How to put together a busy cycling season without falling apart……Willie McColl’s, what event didn’t he do this summer?!

Before you know it you’ve booked to do 12 sportives, 4 cycling holidays and a couple of multi-day events, that are really races, sitting in your lounge in gloomy November.  It all sounded like a good idea at the time and then reality hits home of how are you going to manage it all and how do you maintain some form?  This might sound like an extreme calendar to what you have planned, but the principles of managing several events and coming to form at the right time are the same no matter how much you pack in.


I sat down with Willie at the February training camp last year and we did a 1-2-1 on just this.  Willie had planned a big year in 2018 to celebrate his 60th birthday and in his own words wanted to enjoy an “orgy of cycling!”  This is what he had planned….


Cycling Holiday to Gran Canaria – after Tenerife Willie had another training week planned to build on the form he gained in Tenerife


Cycling Holiday to Majorca – another trip to build some more form


Callander Sportives – 2 days back to back of sportives in Scotland

Liege Bastogne Liege sportive – following the route of the pro race, a present from his son for his birthday with the two of them doing it together

Majorca 312 – 312km, 5000m+ of climbing in one day – despite swearing never to do it again he found out it fell on his actual birthday so fate took control of that entry!


Etape Caledonia – 85 miles, one of the biggest Scottish sportives, a relatively local event for Willie.

Spanish cycling holiday – with friends he had met on his first Polka Dot trip, Ralf and Paul.


Tour of Cambridge – World Masters Granfondo qualifying event for Varese in August


Alps Marmotte Sportive – 170km, 5000m+ climbing

Tour de Mont Blanc – 300km+, 8000m+ of climbing in one day!

Cycling Holiday to the Dolomites – specific training for the Haute Route


Haute Route Pyrenees – 7 day multi-day event over the iconic climbs of the Pyrenees.  These events are full on races.

Varese World Masters Grandfondo Champs – provided Willie qualified, which bar a major mechanical was always going to be the case!


So quite a season! Is it possible to do all of this? Can you get good results in all of the events?

There are 4 main principles to think about when putting a packed season together;

Main Objectives – this is where you start your plan. Best will in the world even the top pros can’t peak for every single race they do.  In more recent years the riders going for GC places on the Tour de France really only have the Tour de France as their one main objective in the year, all the rest of the races are just stepping stones.  The classics riders peak for that 3-4 week period each Spring then their form dies away, some then re-build and do well in the late classics or the Worlds but no one holds form throughout the season.

So the first thing to do is identify which events are really important to you.  This could be 3-4 events, ideally with them coupled together so that you can carry form from one event to another.  Peaks of form generally only last for 6-8 weeks before you need to rest and rebuild, so you want your main objectives to fit into these periods.

The best way to start is to give each event a rating:

A – main objective – really want this to go well

B – would like to do well in it but could be used for building form and confidence and practice

C – nice to do the event but not worried about the result, used for training and practice only

You can immediately see with Priority C events that if you don’t have the mentality to just turn up and enjoy the event and get down and frustrated if you don’t do as well as you’d like that maybe it might be better not to do it in the first place?

Willie identified the following;

A Main objective events: Tour of Cambridge,  Haute Route Pyrenees and the Worlds in Varese

B rated events would be: Marmotte & Etape Caledonia

C rated events: Majorca 312 and Tour of Mont Blanc as he had done these before + Liege Bastogne Liege as he was riding with his son and would be just a great day out.

As his main objectives were in early June and then mid to late August we immediately knew that he wouldn’t be able to hold form throughout this period so he would need two peaks. The tricky part of Willie’s Calendar came around the July period.  For the Tour of Cambridge at the beginning of June he had a great build up planned but then after this he had 11 weeks before the Gran Fondo Worlds so had no choice but to have some downtime and then re-build.  The beginning of July was the Marmotte and he wanted to do well so we had to change this to a B rated event.

Build in recovery and rest– it’s very easy to think train, train, train and not put in enough recovery and rest. If you don’t plan recovery periods you run the risk of over training and injuries. After each event or cycling holiday Willie had planned, we then also planned an appropriate amount of recovery to let the form come through.  This varied according to the duration and event.  For example after his early season training camps we put into the plan, 4-6 days of easy recovery riding until Willie felt good on the bike again.  Willie recovers pretty quickly so that helps but it’s important to plan in enough recover from the start, you can always revise it if you feel you have recovered faster.  For the Etape Caledonia event which was 2 days of 85km the recovery period planned was less 2-3 days.

Some events can leave you more dented than expected and vice versa so you need to have flexibility in the plan.  You can easily add in more training but it’s hard to add in more recovery if you haven’t planned for it.

Switch your training specifically for your event – if you have main objectives that are back to back and very different styles of events you may need to consider if it is possible to training and peak for both of them at the same time.

