Chasing Ventoux: Rouleur's 3-month training plan – Part One

October’s Haute Route Ventoux sees riders battle up the Giant of Provence – three times. Among them will be Marcus Leach. A 38-year-old writer and adventurer with a love for mountains, he’ll be fired by passion, Supersapiens fueling and energy management monitoring, and his first real training plan.

I didn’t dream of winning the Tour de France as a child. In truth, I didn’t know much about cycling back then; other than that it brought me a simple joy from chasing my friends along the many country lanes that wove their way through the fabric of my childhood.

It would be some time before my passion for the sport developed, far too late ever to consider pursuing it as a career, but not so late that I didn’t begin to wonder about my athletic potential on the bike.

Read Part Two

Read Part Three

Searching for my limits

What began as a mild curiosity slowly escalated into a fascination with just how far I could push myself, both physically and mentally. It didn’t take long to progress from ‘just riding for the fun of it’ to taking things more seriously. Soon I was increasing weekly rides with the aim of being able to focus on a series of progressively more challenging goals.

Admittedly, one of those early goals came close to extinguishing my passion for turning the pedals. But then, in hindsight, it perhaps wasn’t the wisest decision to enter a one-day 330km race boasting 8,000 metres of ascent just six months after buying a road bike.

Thankfully, the pain of defeat soon faded, to be replaced by a realisation that, to continue on my journey, I’d need to adopt a more methodical approach – simply riding my bike three times a week would only get me so far. Instead I needed a proper training plan and strategy to prepare for events.

“A good training plan is something that works for you,” sports scientist and Rouleur Performance's resident expert Daniel Healey told me. “Everyone is different and, once you understand your unique physiological characteristics, the training process becomes less complicated."

Ultimately, most training plans revolve around a pre-set target. "Maybe your goal is to win the local club criterium, but you’re 45 years of age and spend most of your time doing long rides on the weekend?" Healey explains. "Or perhaps you’re 95kg and want to be competitive in a multi-day ride with over 3,000m of climbing each day?

“In both examples, there’s a disconnect between the goal and reality. Having a clear understanding of your strengths, weaknesses and time available to train are the first steps in creating a training plan that works."

Understanding your own physiology is key. "From this start-point, the appropriate proportions of VO2max (maximal oxygen capacity) vs VLamax intensity (lactate building rate) are applied," Healey says. "Then data is analysed daily to make sure adaptations are occurring in the right place and at the right time.”

Ventoux Calling

Since that fateful day, when I came close to eschewing the bike for good, there have been many rides, challenges and events, countless hours of training, a glut of mountains and a continuous desire to keep pushing for the next goal, the next summit. However, one mountain that has always eluded me is Mont Ventoux.

Until now.

After months of riding closer to home during various lockdowns I was left craving a new challenge, something inspiring, something iconic, something like Haute Route Ventoux – a three-day race taking on each of the different ascents to the summit of the ‘Giant of the Provence’ between 1st and 3rd October 2021.

Related – What is Supersapiens?

I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel a touch apprehensive about the challenge, especially given that at a shade under 90kg I am hardly the ideal build for more vertiginous terrain, not that I have ever let that perturb me in the past. If anything, the magnitude of the challenge further highlights the need to have a structured plan and professional approach in place for the next three months in order to maximise my time on – and off – the bike and arrive in Bedoin in peak condition, ready to find a new limit.

The Plan

With three months until the race, I wanted to put together a plan that would offer me a condensed course of endurance and power training, but also take into account the demands of my professional and family life. For that reason we settled on around 6 sessions per week, with the longest sessions sitting around two hours in length. I'll be using Training Peaks to monitor my TSS and record my training.

Below is the first two weeks of my plan.

Week one

Monday Rest Day
Tuesday 90 mins riding zone 3 – flat terrain – TSS 110.0
Wednesday 2 hours riding, including 2 x 5 min intervals @ zone 2 – flat terrain – TSS 110.0
Thursday Rest Day

Friday

2 hours riding, including 2 x 5 min intervals @ zone 2 – flat terrain – TSS 110.0
Saturday
2 hours riding, including 3 x 20 min intervals @ zone 3 – flat terrain – TSS 120.0
Sunday 45 mins recovery ride, including 2 x 8 mins @ zone 3 – flat terrain – TSS 50.0

Week two

Monday Rest Day
Tuesday 60 mins riding, including 15 mins @ zone 2 and 30 mins SST (Sweetspot training, 88-94% FTP) – flat terrain – TSS 85.0
Wednesday
90 mins riding, including 3 x 8 mins @ zone 2 – flat terrain – TSS 110.0
Thursday 75 mins riding, including 2 x 20 mins SST and 1 x 20 mins @ FTP (functional threshold power)

Friday

Rest day
Saturday
90 mins riding, including 3 x 5 mins sprints at the end of the ride – flat terrain – TSS 95.0
Sunday 105 mins ride, including 2 x 20 mins @ FTP – flat terrain – TSS 140.0


Read Part Two for weeks 3-4.

The plan takes into account that I have, through my training history, already forged a solid aerobic base. Therefore, the focus is geared towards specific conditioning at an anaerobic level.

Over to my coach, Matt Green. “Generally speaking, anyone can do any endurance event; it’s just a matter of how slow you’re willing to ride. To overcome the harder sections of the course, being able to produce higher power and then recover from it is more beneficial than trying to raise your overall average by 0.5kph. The world’s top marathon runners don’t train for their event by going for six-hour walks.”

Related – Training and Heat

This explains why you’ll see a significant focus on intervals at different intensity levels, carefully balanced as not to build too much fatigue and compromise future sessions. There is, as I know all too well, a temptation to do more than is prescribed, especially at this time of the year when the weather is good and we can ride all day, but I’ve learnt that it’s vital to stick to the plan and trust in the process.

Marginal Gains

Sticking to my commitment to finding new limits by seeking every possible advantage, I will add an extra element to my training over the coming weeks. Thanks to Supersapiens, I’ll be using real-time blood glucose visibility to help me maintain my optimal fuel range. This should enable me to ride faster for longer and achieve my performance goals, both in training and in France, when I head to Ventoux. That’s the theory; now it’s time to learn the science behind it, apply it and reap the benefits.

Over the next three months, then, we'll be sharing all of my experiences in training, and the gains that I achieve along the way. Throughout, I'll be keeping the summit of Mont Ventoux in view.