How to smash the cycling off-season like a pro
From cross-training to yoga, we reveal how Tour de France pros navigate the winter off-season
The winter off-season is a strange time of year for cyclists, but it is also one of the most important. Professional cyclists know that any races, stages or jerseys they win over the summer will be down to the intelligent work they put in over the winter. The cameras won’t capture what they are doing. But what Tour de France riders do over the winter is a key part of their blueprint for success. Here we reveal ten ways to smash the off-season like a pro.
Have a good rest
Even super-keen pro cyclists enjoy a relaxing holiday and a break from cycling over the winter months. Pro riders enjoy holidays abroad, attend weddings, parties and events, and keep off their bike for a while. The length of the break depends on the rider, but usually pro cyclists rest for about 2-4 weeks.
This break helps them to avoid burnout, recover from niggling injuries, and freshen up their mind. In the off-season of 2021, Colombian pro Nairo Quintana even sang on the Colombian version of the TV show, The Masked Singer. German rider Max Schachmann, meanwhile, went hiking around the historic sites of Peru.
For many amateur cyclists, however, taking time off the bike can feel like a waste. But it is important to give yourself a break. Physically, a break gives your body time to recover after a long year of training and racing. And mentally, a break enables you to rejuvenate your mind and forget about bike training for a few weeks. When you get back on your bike again, you will feel physically fresh and mentally psyched for the new challenges ahead.
Go long and slow
After a winter break, don’t expect your fitness to be at the same levels. Taking it slow on the bike is not just sensible; it is the primary target of all pro cyclists’ off-season training plans. By focusing on long and slow miles over winter, pro cyclists build a strong foundation of stamina and fitness ready for when they pick up the pace in the spring. Long and slow miles will help you to build your own endurance and fitness too.
You don’t need to do hard efforts; save those for the spring. Just enjoy riding for fun and fitness. Join group rides, team up with friends, and enjoy exploring your local area. Aim to slowly increase your volume or intensity by about 10% each week so you build steady progress over the off-season.
The winter off-season is the best time of year to try different activities. Former Australian pro Adam Hansen used to keep fit by doing cross-country skiing. British pro Adam Yates ran the Barcelona Marathon in 2021.
Many Tour de France pro cyclists enjoy cyclo-cross, track or gravel riding over winter. Doing different activities helps them to stay fit and active, but in a fun way. Whatever you choose to do, when you get back on the bike you will feel much fresher and more motivated.
Get ready to party
Even former Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas enjoys a big Christmas dinner with his family. Don’t be tempted to think you can’t enjoy a few treats and parties over the off-season. This is a time of year to relax and enjoy being with family. You don’t need to feel guilty. Enjoy yourself and you’ll feel raring to go in the New Year.
Jet off for a winter training camp
Over the cold winter months, when most of Europe is swamped by snow and ice, pro cyclists jet off for blue sky winter training camps to enjoy a solid block of quality training. Majorca, Tenerife, Gran Canaria and Nice are popular locations with pro teams.
The combination of winter sunshine and longer daylight hours ensures riders get better fitness gains than those who are forced to slog around in the cold back home. So treat yourself to a winter cycling break somewhere warm over the off-season. It’s a great way to boost your programme.
Take up yoga or Pilates
In the Hotel Parador de las Cañadas del Teide, on the upper slopes of Mount Teide on the popular cycling island of Tenerife, you will often see pro cyclists engaged in early-morning yoga or Pilates workouts during their winter camps. Once the race season starts, pro cyclists have to focus on their on-bike training, so it can be harder to work on supplementary skills like core strength, balance and ride posture.
But winter is the ideal time to add these important elements into your training. Yoga and Pilates will build core strength and improve your position and power output on the bike. And if you build healthy habits over winter, you will be more likely to keep up your core training programme for the rest of the year.
Work on your weaknesses
Over winter pro riders sit down with their coaches and reflect on how they can improve as a cyclist. This is the ideal time of year to address any weaknesses in your cycling skills. If you struggle to follow a wheel in races, practise this over winter with a friend.
If your climbing skills are letting you down, head to the hills more often over winter. And if you get nervous in a peloton, join a local cycling club and get familiar with riding in a sea of bikes. Whatever skills you gain over winter will make you a stronger cyclist in the spring.
Build up your strength
Many pro cyclists now have home gyms with some simple exercise equipment like dumbbells, barbells and kettlebells. Although road cyclists don’t need to do a huge amount of strength training, it is increasingly common for pro riders to perform resistance training in order to improve their power output, muscular balance and durability against injury.
Former Tour de France winner Chris Froome enjoys squats, lunges and deadlifts to improve his strength, hip mobility and glute stability. So make the most of your time indoors over the winter off-season by working on your strength and durability. Most strength programmes last 8-10 weeks, so winter is the ideal training block in which to target physical gains.
Adjust your bike set-up
Winter is a good time to address any niggling aches and problems and to adjust your bike fit. Most amateur riders only get a bike fit when they purchase a new bike, but pro cyclists have regular bike fits to ensure their bikes are tailored to their changing physiques.
Use the extra time over the off-season to get another bike fit and to update your riding position. Maybe your new shoes need to have the position of the cleats adjusted, or maybe your enhanced flexibility means you can adjust the height of your saddle slightly.
Winter is the right time to experiment and adapt so you are sitting comfortably on your bike by the spring.
Plan for the next year
Taking time out from cycling over the off-season also enables you to sit down and plan for the year ahead. Get a pen and some paper or your laptop and draw up a masterplan. What races will you target? When will you start to build up your training regime?
Are there some easy ways you can improve your diet or fuelling? Should you join a cycling club? Most pro cyclists have their full year planned out in advance. The more organised you are, the better your chances of success in the season ahead.