On paper it looked like Willie’s events were all sportives and therefore the same type of training would work for all his main objectives, but when you dig a bit deeper you see that the Tour of Cambridge is a flat event compared with the Haute Route of 7 days over mountains and they do need different training.  So in the run up to an event like the TOC which will be mainly ridden in groups at fast pace, the training emphasis needed to be on speed endurance and lots of short intervals so that you can close gpas in bunches etc where as for the Haute Route, lots of sweet spot training and long endurance was necessary.  Fortunately with Willie’s main objectives the two were in different phases so this worked OK

Be prepared to be flexible from the outset – even if don’t over do it you can get injuries, mechanicals happen in events or you pick up the flu so be prepared to change things. Move some of your priorities around.  If you go into the season knowing that this might happen and you have a problem that means you can’t ride your main objective event you won’t be left feeling empty at the end of the season.

This year I planned to ride several sportives in France as a build up to the Haute Route 3 day event in the Dolomites in late September but in March I had to have operation, Stuart was really sick with flu in April for 4 weeks and so I moved us on my own back to France, then immediately ran 3 of our trips pretty much back to back without Stuart as he was recovering and hadn’t been on the bike for 5 weeks. As soon as I got back we then moved into our newly renovated house which took sometime to sort out and unpack and I was shattered.

I just didn’t feel like training and when I did it didn’t go very well so I decided to just relax and have a few weeks light getting back into it.  I started to feel better but just didn’t have the drive to do the training in the end so I made a decision not to do the Haute Route but replaced it with another event that was more suited to my fitness at the time and style of riding.  I had one of the best races over climbs that I had ever had so in the end felt that I had had a good summer and the event gave me confidence for next year too.


So how did Willie’s summer go?

His initial build up, with Lanzarote (January), Tenerife & Gran Canaria (February) and Majorca (March) was excellent. In Majorca he had planned to do some 2-5 day blocks but found this a bit too hard at this stage so revised it, but still manged PR’s up Femenia, Sa Calobra, and Sa Batalla.

Then in April he did just one day of the Callander sportives as the roads were terrible and he didn’t want to crash at this poignant point in the season.  Although he did have the fastest time on Day 1 despite the roads!

Liege Bastoge Liege – he had a great ride right up until the last 30 miles, when his Titanium bike sheared and he wasn’t able to finish the race sadly, but had a great time with his son up to that point.

The Majorca 312 – this came straight after Liege Bastogne Liege so he had to hire a bike ,but despite this still finished in a similar time to the two previous years, so he knew his form was good.

The Etape Caledonia – this was a practice event for the first main objective the Tour of Cambridge. This year he went off with the lead group who lost him on a tricky descent but got into the next slower group easily handling their pace.  He says he learnt a lot in this race about positioning closing gaps etc which stood him in good stead for the TOC.  He was lying about 30th when he punctured with 10 miles to go!

TOC – he had a great Tour of Cambridge.  His form came to a peak and he raced well. The lessons learn’t from the Etape Caledonia came into their own, closing gaps as soon as they opened and not working on the front but sitting in about 10th to 20th place. The group he was in, whittled down bit by bit. He started to work towards the end to help ensue they got in, in a good time. He finished in 3hr 13, I just can’t 5 minutes faster than the fastest last year and came 2nd overall in his age category. As expected he qualified for Varese.

 “Its official, second by 20 seconds, eventually the results sheets, Willie McColl Q, the UCI Medal. Next stop Varese!!”

Marmotte – all went well until the Top of the Galibier when cramp hit really badly and Willie had to get off the bikes several times.

Tour of Mont Blanc – sadly he decided to cancel this trip as he was left with quite a few issues after the cramp at the Marmotte. A tough decision but a good one if he wanted to compete at Varese.

Haute Route Pyrenees – plagued by mechanicals at the start, it is wasn’t until Day 4 that Willie was truly able to show his form winning his age category on that day and then 2nd on Day 5.  He then unfortunately had to withdraw due to knee issues again from the Marmotte, but confident with his form. He also fell in love with the Haute Route events, have o agree they are brilliant.


Varese World Champs – the big one…this was a tough race.  The best of the best over 60’s from around the Worlds all converged in one race!  The front guys were climbing gradients of 2-3% at over 30mph at times.  Willie had a great solid race and although found it tough he was really pleased to have finished in 3hrs 12 mins and again learnt a huge amount.  The objective this year was to get there, he achieved that easily, raced well whilst nursing a knee injury…next year he wants more.

So what a year!  The two peaks worked well and Willie’s form was great but like any season he had his ups and downs with mechanicals and then towards the end a knee injury. However because he had a plan for recovery and was flexible, he had a great season.  A huge, huge well done Willie, your cycling goes from strength to strength and we admire your drive and determination. Just wait until 2019!

Next Month we take a look at……if you were starting from scratch and wanting to race, what would you do to get yourself ready and in what order? & Sarah Vaughan’s Ironman debut.

Don’t forget our 15% Early Bird Discount on our Tenerife training camps ends at the end of November.  For more info please click here.




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