Rio Strada Cycling Team Winter Training Camp

Mission accomplished on the inaugural Rio winter training camp.

The motivation in organizing (with the help of Bev McInnes, team director) the camp was to help the team understand the value of variety in their training. The winter training camp took place at Tahoe Donner in Truckee, and it kicked off with a social gathering and overview of camp objectives.  

I hoped to share with the Rio team riders that a variety of winter cross-training can be  fun and effective, and ultimately provides invaluable durability, injury prevention and improved performance.  Of equal importance, the inclusion of variety, especially preseason, prevents us from falling victim to feeling obligated to always riding our bikes. It allows us to understand there is a multitude of options for winter base endurance training – keep it fresh and fun.  Variety allows us to stay mentally and physically hungry to go after it when it counts, April-September. Over my career as an athlete and now coach, it has became clear that at a certain point, mental hunger and determination ultimately determines the victor.

Saturday morning – we woke to a bluebird day – and jumped in to a trunk stability program that focused on training a pillar-like neutral spine – with the goal to take that strength and awareness off our mats and in to our cross-country skiing. By training a functional neutral spine and maintaining it in our endurance pursuits – it creates a strong base from which to move and generate movement to our extremities. Efficient generation in to the skis and poles, in this case, with no energy leaks. 

After a bite of breakfast – we hit the trails for stride instruction. Morning instruction was followed by a snack (thanks to Andrew Strolin with Natures Bakery, who sponsored a generous supply of the natural fig bars for the team member’s valuable refueling), and then back out on the trails for time, to individually digest the technique concepts and practice what we learned.

Following lunch – free time allowed some to snowshoe for additional endurance time, while others capitalized on in-house massage with Daniella Gauvin. The idea with training camp was to provide an understanding of all the aspects included in training that create a comprehensive, effective and successful program. Regeneration in all forms – including nutrition//hydration, stretching, yoga and massage, along with rest, is a vital counter-balance to quality intensity training.

Saturday evening Jeff Angermann, Silver Sage Sports Performance Center physiologist and Assistant Professor, School of Community Health Sciences, University Nevada, Reno, provided an in-depth presentation on the physiological and nutritional aspects of effective training and racing. The presentation stirred questions and insightful answers, along with thought provoking discussion.

Sunday, and another blue-bird Sierra day, the training day started with isolated glute activation exercises and movement preparation exercises. This scientifically derived activation series helps us bring more glute awareness and trunk stability in to our endurance movements. As a society – due to sedentary lifestyles at desks and in cars – we are in a constant state of flexion. Consequently our hip flexors are tight, and we have lost our ability to activate and use our glutes, defaulting to an erroneously quad dominant movement strategy. The first step is to actually feel the glutes in order to strengthen them and then use them in movement. The tier of exercises derived from the six month fellowship at USC Movement Performance Institute I attended, effectively isolate and activate the glutes – and train them share the load with our over-active quads. The movement prep also allows us to become more aware of engaging the trunk, as well as firing the nervous system for improved balance and proprioception. Once we hit our skate skis for the morning instruction – we were primed for movement.

Sunday on-snow, cross-country instruction focused on the athletic, skate discipline. While cross-country skiing provides more general endurance base building – we can draw relations to specific movement demands, including compressing on to the ski as we compress the pedal.We started with instruction, which included lower and then upper body drills to break down technique,  and then hit the trails to bring the movements together.

Post-ski – a quick final bite, more delicious Nature’s Bakery bars, around the Tahoe Donner fire pits, hugs and smiles – a mass exodus, with the pedal to the metal home for Super Bowl.

A few other valuable, big picture reasons to add variety in winter training…

When I was racing – I would spend January at US National A Team training camps and then off to trade team camps in February. I would come home to master riders flying in February, winning the all-important training rides, like the infamous Sacramento River Ride and the long Sunday endurance rides – definitely the things contracts are made of….When I would return home again, at the end of May with a respite from international racing – these same people stale on cycling, had hung their bikes as garage art,  and were done racing for the season.

Effective training entails a more comprehensive, balanced approach than “more on the bike (or whatever the primary pursuit may be) is better.” It is a systematic orchestration of all the on-bike pieces to develop speed, explosive power,  efficient generation of force in to the pedals, specific pedaling strength, endurance, race pace intensity including subLT, LT, vo2 and anaerobic capacity efforts – we all know this, there are a bunch of books and blogs reciting all the same stuff. But the difference lies in how the program pieces are implemented, the athletes understanding of the “why” to training, the off-bike supporting activities, and the all-important mental training piece. 

Back to training camp concept, a big piece of the training puzzle is to keep each phase of training in perspective, and as a coach help the athlete understand the objective of each phase of training and maintain that perspective, irregardless of what everyone else is doing. Understanding ultimately helps the athlete hit each workout with purpose and intention, the key to glean the absolute from each training session- and helps the athlete understand and trust the training process as a process.

Using the foundation phase of training as an example – it is important to  continue to remind the athletes of the objective – to build a wide base of endurance and muscular strength upon which to build the other phases leading to competition. With proper investment this phase provides athletes with the ability to go deeper and effectively recover during race season. When this phase of training is skipped, athletes tend to be physically fragile, and are not able to adapt to and recover from training and racing loads.

