Pro. The term gets bandied about quite a bit in amateur bike racing circles. Besides its literal definition describing the talented few who are paid to race their bicycles, it has interpretations as an adjective. Pieces of equipment could be described as pro—the latest cutting edge fat / skinny / dimpled / smooth aero wheel, helmets with huge vents or scarcely any at all, etc. Even behaviors—going to bed early is super pro, as is drinking beet juice.
As amateur bike racers, we can emulate a remarkable number of things that the actual Pros do. We can ride the same bikes, use the same kinds of clothes, etc. In this day of tweeting and blogging, there is unprecedented access to intimate detail. Which of Allen Lim’s recipes is Jens Voigt’s favorite? Where can I get a headset dustcap to get my stem as slammed down as Fabian Cancellara’s?
But there’s one fact that is unavoidable for most of us: we can’t ride like the Pros. Sure, there’s that guy who one time gave so-and-so a run for his money at the local crit. But when you get right down to it, F. Scott Fitzgerald has it right. The Pros: They are different from you and me. Power meters let us understand this in stark detail. You don’t have to look very hard on the internet to find power files of Pro riders describing their race activities. If you have the opportunity to train or race with a power meter, then you too can understand the extent to which a Pro could stomp you in a race without having to experience it firsthand.
Something many racers in the Washington, DC metro area have experienced is seeing the talented Joe Dombrowski rise from the ranks of punisher of local amateurs to an international development team, and finally the ProTour level with Team Sky for 2013. The first time I saw Joe was on a local group ride in early 2011. Not then aware of who he was or that he had recently been recruited to the Trek Livestrong development team, I thought to myself “someone needs to share the unwritten, complex, and rarely spoken rules of road racing aesthetics with this kid —he’s got a matching kit and bike for Trek, so not Pro!” Half an hour later, he was shredding the group at the front. Only then did I ask around, learning he was the local wunderkind. I heard many a tale of woe from unfortunate souls he had stomped coming up through the amateur ranks.
This year, Joe was kind enough to share with us one of his favorite workouts to prepare for the arduous and lengthy races he’ll encounter at the highest level in Europe. He calls it “Wattage Pro” (this is your cue to be frightened, as he is literally a Pro using the term pro to refer to something as being hard).
The workout should take about 5 hours. For the power geeks out there, you’re fishing for about 300 TSS points. In layperson’s terms, afterward you should need to plow a large burrito and feel too stupid to do anything more than simple addition. The idea of this ride is to simulate what it would be like to race a long, flat Tour stage. It’s tough enough that Joe recommends not doing it too often and treating it as a “breakthrough” ride. My personal suggestion would be to put it at the end of a hard block of training where you’ll have a rest week coming up.
The Workout: Wattage Pro
Here’s the workout in simple terms.
- 4 hours, endurance pace
- 15 minutes: FTP/theshold/40K time trial pace, recover
- 5 minutes: VO2 max, recover
- 3-5 short efforts
- 3 minutes: all out
Allow me to explain…
1. Ride steady endurance pace for about 4 hours
Nothing fancy. This approximates sitting in the draft of the peloton. Joe recommends shortening this duration to make the workout sensible for the type of racing you are likely to encounter —maybe 2.5 or 3 hours. The point is to soften your legs up. For many of us, this would be a solid workout itself.
2. 15 minutes at FTP/threshold/40K TT pace
For a pro, the real workout now begins. This is after 4 hours of steady riding.
5-10 minutes recovery
Totally exhausted? Good. Because now the real fun starts.
3. 5 minutes just below “all-out pace”
Some call this VO2 pace; I prefer the technical term “bleeding from your eyes” pace.
Now that you’re feeling nauseated, give yourself another 10 minutes of recovery
The good news now is that the workout is almost over, and no more of those excruciatingly long steady efforts. The bad news? Excruciating short efforts.
4. Several short efforts (30 to 45 seconds each) at nearly full gas, ideally on rolling hills
Joe says he does these at about 500 to 600 watts. But bear in mind homey is nearly 6’1″ and weighs about 145 lbs. sopping wet. To get the true pro experience, the average MABRA weekend warrior would have to scale these up by around 10-15% to account for being a big fatty-pants. How many of these efforts? He says as many as he can do until his average power for the efforts drops by 10% relative to the first one. For most of us, that’d probably be three to five.
Now that you’re begging for mercy and looking behind you for that imaginary grupetto to cruise home with, fret not—there’s only one final effort left.
5. 3 minutes. All out.
In Joe’s words, “leave everything on the road.” Imagine attacking with 2-3 kilometers to go. If necessary, I suggest imagining Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin narrating your attack, describing how you are reaching into your “suitcase of courage”.
You are now free to limp home. Joe gets to return to an apartment in Nice, practice his French on the locals, and enjoy a croque monsieur or pan chocolat from the local patisserie. We get to check our work Blackberrys, because it’s Sunday and we’re part of the DC rat race. But if you do a workout like this, you should go home feeling pro, which is a great reward in itself.
We’d like to thank Joe for taking the time to share this workout detail with us, and wish him the best competing at the highest level of pro bike racing this year.
All photos courtesy of Team Sky. Our heartfelt thanks to Nick H. of Team Sky for giving us access to such Pro images.