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Ride like... Alex Dowsett

Essex golden boy and one-time Hour Record holder on his secrets to success

1 Dec 2016

One of the distinguished members of the new crop of British cycling stars, Alex Dowsett is a renowned time-trial specialist who’s been British National Time Trial Champion in five of the last six years, up to and including the recent 2016 championships.

A former member of Team Sky, the Essex boy moved to Spanish WorldTour outfit Movistar in 2013 and has been with them ever since, fitting in well alongside such illustrious team-mates as current Vuelta a España champ Nairo Quintana.

As a specialist against the clock, Dowsett is one of the few to have ever held the Hour record – although he didn’t have it for long, as it was broken by Sir Brad Wiggins within five weeks back in 2015.




Name: Alex Dowsett

Age: 27

Height: 1.82m (6ft)

Lives: Essex

Rider type: time-triallist

Professional teams: 2010 Trek-Livestrong; 2011-2012 Team Sky; 2013-present Movistar

Palmarès: Giro d'Italia stage 2013; Bayern-Rundfahrt 2015; British Time Trial Champion 2011-13, 2015-16; World Hour record 52.937km


Work backwards

What? ‘When we’re training for a race at Movistar, we take that race and work backwards,’ Dowsett reveals.

What this means is coaching staff set their targets for the year, then design a training schedule working backwards.

This structured approach avoids cramming in sessions going into an event when your body hasn’t had enough rest.

How? Got a sportive next spring? First look at the week preceding it.

The day before the race, do nothing but rest. The day before that, pencil in little riding, the day before that a little more, and so on.

The idea is to taper your training so that your body is as prepared as possible for the big event. Then, work back to where you are today, building your plan so your training load peaks right before that taper week.

Adjust your plan as you go, according to how well your body reacts to training. If targets are too hard, lower them – make sure targets are realistic.


Drop the pounds

What? Nailing time trials is mostly about getting the numbers right, from hitting the right amount of power for the majority of your ride, to making sure you’re not a pound over your ideal weight.

‘The one thing that a lot of people get wrong is body weight. You can spend thousands of pounds on a set of wheels that will shave off 200g, but if you’ve got a stone to shift then you’re shooting yourself in the foot,’ Dowsett says.

How? Key to maintaining optimal weight is diet, but for many riders a great way to make sure you don’t pile on the pounds is to incorporate fat-burning rides.

‘The primary goal of most endurance athletes is to achieve maximum race performance, and getting lean is just one means to that end,’ Matt Fitzgerald, author of Racing Weight, tells us.

‘Almost all cyclists could benefit from doing more moderate-intensity miles as well as high-intensity intervals,’ he says.

For many, these rides can be categorised to sit at 55-65% of your maximum heart rate.

If fuelled with just protein throughout the ride, your body will utilise the fat stores in you to work as energy while maintaining muscle optimisation.

However, be sure not to go too far the other way, as Dowsett warns. ‘I dropped three kilos and suddenly I was getting over the climbs no problem.

‘But then it’s Catch-22 – I thought I’d try to drop another three kilos but I lost all power so it’s all about finding the right balance.’

Amen to that.


Rest up

Alex Dowsett Hour record

What? Pro riders put in an ungodly amount of miles throughout the year, but they’ll also tell you that getting the right amount of rest is just as important.

‘Your training is only as good as your resting so I was chilling out a lot as well,’ Dowsett explains, while talking about his winter training camp.

‘When I’m at home, there’s always a bit of buzzing about after training but [in Mallorca], you get back, have a massage and lie on the bed so you can soak up the high amounts of training.’

How? Resting may conjure up images of sitting on a bed munching a bag of crisps, but this isn’t what we mean.

Pros use ‘recovery rides’, which are 1-2hr rides to cajole your muscles into ridding your body of training by-products like lactic acid.

These are particularly useful if you’re tapering your training just before a main event, whether that be a sportive or race, as recovery rides ensure you maintain a competent level of fitness without risking losing it all by pushing too hard.


Use a shorter crank length

What? Coming from a track background, Dowsett is accustomed to using a shorter crank length, ideally either 165mm or 170mm (the Brit uses 170mm on his Canyon Aeroad).

While many use crank lengths linked to their height, track riders tend to prefer shorter crank lengths to increase their revolutions per minute (RPM).

This is because keeping a high cadence on the track is key to generating higher speeds – and for road riders it can help with maintaining energy levels, particularly when ascending the Alps in the Tour de France.

Other riders like Mark Cavendish use the same crank technique for their final sprints so they can spin out and reach their top speed quicker, giving them an edge on others in the field.

How? Initially it may feel strange to use a slightly shorter crank length but as your body gets used to it, it’ll take less time to turn the cranks and increase your cadence.

Many professionals from Geraint Thomas to Wiggo aim to keep their cadence high as it helps with energy preservation and efficiency.

Around 100rpm or just over is considered to help your body’s energy stores and general speed control.


Don’t let obstacles get in your way

What? The son of an ex-pro sports car driver, Dowsett was born competitive, but after being diagnosed with haemophilia he had to rule out contact sports like football or rugby.

But this hasn’t stopped him from becoming one of cycling’s hard men. One injury in the Tour de France saw him receive six stitches in his arm, which he opted to have put in without a local anaesthetic for fear it’d limit his performance the next day.

How? Top pro athletes seem especially able to grind through difficult situations, but don’t be fooled.

Professor Greg Whyte, a sports scientist and author of Achieve the Impossible, tells us that a lot of it is simply down to setting goals.

‘A goal should be challenging but achievable; don’t set your sights low. In addition, make sure that the goal is measurable so you can monitor your progress.

‘And most importantly, celebrate success – be sure to smell the roses,’ the prof reveals.

It’s normal to feel defeated by obstacles, so constantly remind yourself of your goals and you’ll be riding high.


Specialise your training

What? Time trialling may be part of the road race calendar but the ‘Race of Truth’ is very different to bunch races and the training reflects that.

‘The time trial is something you can apply specific training to,’ reveals Dowsett.

‘If I want to average 400 watts in a 10-mile time trial in, say, 20 minutes of riding give or take, then my training might be to push 450 watts for five minutes to build my threshold up, and then I’ll be doing an effort at 350 watts for half an hour to push my endurance.’

How? Whether you’re looking to take on a 400km Audax or a 1hr criterium race, it’s key to look at your training and use specific plans so that you can perform better for your event.

If you’re doing your first sportive, it’s key to ensure you’re capable of doing a set number of miles. For example, if the sportive is 80 miles, it is good to aim for 100 so come race day you can perform with ease.

By building up to the 100-mile mark over a period of time, you can specialise in training for endurance-based riding – unlike a sprinter who will mainly use short, quick interval training to build speed. 

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