Stephen Roche from Dublin was outrageously talented as a cyclist. As a young 18yr old in the Irish Milk Race, he was so much better than anyone else that they used to let him off in the morning and have their own race behind him. He won easily. When he was looking for a pro contract, a French team boss told him, “Win the amateur Paris-Roubaix next weekend and you’ll have your contract”. He duly did. In his first pro race he beat Bernard Hinault, then the greatest cyclist around, in the Tour of Corsica, even having the cheek to out-time-trial him. In his first month as a pro he won Paris-Nice the first big race of the season.
His early career was blighted by two serious injuries, a knee injury and a bad back. For him, afterwards, cycling hard was always painful. But he managed in his best season to be only the second cyclist to win the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France and the World Championship in the same year. The first was the incomparable Merckx, the greatest cyclist ever.
Now, where is all of this leading?
The man who established modern training as undertaken by endurance athletes was Arthur Lydiard. He was an Olympic marathon athlete from New Zealand in 1948. He didn’t win but kept up his running afterwards. He was ignorant of science and of biology, a useful combination for an inventive person. He began to experiment endlessly on himself and gradually worked out a regime which he found gave the best results. Roughly it is this. 13 weeks of long steady distance, in running terms 100 miles a week for a man. No rest days. After that, 6 weeks of anaerobic threshold training. This is defined as a pace which you can maintain for an hour without slowing down, OR as working at around 85% of max pulse rate. After that SOME anaerobic training with sprint intervals , etc.
Now part of his belief was that you took no day off. He knew from scientists that this continuous training promoted the growth of capillaries in the muscles and so on, and his athletes did phenomenally well, winning gold medals in Olympics , etc. Among the people who were involved with him were Peter Snell, Murray Halberg, Lasse Viren, some cyclists , etc. There is no doubt that Lydiard’s training methods were very good.
It must be said that long steady distance was the belief of professional cyclists a long way back. The legendary Fausto Coppi used to preach “Ride the bike, ride the bike and ride the bike”. Years ago I questioned Sean Kelly, then the world’s No.1 cyclist (a title) and his training was all easy distance. He spoke of hours rather than distance. He got his speed from actual racing.
I am inclined to train too much when I’m trying to get fit for the summer. I gradually become exhausted. Then I remember what Stephen Roche said on more than one occasion. “When I go out and if I don’t feel like cycling after 20 minutes because of tiredness, I go home. I always listen to my body”
Lydiard would not countenance such heresy.
Last week I was exhausted. We had done our trip to Beara, 50 miles with perhaps 2500ft of climbing, my friends on carbon fibre jobs, I on my heavy Thorn Raven Tour, at an average of 12.1. Two days later we did a hilly trip of 40 miles. Two days after that I did a hilly 30m with Mary. I was, as we say in Cork, rashered. I did not cycle on Sunday or Monday.
On Tuesday we went on a hilly 54m spin, 2500 Ft of climbing. Roughish road. I was on my racer on this occasion. 13.5mph. I felt great, though tired afterwards.
I prefer to believe Stephen rather than Arthur.
Perhaps it is because I’m intemperate and overdo it!
Are we Stephens or Arthurs as a group?