Lockdown Lessons From NTT Pro Cycling

ASSOS sat down over a virtual call with NTT Pro Cycling coach Elliot Lipski, who outlined the measures that our WorldTour team are taking in the lockdown, and how the perspective of the pros applies just as much to amateurs.

“Even with a big injury, there’s an end point — you know when you’re having the operation, you know the bones will be healed in four or six weeks, so you can look at the calendar and plan in advance your return to racing.”

But this is an unprecedented time for everyone. Even with an off-season or an injury, most riders won’t really have ever experienced a break from racing as they are doing right now.

The novelty of this situation is that no one has a clear-cut target to aim for. Sure, we can speculate, we can hope for a return to racing: a 10-week off-period that might end at the Tour de Suisse, or the Dauphine, or the Nationals. But, who knows, even the Olympics got postponed.

We have to have a target. As coaches, we have to give the riders an external goal to train for. Otherwise, they’ll ask why they’re doing it. The first question that they all will have asked themselves, without fail, is what are we training for? What’s the point? And amateurs will feel the same.

From a performance side — from the coaching and the support staff — we have to frame this as an opportunity to develop, an opportunity to improve, to work on your strengths and weaknesses. What can we optimise? We are all 100% committed to the process. Going forwards, we’re all focused and keen, using it as an opportunity to better ourselves. Of course, riders have felt disheartened, but they’re refocusing and planning on what’s to come.

How have plans changed?
Around half of the team are confined to indoor training, or riding within a restrictive radius. Some are effectively able to train like normal with 20+ hours per week outdoors—naturally on their own. It makes it tricky for us as coaches; you can ask yourself the question about whether the outdoor riders have an advantage. But there are pros and cons to both arguments.

We had a number of discussions about how to shape this block and what to focus on. I won’t give everything away, but we identified six key areas to improve in this period. It adds another element when some can only train indoors on the rollers. How we build the training varies from individual to individual, but we have a common goal with these six key facets of performance. One of the areas we’re developing is the team cohesiveness — still being able to ride together. We’d have three programmes running parallel if this was race season, but on Zwift we’re bringing everyone — the riders and the staff — together to have banter, motivate each other, and really just try to beat each other and have fun.

With the guys who are confined to indoor training, it’s about increasing the load and intensity of the session—the default means that their weekly volume is less. No more back-to-back 25–35 hour weeks on the trainer. If you are having to reduce your volume because you’re indoors, try to increase the intensity. Make sure that you polarise your training so that when you are going hard, you go really hard, but also to keep the easy days to spin the legs.

The hardest thing — for pros and amateurs — is not having a specific goal. So try to set yourself 2/3 performance-based goals that you can track, whether it’s an FTP improvement, a critical power improvement, a weight goal. From the coaching side of things, we’ve really tried to instil this in the guys. Plus, of course, a return-to-racing goal too. There are so many rumours about race dates and rescheduling that it’s impossible to predict what race a rider will do first, but they just need to feel confident that they will be ready for that moment.

For the Grand Tours and the bigger races, we’ll need to reset and refocus with altitude camps. We can’t define those right now, so we’re working with what’s in front of us. I don’t think it’s necessary for all pros and amateurs to go onto camps — but maybe you’ll want to get away from your family after so much time with them.

You can look at this block as a training camp in itself—a prolonged period of training with focus and progression. By this point in the season, you’ve probably already got a solid foundation. So now’s the time to work on areas you’ve neglected. The amount of people targeting time trialling when the season gets back on is going to be huge. From a physiological standpoint for amateurs, it’s a great way to train now —use threshold efforts and sustained aerobic power to improve your time trailling. It also adds a change of position on the turbo and another angle of focus; you can spend free time looking at bling-bling TT bikes and rapid speed suits from ASSOS to take your mind off the monotony.

Staying comfy on the indoor trainer: the pros are very well accustomed to indoor training and won’t need to make many big changes to how they train. But for many, it’s a big biomechanical change for a long period. We definitely see a consensus amongst riders relating to niggles in their glutes and knee flexors. We need to manage and avoid these; one of the biggest issues now is that we can’t do anything about injuries, so we have to be ultra careful to prevent anything from flaring up. This brings us back to core flexibility and strength that really need to go centrestage now.

Hygiene is the next biggest thing; this involves cleaning your kit regularly, taking your kit off straight away. You can’t sit in a cafe for two hours, so go straight to the shower.

Chamois time doesn’t count on Zwift.

Clean down your bike — bar tape is probably one of the biggest magnets for sweat and bacteria. Find a way to prevent your bar tape getting saturated, or change it regularly. Do something about it to prevent anything happening–injuries or illnesses at any other time of the year can be resolved, but this ultimately isn’t a good time to let that happen.

So as NTT Pro Cycling and Elliot say, we can all take something from the current situation: framing it as an opportunity to improve seems like a solid course of action. And after such a concerted block of training and time spent getting to know ourselves better, we are all likely to come out stronger.

We at ASSOS remain confident and optimistic that our best days, and cycling’s best days, are ahead.