Professional cycling training has changed a lot has changed in recent years. Every team is seeking marginal gains. The smallest details can influence a rider’s performance. Outgoing head coach at Team Sunweb, Adriaan Helmantel talks to The Prologue about how Team Sunweb is preparing for the coming racing season.

When do the professionals start preparations for the new season?

“That depends a lot on which races they last rode competitively. Most riders need between three and four weeks’ holiday, after their final race of the season. But they are all professional sportspeople, so most of them stay active even when they’re on holiday. I always emphasise that they shouldn’t be tempted to see holiday activity as ‘training’. Cycling is fine, but only for fun. They will gain nothing from putting in extra hours of training. Both physical and mental ‘off time’ is necessary to make them hungry for the new season.”

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What is the Team Sunweb focus during winter training?

“The riders need that physical and mental rest to allow their batteries to recharge. They have to develop a craving for the bike in order to be able to physically deal with the training. The focus shifts within the training programme are quite logical. Initially, they do relatively little and slowly start building up endurance training. November is relatively gentle. The weather also plays a role at this time of year. If the weather’s bad, we can switch to strength training and when it’s good weather, we can increase the length of the endurance sessions. We start more structured training in December. The first training camp begins on December 10. From that moment onwards we really start to focus on next season’s goals. And it goes without saying that the riders who are entered for the Tour Down Under in mid-January are more focussed than those who have their first race in February.”

What is the balance between road and strength training?

“That depends on the type of rider. We put more emphasis on strength training with a sprinter than we do for climbers. Most riders do strength training twice a week. In addition, we also put two sessions of exercises for core stability on the weekly programme. Mostly, we put less emphasis on strength training. But certainly, during the run-up to the first training camp, we keep it a bit freestyle. If it rains the whole day, riders can choose to put in an extra session in the gym, plus a bit of relaxed work on the home-trainer. If it’s great weather the following day, we can strike the strength training and replace it with longer sessions on the bike.”

Which muscle groups are important during strength training?

“We focus primarily on leg, hip and back muscles. Sprinters also train their upper bodies a bit more. But, again, that depends on the individual rider. There is certainly more emphasis on strength training for the sprinters. That helps generate explosive power. Strength training is important for climbers, but less urgent. Climbers need to do strength training to keep their bodies in balance. But we are always looking for new stimuli for the riders. If a professional rider has had to follow the same training scheme for three or four years in a row, then it’s not very stimulating. Sometimes it pays to play around with a rider’s focus, to create new insights. Sometimes we will focus on maximum power, or just leave out certain exercises altogether. We try this approach with every rider, every year. Sometimes you just have to dare to experiment. It doesn’t always work the way we would like it to, but that’s how we learn.”

What is the general structure of your training programmes?

“We always work together with the riders towards peaks in the season. If, for example, the first peak is in March, November becomes ‘start-up month’. That means starting both strength and endurance training to get used to it all again. During this phase, three hours on the bike is ‘long’. The body has to slowly get used to riding again, which takes a little while. Then we all go to training camp in December, and then the volume of endurance training gradually increases. During the first weeks we ride for around 20 hours a week. And this builds up to around 30 hours. Once we complete the second training camp, at the end of January, the volume goes up again to over 30 hours. Some of the riders already go on altitude training at this point. We consciously choose to have two training camps a week, instead of one 11-day training camp, for example. During the second camp, the length of the endurance training sessions increases to up to six hours, whereas we keep them to about four hours during the first camp. We also make sure to train the team time trial during these scarce moments when the team is all together in one place. This is how we try to keep everyone sharp for the first big races.”