training for the national teams. You will find places where they don't even know what you mean if you use the term. Don't forget the repetitiveness of cycling. You pedal about 15,000 times every 100 kilometers. Exactly the same motion. You must train the leg muscles to carry as much power as possible, then spend this power on the day of the race. If you are doing intervals, by the time the race comes around you might have already spent most of your power in training."

How to Add Intensity
"I realize that there are many short races and criteriums in America. Perhaps you are a rider who competes in them. If so, you should do the same kind of slow base work described in part 1. Once you are in shape, twice a week do some jumps and high-intensity riding instead of long miles. These efforts should not be obligatory but should be based on how you feel. Train alone so you can ride as you want to, not how you are forced to. When it comes down to it, the best training for criterium racing is racing in criteriums."

"What to I recommend for obtaining some training intensity? Let's look at Giovanni Battaglin, the pro road racer. The type of training he does is to go easy for a while, then jump and do several kilometers at a good pace, then return to an easy pace. It is strictly a listen-to-your-body type of training. For example, ride up a hill easy the first half and then push hard to the top. Some days you might feel like doing three jumps during the course of the training. Some days you might do one and that's it. This approach makes it a lot easier mentally. You can ride like you feel and not think of yourself as a failure if you don't fulfill the interval schedule you wrote down. The Eastern European countries make extensive use of weights and gymnastics during winter training. In my estimation, they are making a mistake. I advise people to go on a weight-training program when they start pedaling the bike with their arms. It is possible that weight training might not be harmful for certain track specialties."

"For the road cyclist, however, weight training is not helpful at all. In fact, it is harmful. It develops certain muscles that are of absolutely no use in cycling, but which then have to be fed. Weight training transports the power of the body from the legs to the upper body. When you work with weights or gymnastics you can actually increase the size of the chest, shoulders and back, creating a wider body. We all know that a wide body is detrimental in terms of wind resistance. Weight training will not enhance the ideal shape of the cyclist, i.e., thin and aerodynamic. Remember that cycling is an endurance sport. It is also a sport of high caloric consumption. Anything that you can do to save energy expenditure is important. If you have big, wide shoulders, you will catch excess air even when riding tightly on someone's wheel. So, a thin shape helps you avoid additional effort. When you apply this to a 100-mile ride it makes an incredible difference – an even greater difference when applied to a stage race. This is one of those subtleties that becomes very valuable, particularly when you are striving to be the best among riders who are trained much the same and are in similar condition."

Spend the Time Riding
"Doing only leg exercises with weights might not be a negative thing. However, the type of training most suitable for cycling is that which lengthens the muscle. The cycling motion itself is perfect because it is one of lengthening, shortening, lengthening, and so on. Those who do gymnastics and lift weights as their first sport and then take up riding must quit these activities. The blood must be made accessible to the lower extremities. Stretching exercises? Fine, there is nothing wrong with them if you know the correct techniques. But nothing takes the place of riding the bicycle. The same time that you are stretching could be spent pedaling."

"Note: My cautions about weight training are directed to the younger rider. For the 35-year-old man who wants to do weights in the winter because he enjoys them, fine. He is cycling as a pastime. But for someone who has youth and potential as a road racer, it's a different story altogether. That person should be developed to arrive at the ideal riding condition. Weight training is counterproductive."


  1. Hmmm...and I thought I invented this concept.
    Actually when riding at 16 mph with certain TH I suggested that he should not wait for me if he wants to go faster (I could not after already covered 70 miles on that November day) his answer was: "Why to rush, TdF is 8 months away".
    He finished in 13th place that year working for LA.

  2. interesting read, I found you and it with "Battaglin" since I ride a vintage one. Just for fun of course, as I'm even more vintage than you!
    But in my own way, I have done this all along.
    And hey, I get to see Dropkick Murphys this Saturday!

  3. I've only recently discovered flandriacafe.com following checking out Google for traditional training methods. The 'Time tested, old school early season training advice' was what I was after. Excellent! Having spent this afternoon looking for race season (traditional) training advice on the website I've picked up a few things. However, could you point me in the direction of something as comprehensive as the article above, please? I'm interested because I want to reacquaint myself and practice some old methods.

    Kind regards

    Gordon Daniels

  4. Hi Gordon... sorry for the delay in responding.
    It's hard to find good old school stuff in writing...but here's a few places.

    1.) Start with the original CONI book 'Cycling' (http://www.flandriacafe.com/2011/08/week-in-coni-island.html). Super hard to find copies, but it's the bible.

    2.) Battaglin's advice on climbing article: http://www.roble.net/marquis/coaching/climbing

    3.) Eddy B's book: Has good info on training during race season..

    4.) Agonistic Cycling: Antonio Massagrande A 1984 'little more modern' editon of the CONI book.

    5.) King of Sports, Peter Ward. UK book.

    6.) Jack Simes "Winning Bicycle Racing" http://www.abebooks.com/9780809282012/Winning-Bicycle-Racing-Simes-Jack-0809282011/plp

    Good luck Gordon.

  5. One more...
    Tom Officer's old school coaching blog. Good, proven advice.

  6. Tried this training with big gear riding DONT DO IT!""

    I have had meniscus injury for 8 months now after this 'training method'


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Benotto dreams...

Lost races of the Northeast: Le Tour de la Gaspésie