How Jukebox Cycling’s Riders are Training for Gravel Racing and the Life Time Grand Prix Series

26 Jan

What does training look like when your season includes nearly a dozen 100+ mile gravel races, plus a smattering of MTB events ranging from Olympic distance to 100 miles, plus maybe a road race or two? Jukebox Cycling’s Alexey Vermeulen, Adam Roberge and Dylan Johnson sat down and chatted with us about how they’re heading into the Life Time Grand Prix Series in addition to other events this season. You can watch the full video below, or just read their best advice for training for a big season of gravel riding right here!

Pick your A races

All three riders said the same thing: While they have big race calendars, each have a few key races that they’ll target, while other races will be B or C races. Otherwise, training for the different cycling disciplines would be too overwhelming. It’s impossible to truly prep for a race like the 90-minute MTB event at Sea Otter at the same time you’re prepping for 200 miles of UnBound: The optimal training would look completely different. “I'm not planning to focus my training on 90 minutes racing because there's just a couple of those races,” says Roberge. “And really, I’m a gravel racer. As the shorter mountain bike races get close, I'll just maybe a little bit more intensity leading up to them, but most of my training is going to be focused on those hard and long gravel races.” If you’re a multi-discipline rider, you may have to make some sacrifices in your quest for perfect training, but you can choose a couple races to focus on.

Build base any way you can

For riders like Adam Roberge, who live in Quebec or other wintery climates, training in the winter is tough. Adam balances his indoor trainer sessions with long fat bike rides and even cross-country skis when the conditions are too hectic to ride. But generally, he’s just trying to put in long hours on the bike, as are Alexey and Dylan. (Cyclocrosser Ruby West is in a similar boat, and when she can’t ride, she turns to running—and you can read more about her training here.)

Know yourself and learn from past mistakes

Look at past years of racing: What worked? What didn’t work? Do you need more recovery time after races, or do you need a kick in the butt to get back on the bike ASAP? “I know this year, I'll take a break after Leadville, with a week off the bike,” says Dylan. “I think that's going to be necessary for me because a lot of times, I've struggled with burning out late season, or struggled to hold on to fitness late season. Making space for a couple of mid season breaks is going to be necessary this year with how long it's going to be."

You can watch more of Dylan’s training plan for 2022 right here:

Try to avoid actually overtraining

For big gravel races, especially if you’re doing a lot of them in a season, it’s easy to end up overtraining during base phase, or even when racing is going on if you’re still trying to train while racing and missing recovery as a result. It’s almost impossible to perfectly walk the line between enough training for a 200 mile gravel race without dipping into overtraining—as Alexey Vermeulen says, “The question is, how overtrained can you be and yet still perform?”—but your goal should be to consistently hold fitness at a level that will get you through the season. You need that endurance, but that means you also can’t be worn down.

Know when to push and when to ease up

Dylan sees this in himself as well as athletes he coaches: Often, we don’t need to be told to go harder in our interval sets, we need to be told to relax and take time to recover. So make sure that everything is tracking in the right direction. Are you taking rest days? Are you feeling energetic on and off the bike? Is your body feeling spry, not sore (most days)?

Check the course and prep accordingly

Some gravel races have big chunks of single track, or one major technical section that catches riders out. Some races, like the Leadville 100, are at altitude. Some have a ton of climbing. All three athletes recommend doing your homework about a course and what to expect on race day, then tailoring your training accordingly as the race gets closer. “For Sea Otter, since it’ll be fast and short, I’ll focus on some sprints and VO2 efforts as that race gets closer,” Alexey says. For Adam, spending more time on single track isn’t just fun, it’s good preparation for the gnarlier sections on gravel courses.

Enjoy it!

Whether you’re embracing a multidiscipline lifestyle or you’re just training for gravel, remember that the reason you’re training for these races is because you love the sport. "I'm excited honestly about all the racing this year,” says Alexey. "I think the mountain biking side of it is always hard. It's just the hardest part to mix in. But at the same time, the reason I left the road is that I wanted to train and race all different disciplines of biking of cycling, so I'm excited!”

Watch the whole gravel chat video here:

Stay tuned to find out how each rider fuels for gravel racing, as well as their top tips for race day prep, dialing in tire pressure, and adding strength training to a training calendar throughout the year.

Feature Photo by Joana Abreu on Unsplash

Molly Hurford

Author for the Jukebox Cycling Team