But it is also the mental piece of maintaining the perspective of foundation training objectives  that in my opinion is of equal or greater value. The ultimate goal of the winter foundation phase is to emerge with the strong base, but mentally hungry to go after the next phase of increased intensity training. Allowing yourself to include a day a week or a weekend here or there of an entirely different base endurance activity, like cross-country skiing – is money when it comes to in-season mental hunger, tenacity and determination.

Too often – because we live in a physical world, we are consumed in our training with the heart rate or power numbers, what we ate or drank in examining our performances in training and racing – with little or no regard to our mental preparation leading in to or thought processes during the performance. This mental aspect of training should take center stage with the physical – and be central to every day and phase of training.








Rio’s Heidi Littenberg Hits It…

Heidi’s Folsom BP Criterium

The first race of the season is always an overly nervous experience.  Several days before the event, my mind starts being consumed by it.  Have I trained enough?  Am I fitter than last year?  Everyone else has been training just as hard or harder.  Will I be able to keep up with them?  Those thoughts are followed by attempts to chill out by reminding myself that the race is really the start of something and that the end result doesn’t matter as much.  Despite that simple truth, I rile myself up too much thinking about how things might shake out.

This year, my thoughts about the first race were just as much about myself as my new team.  Really, it’s my first time on a team after several years of being a “solo opportunist” of sorts.  So, the nervous anticipation for myself was compounded by thoughts of hoping I can keep up with my teammates and hoping I can work with them to do something special for one of us.  I had to remind myself that I’m learning a whole new racing dynamic, wanting to be helpful for others, even if I’m just using the race to take a gauge of my fitness.

This race, being a 1/2/3 field, was fast and full of surges.  Attacks happened early and often.  We did our best to take charge of the peloton and not be followers, which meant we were on the front in the wind, working to reel in those riders.  We took turns working hard and putting out some huge efforts without the luxury of a draft, until we were fried.  I learned, among other things, that one huge benefit of being on a team is hearing, “Get in, Heidi” from a teammate after taking a big pull on the front of the pack.  I had two awesome friends there, making nice holes in the wind so I could recover.  I can only hope I was able to repay them in kind.

We may not have won, but we had a blast and made ourselves proud. We bonded, we fought hard, and we found out that we race well together.  That’s why I wanted to be on a team.

In the end, I think we surprised ourselves a bit by working that hard and still being able to contest the final sprint of the race.  We were able to recover at race pace and have enough in the tank to finish strong.  The three of us placed in the top 11 of a field of 25 racers after practically killing ourselves for 50 minutes of really intense riding.  While the end result was not the real goal for this race, it did show each of us that the fitness foundation is there.  The training is paying off.  It gave each of us that big first step toward being fully confident. We now know we can turn it up a notch and be the ones that make it happen.

Now it’s time to take it forward into the rest of the season.


Team Rio Rider Audrey Biehle’s Early Season Racing and Training Odyssey

My experience at the Cal-Aggie crit was motivating, and it went well. I felt very strong throughout the race. I can completely see the benefits of our training intervals where we ramp up heart beat every 3-4 minutes. Totally felt that kind of effort during the race.

In terms of tactics, it was difficult. One team kept sending out breaks and no one would chase. Finally two girls got away and I wanted to reach them but no one would work together and it as too late for me to try and bridge by myself. I did, however use it as an opportunity to try several times. So they had first and second clinched coming into the finish. I was frustrated throughout the race by the lack of effective tactics. I had to fight through wanting to give up mentally when I saw I couldn’t get 1st or 2nd. I brought my mind around and decided I could at least get third. I was near the front coming into the finish, on the wheel of two other girls. There was a crash right in front of me and I had a moment of hesitation, thinking I should stop and see if she was okay, but then a girl came around from my left and I jumped on her wheel. I was coming around to try and beat her but the finish was too close. If there were 10 or 20 more yards I think I could have nipped her at the line.

So overall a great race! Very exciting, learned more about tactics and feel motivated for more training and intervals!

According to Julie’s training plan, I did a Lake Natoma spin that evening and some hilly Auburn riding the next day. I had never felt so strong coming up Baxter’s grade, especially with the crit the day before.

Awesome weekend of riding!

Two weeks later I was racing in Napa and came away the winner of a giant cherry pie, cause I got second!!! Yes!!!

The race went so well, I almost couldn’t believe it. I played it smart the entire time. Initially I conserved and stayed light on the pedals when possible, just as Coach Julie had instructed and I had learned from my last crit. The race started very fast and I just stayed near the front and got the hang of the course. Then there was a prime, and I came flying out of the chicane and up to hill to win it! Yes! First prime I ever won, I was super excited. Then I just hung in for the remainder of the race. No one was really attacking so I didn’t have to worry about breaks and I just took the corners smooth and stayed on my own line. Then on the last lap I was in great position and coming up the hill hard, in too big of gear. There were two girls next to me, but my legs were blown from poor gearing choice at the bottom to get around them. Turned out one was a junior and they were picked separately, so I got 2nd! Woo Hoo!!! Best crit ever! And I actually felt like I knew what I was doing, amazing!

I have seen so much improvement lately and I can’t wait for the rest of the season!


Mental Tenacity Wins the Prize

Off the cuff, Ah-Ha moment, by Stephanie Mayberg, Team Rio Strada rider…

The Sunday ride was tough, but good.  I saw most of the Rio gals finishing up as I was starting and got warned of severe Valley winds. Initially,  my mind took control and I almost bagged it and headed home…but I regrouped, took control mentally and finished my ride strong (but tired). It was a good lesson for me about the power of thought…