How to Train for a Serious Cycling Challenge

At Exodus, the man behind the wheel (or should we say on top of two wheels?!) is cycling programme manager Andy Ross. As you would expect, he is a keen cyclist and done more than his fair share of serious cycling challenges - perfectly placed to give you some top-notch tips for your next serious cycling challenge!

Here we get a chance to quiz the rider and see what he does to prepare himself, so you can use his expertise to get yourself in gear!

What would you say is the most important thing you do to prepare for a cycling challenge, apart from miles on the bike?
Some more miles on the bike! I have also taken a leaf out of Bradley Wiggins’ cook book and tried to shed a few kilos. There is no doubt that it makes a difference on the longer climbs and it has certainly been cheaper than trying to reduce the weight of my bike.

Which big cycling events have you done?
I am very lucky that my job gives me the opportunity to get involved in a number of trips. So I have raced the 250km Dead2Red event in Jordan, the Cape Argus in South Africa, conquered Mt Ventoux, completed the Etape du Tour and cycled the Alpine Cols of the Tour de France.

Andy Ross in South Africa Andy in South Africa

Have you done any rides and races in the UK?
I have ridden a few UK sportive events such as the Dorking Ups & Downs and the King of the Downs which have been good preparation, as well as a few local time trial events.

What does riding in races, either at home or abroad, give you in terms of experience – what skills do you develop that you can then take into bigger events?
Firstly, it is good to get used to riding the longer distances, particularly if they feature a lot of climbing. I actually find the longer climbs in Europe to be a bit easier than the UK ones as the gradients are generally gentler and more constant. An event in Europe with 3000m of climbing will generally be easier than the equivalent climbing in Wales or the Lake District. Road racing really helps improve the way that you ride in a group. At the Etape du Tour with 9000 riders there is always the opportunity to get an ‘easy ride’ drafting behind the other cyclists, particularly on flat terrain. Although these events often focus on climbing, improving the way your ride on the flat can also make a huge difference to your overall time. I find doing the occasional time trial on a standard road bike really helps towards this goal. I would say that this is where I have made the most improvement.

What is it about racing and sportives that you love so much?
It’s a bit of an odd answer but it’s probably the training I enjoy most as this becomes a lifestyle and gets me outdoors on a regular basis. The events are then the icing on the cake and a great way to see how well the training has gone. The scenery is also a major attraction, particularly with most of the overseas events and challenging myself to ride a fast time also has its appeal.

Have you got a favourite event or local ride?
My favourite event is the Giro Dolomiti, a six day sportive event in Italy that includes a climb of the Stelvio most years. I love climbs with 180 degree switchbacks and this one has 48 of them! In the UK I like riding in the Ashdown Forest in East Sussex.

Do you do any cross training to prepare for rides?
I do pilates every week in order to strengthen my core muscles. It also helps counteract all of the time on the bike where your weight is supported.

Time trails and sportives tend to be fairly long events, often lasting several hours if not a day. How do you keep yourself going for this long? Do you set yourself mini targets to keep motivated for the whole race?
Overseas events are generally easier to pace yourself on as they often have three or four main climbs which naturally break the ride up. Sit in with a good group on the flat using as little energy as possible, climb at your own pace - never going into the red (except on the final climb), and recover on the descents. Climbs on the continent usually have signs that count down the kilometres and give you details of the gradient. Long UK events over constantly rolling terrain can be harder as you have less time to recover. Also, in Europe the whole field starts together so it’s easier to find a group that rides at your pace.

How do you fuel up for an event like this? What would you eat the week before and what would have on the bike to keep you going throughout the event?
Five small meals a day with a good mix of carbs and protein. Breakfast is crucial on the morning of the event. You will get up at 5 or 6am and probably not feel like eating much but this will lead to disaster. You need to force the food down and ignore the time. During the event I use energy drinks, gels and bars, as well as grabbing whatever I can if I stop at a feed station. I would prefer to eat proper food like bagels or sandwiches but they aren’t very practical to carry on the bike! The most important thing is to start eating very early into the event. I will start refuelling after about only 20 minutes of the ride and then continue to eat every 15 minutes, even if I don’t feel hungry at the time. In hot conditions a drink with Electrolytes is essential to replace what you lose in sweat. Leg cramps are inevitable if you don’t keep hydrated. I would anticipate drinking around six litres of fluid. All of the sweet food is a bit boring and I usually find myself craving savoury food, particularly after the ride.

What piece of kit would you never be without on a ride?
A pump.

If you are going to spend some money on one thing on your bike, what would you say would make the most difference?
Save your money and spend it on a coach or a structured training programme - it will make far more difference to your performance than an expensive pair of wheels.

What is the best bit of advice you would give to someone preparing for an event like this?
Ride your bike as frequently as possible. In my opinion, four rides of 30 miles per week is more beneficial than 100 miles once a week. Plan your rides in advance and never change your plans because of the weather. If it snows then just switch to a mountain bike rather than a road bike! Push yourself but at the same time know your limits – there will always be someone faster than you and it’s probably a bad idea to try to keep up with them. The most important thing is to make sure you enjoy the training as much as the event itself.

Learn more about these kind of trips...

Learn more about trips going to...

Read our expert insights on...

Expert Blog Entries

Related trips

  • New

Estonia Fitness Week

A running focused fitness week aimed at improving fitness and speed

Guided Group

Discovery & Wildlife
8 days inc. flights
From £1,199
Activity Rating - Moderate/Challenging
Moderate / Challenging
Add to wishlist

Bavaria Winter Discovery

Discover the warm Bavarian culture, stunning Alps, fairytale castles, palaces and delicious cuisine.

Guided Group

Winter Adventures
8 days inc. flights
From £1,499
Activity Level: Leisurely
Leisurely
5 / 5
 from 
Add to wishlist
Call us on 0208 772 3936