Former ski mountaineer Anton Palzer is entering his third year as a professional cyclist with the German team road cycling team Bora-Hansgrohe in 2023. When the racing season ends, Palzer and many of his colleagues at Bora-Hansgrohe don’t step off their bikes entirely. They continue to train throughout the winter to prepare for races in the spring, with as much as 25 to 30 hours of riding per week.
Lack of motivation to go out and ride in reduced daylight hours and wet, wintry conditions aren’t confined to us mere mortals – the pros have the same dread – but they know they’re paid to do just that.
Below, Palzer shares how he approaches winter training, combined with some tips on how budding, but committed, amateur road cyclists can also prosper in unfavourable conditions.
Set yourself a goal
Winter training is crucial for setting up your performance goals in spring and summer. It’s here where you lay the foundations for the entire year. Palzer says drawing up a plan to structure a training routine is extremely important. Always have in mind the goal you want to accomplish over the next year, whether it be racing, sportives or long rides. Everything should be geared towards this: from the point at which you start your preparation to the training content and the scope.
The most important question you should ask yourself before you start planning is what you want to achieve and what’s the best way to prepare for it. For non-pros, this may be a simple case of improving fitness, but there’ll be some of you that have semi-competitive goals to aim for, like finishing organised races, podiuming those races, completing riding tours and tackling major climbs or routes. You can then adjust the volume and nature of your training to fit the goal.
Season break and regeneration
When the pro cycling season ends, the pros will step off the bike for a break to go on holiday and allow their bodies to recover. Training often begins in November/December and the break allows them to start with fresh energy. Physical condition is, of course, critical, but mental condition is no less important here.
Motivation plays a major role in winter training – the winter is long, cold and hard. In order to be able to fulfil your training plan, you have to be mentally strong and relaxed in your mind. This means sometimes getting off the bike for a few days or weeks as the pros do themselves. Doing this is the best thing for you to do to reset for the training ahead.
Do alternative sports
Doing alternative sports or cross-training can help you to add variety and even more fun to your everyday training. As a former ski mountaineer, Palzer knows the best options for holistic training.
“From November to January I’d put the ratio – cycling to alternative sports – at around 70:30. In the time leading up to Christmas, I’ll focus a little more on alternative sports like cross-country skiing, which strengthen the muscles. In general, you should concentrate on this as a training focus to compensate for the neglect of the upper body when cycling.”
The following sports are suitable for this: cross-country skiing, swimming, running and climbing/bouldering – while core exercises and strength training in the gym should also be incorporated into your winter routine.
Some bike athletes like Wout van Aert, Tom Pidcock and Blanka Kata Vas even race in the winter in cyclocross. Not every pro does this, but as a bit of variety, pro riders do switch to gravel and mountain bikes for low-intensity efforts, as it’s a fun way of keeping training interesting.
Building up endurance
From the beginning of November to around mid-February, the main part of training should be designed to increase endurance and that means putting in the hours on the road in terms of volume. As riders move more into the winter and into the new year, efforts should become more intense, with the athletes doing short intervals to see if they can sustain power-watt output at higher levels of performance.
“The basic units only become shorter well after Christmas. Until then, the rides are long and leisurely. This is followed by an interval program once or twice a week. You only develop effective racing toughness in competition,” Palzer says.
Training tips: Gordon Benson’s Winter Training Guide
The third of three short films on Gordon Benson’s winter tips for road cycling in association with Lab series Skincare for Men.
Training alongside a working life
Amateur athletes have to complete their winter training alongside their working life. The time available for this undoubtedly limits what they can do. In this case, Palzer advises mixing short and intensive sessions during the week with classic, calm endurance rides at the weekend. With this approach, you can combine training at home (if you have an indoor trainer) using applications such as Zwift, with training outside.
“The roller/indoor trainer is ideal for interval training. The device specifies the resistance and the units can be set specifically to the wattage that you want to achieve. But there’s no alternative to the road for basic training – I try to ride at least two-and-a-half hours outside or more each day during the winter months.”
Dress smart and warm
In winter, cyclists not only have to be able to deal with their training schedule, but also with the cold. Palzer wears specific clothing for his winter rides and is at pains to advise that this clothing should protect parts of the body that are susceptible to the cold – even when they’re covered up.
“For the most part [in winter], I wear functional cycle clothing made of neoprene, a turtleneck sweater and then a jacket over it.
“Frequently, people neglect to keep their toes warm with thermal socks or overshoe protection. With the hands, which get a lot of wind exposure, I recommend three-finger gloves [Lobster gloves] instead of normal winter cycling mitts. These gloves will allow you to brake and steer well and more importantly keep the hands warm. A tube scarf or neckwarmer, which can also be pulled over the face, is also pleasant.”
Kit essentials: Gordon Benson’s Winter Training Guide
The second of three short films on Gordon Benson’s winter tips for road cycling in association with Lab series Skincare for Men.
You also need to be visible to others in poor weather conditions and reduced daylight. Palzer is an advocate of becoming more easily seen with eye-catching clothing. With this in mind, make sure the clothing you wear has reflective elements, or go all out with gear in neon colours for ultra-visibility.
Equip the bike with the right accessories
Palzer advises that you should pay for high-quality bike parts, as they’ll stand you in good stead in the winter. Punctures are more prevalent in the winter, so equip your bike with high-quality, puncture-proof tyres. Also, always have a spare inner tube and pump with you to be able to react to a puncture. Mudguards can also increase your comfort in winter. They prevent you from getting splashed when riding in the rain.
As with the reflective clothing recommendation above, you should also equip your racing bike with lights that allow you to be seen in different lighting conditions. Front and rear lights are mandatory.
Palzer is keen to stress that with winter training your mood and mind have to be on a positive level all the time to provide motivation to get out and ride. One way he gets motivated is to reward himself in some way on his rides should he complete his set plan for day, and he says you too should reward yourself – even if it’s just small things.
Take hot tea with you, treat yourself to a piece of cake and coffee at a cafe stop, or prepare something at home that you can look forward to during or after your ride. After a few hours in the cold, you definitely deserve it.