4. Training in the Base period 2

Nothing must be left to chance if you want your physical condition and form to rise crescendo to a peak on the start line of the Haute Route.

Spring is not too far off (in the northern hemisphere) and it is time to start getting serious. At less than seven months to the start, you need to begin thinking about adding significant volume to your training rides.

We are not suggesting that from one day to the next you switch from short rides and indoor turbo sessions to repeatedly riding 150 km and climbing 3000 m several times a week. The change must be progressive, with the major focus still being on developing high force and high cadence, at least through the early part of April.

Force/leg strength

Do these sessions as much as possible on a hill. The idea is to take on a series of short climbs which over the weeks become progressively longer and more frequent, at a low cadence. Begin at 60 rpm and progressively reduce this to 50 or even 40 rpm as you get stronger. Be careful to pedal smoothly, to keep your pelvis and upper body stable and to avoid the temptation to go fast. Your heart rate should remain below the aerobic threshold (75% of your HRM): the key is to work your muscles, not your cardio-vascular system, and to develop the leg strength that will be essential for the mountains later in the year.

Be careful at any cadence below 60 rpm. If your bike set-up is not perfect this can easily lead to injury. If you are experiencing any knee pain stop and investigate the cause. Make sure you stretch properly after each ride – make this part of your routine, while you are still warm and before taking a shower. If you are not sure which stretches to do, check out these recommendations from British Cycling.

Let’s now add some more variety.

Key Insight #4If you live in an area without much in the way of hills you might like to try simulating a long Alpine climb. What can work well in a flat area is to do two sessions of 40 minutes each at 60-65 rpm, in a relatively high gear. While it can’t fully replace a proper climb, this does give your muscles a good work-out. You should progressively increase the time over a period of weeks.

The strongest riders will need to use their 12 tooth or even an 11 tooth cog in order to have enough resistance to keep their heart rate sufficiently high. Cycling into the wind can be a real help: sit up as if you were climbing, there’s no point in using the drops!


High cadence is a key theme throughout the winter, and you must continue to work on it during the spring.

It is very easy to ride at high cadence during a group ride, often without your companions even noticing. Include several series where you work hard at a minimum of 100 rpm and it’s done.

Here are a few tips:

  • Avoid the temptation to change gear when the group accelerates
  • Take advantage of downward slopes
  • Take advantage of a following wind

It is not about following a strict structure (x series of y minutes), but about taking advantage of the terrain and the elements to make the most of your ride.

Aerobic Threshold

In parallel to these sessions you should increase the time spent at your aerobic threshold (upper Zone 3). This is the intensity you will experience during the long climbs in August, and working at this level becomes progressively more important as time goes on.

The objective is to accustom yourself to maintaining a high heart rate during a long period. If you live in a relatively flat area these sessions are particularly important because riding for long periods at 80-85% of your HRMax doesn’t happen by itself. Unfortunately, repeating the same short hill several times doesn’t simulate a long climb, even if the total climb is the same. What you must do is to work at the targeted heart rate for a sustained period. In a flat area this requires a significant effort as well as maintaining concentration.

VO2max and Higher Intensities

The winter months are the ideal time to do short, hard rides in the higher intensity zones: Zone 5 (VO2max), Zone 6 (Anaerobic) and Zone 7 (Neuromuscular). We talk more about VO2max in the Build period, when it becomes a major objective. Here in the Base period you might do one set of VO2max intervals, one set of Anaerobic intervals and one set of Neuromuscular intervals per 4 week cycle. It could thus look like this:

Week one

  • 1 x Force/leg strength intervals
  • 1 x High cadence intervals
  • 1 x VO2max intervals (Z5)
  • 1 x 3-4hr ride, including 15-20′ at threshold (upper Z3)

Week two

  • 1 x Force/leg strength intervals
  • 1 x High cadence intervals
  • 1 x Anaerobic intervals (Z6)
  • 1 x 3-4hr ride, including 2 x 15-20′ at threshold (upper Z3)

Week three

  • 1 x Force/leg strength intervals
  • 1 x High cadence intervals
  • 1 x Neuromuscular intervals (Z7)
  • 1 x 3-4hr ride, including 2 x 20-30′ at threshold (upper Z3)

Week four

  • Recovery week. 50% reduction in volume (time and distance), mostly Zone 1.

Increase the length of your long rides

Long rides are obviously very important, and are usually planned on Sunday. You should progressively increase the time and distance in order to be able to handle 5, then 6 and even 7 hours in the saddle while training. There’s no need to do more than this. It is an excellent idea to participate in a few long cyclosportives.

Here follows a schedule for a steady progression through February and March:

Week 1: 3h
Week 2: 3h to 3h30
Week 3: 2h30
Week 4: 3h30 to 4h
Week 5: 4h to 4h30
Week 6: 3h30
Week 7: 5h

The schedule is based on two rides of increasing length followed by one that is a little shorter. Up to you to adapt this plan based on the weather and your other commitments.

You should also progressively increase the amount you climb as well as the distance in these long rides. Climbing will become increasingly important through May and June.

In a flat area your best option may be to repeat a circuit that includes as much climbing as possible. Bear in mind that a session with some serious climbing should be included in your programme at least once a fortnight, and more often if possible.


Please note that all these recommendations are necessarily generic. There’s no such thing as a standard training plan that works for everybody. Devising the right training plan for any one individual takes a considerable amount of time and to be effective must take into account the rider’s past history, current ability, strengths and weaknesses, goals and ever-changing constraints, amongst other things.

Seven reasons NOT to use a cycling coach

Next up: the Build period


Updated on 13 November 2016

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2 thoughts on “4. Training in the Base period

  • James

    Hi Alpine Cols, thanks for these interesting articles. One question though. I’m a little confused about when you recommend including VO2max training. In the overview diagram you indicate that VO2max starts in the base period. But in the specific blog on the base period, you don’t mention VO2max, just force, cadence and aerobic threshold. It’s in the blog on the build phase where you describe VO2max intervals in some detail. Please can you clarify? Many thanks, James (Haute Route Pyrenees 2017).

    • Marvin Faure Post author

      James you are quite right. Reverse periodisation – which we recommend in preparing for the Haute Route – means doing lots of short, high intensity rides in winter and early spring, gradually adding distance as you get closer to the event. More on this here. These short, hard rides should include work on different days focused specifically on Zone 5 (VO2max), Zone 6 (Anareobic) and Zone 7 (Neuromuscular). I have updated the page to clarify this.