A Cyclist’s Pre-Season Training Guide: Building Your Base

Peter Glassford
by Peter Glassford
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A Cyclist’s Pre-Season Training Guide: Building Your Base

When you think about your training, are there differences between your in-season training months and the off-season? Do you race year-round or do you take an off-season to increase your fitness before the next race season?


The term ‘base’ is a common phrase used in conversations about training planning. Your base is like your foundation, which comes from the idea that if you were building a pyramid, a bigger base would let you build a higher peak. When you hear someone say they are putting in ‘base-miles,’ this typically means they are building their fitness by training more in preparation for specific training phases and races to come. Since training volume goes up, this typically means the intensity is decreased, but this is not always the case.

The base portion of a cyclist’s year is typically 12–16 weeks long. This aligns nicely with winter in many areas to allow a break from riding bikes and an absence of the temptation to race or do group rides for a few months. Many athletes do base-training January through March and then commence more specific training in April and May to be ready for races in June and July. While the winter base phase works for many cycling goals, it must be adjusted for earlier races and winter disciplines like fat-bike and track or events in warm destinations.


The build phase is also called the ‘specific preparation period’ and happens closer to your race, generally in the 4–8 weeks before the event, depending on the athlete and the goal. During this period you do more rides that look like your event. In traditional examples, this means lots of hard intervals, since races often require really hard efforts. It is worth planning the build phase so you start base-training early enough in the year to resist the urge to start pushing (too much) race-specific intensity too early in the year.


With your goal date for your event, you can backtrack approximately six weeks for your build phase and 12 weeks for the base phase. Taking the time to schedule these in a calendar helps you establish your weekly and monthly workouts and goals to avoid doing the wrong type of training, too many different types of training or simply training too much.


It is common for cyclists to want to lose weight, but this is at odds with performing your best on your bike. Weight loss should generally be kept as a goal for the early base phase, if not before starting base in the ‘transition’ or off periods when nutrition and lifestyle factors can be your main focus. That is not to say there can’t be improvements in body composition as you work on performance objectives, but it is difficult to pursue performance goals while limiting intake. This concept is a great rationale for mapping out your season in phases or periods to focus on different goals/aspects of fitness, health, family and work.

Planning these phases is a great advantage because you can focus on certain aspects of your fitness and use specific elements of training at the best time of the year. Too often the large volume weeks are done too close to races and cause fatigue and stymie practice of the critical race moments, which require fresh legs (e.g., sprinting, attacks, long breakaways, hard hill climbing).

READ MORE > 3 Cycling Workouts to Help You Climb Better


The base phase typically starts with a mix of training modes including some cycling, strength training and cross-training. The first few weeks should be focused on getting moving and slowly building your hours, as your schedule allows. Establishing a great routine (e.g., training at the best time for you) and high-performance habits (e.g., great food and sleep hygiene) are critical before increasing training stress to help maintain consistency and good health through the base phase.

As you move toward the middle of your base you can use some more hill climbing or moderate intervals including tempo-style intervals that are not maximal but that allow you to work moderately for extended periods of time. Often overlooked in base phase, if not all phases of training, is coordination and short sprint efforts that can be sprinkled through long rides or done as a specific warmup.

The final phase of base should have you pushing toward your highest volume in total hours and also building your interval time toward your goal durations. The weekly interval capacity is a great indicator, especially for the ‘time-limited’ masters athlete who can’t do many hours each week. You might set a target to do several 3 x 30 or similar style tempo intervals (or long climbs) in the final weeks of this preparation.

Building a training camp (even a long weekend or a couple of days off at home) into the final block is a great idea to build some extra training stress into your base season while decreasing some of the work/life stress experienced during that time. Remember your routine and performance habits from the first portion of base!

About the Author

Peter Glassford
Peter Glassford

Peter is a cycling coach and registered kinesiologist from Ontario, Canada. He travels frequently to work with athletes at races, camps and clinics. He also races mountain bikes for Trek Canada and pursues adventure in all types of movement. Follow @peterglassford on Twitter, or check out his online and in-person coaching at www.smartathlete.ca.


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