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Durability-what is it all about?

By Coach Rick


It is the latest buzzword among the trainers of the world’s top riders.

So what’s the big deal?

 Durability appears to distinguish cyclists with successful race performances from riders who are less successful.

It is critical to understanding how a rider may perform at the end of a race when fatigued.

“It is the big thing in training science at the moment .– it’s a hot topic in research circles, and in terms of performance implementation,”  says UAE Team Emirates’ performance coordinator Jeroen Swart.

Simply put, durability is how much of your fresh capacity you have left at the end of a race. Assuming everyone was equal and raced identically, the rider with the greatest remaining capacity wins.(Genetics do play a factor of course, but speaking in broad terms here)


“It’s basically an indicator of how hard you can go after five, six hours. And that’s what you want to know about when it comes to winning races", says Swart, and "working on durability is becoming more and more a central part of  training programs and you can’t afford to ignore it.”

It’s a performance trait that helped Tadej Pogačar win The  2023 Tour of Flanders after six hours of racing.

“In competition,  what matters is what you can do at the end of a race, not at the beginning.  Which means that fresh performance values don’t predict fatigued values well at all,” says Tudor Pro Cycling trainer James Spragg.

Coaches have known  for years how to test  the watts a rider can produce when they’re rested but it is difficult to determine how fast they are when they’re fatigued.

“Knowing a riders’ durability like we can now means you can predict competition performance so much better than just looking at fresh data,”
and with what we’re learning in these new studies, you get a massive insight into how to train a rider too.” Spragg said.

These studies can give us a new understanding into what makes different riders fatigue at different rates – and how those factors can be improved to unlock race-winning potential.

Researchers have learned how to correlate an athlete’s fresh performance ceiling(Power test info)to their physical economy and fuel-burning efficiency to give an estimate of fatigued power.

If a rider is not durable, but has high VO2 max, and a high FTP, the component of durability is missing.

What is missing is substrate utilization(Z2)combined with riding economically.

Coaches cannot ignore that durability is such a big component of understanding overall performance.


So does this apply to us normal folks, the ones who don't ride the Tour of Flanders and don't need to be good at the end of 7 hours?

The answer is it absolutely applies to all of us who ride/race bikes.

Pogachar wants to be good at the end of 7 hours, heck, I want to be good at the end of the GMSR queen stage atop App Gap.
Even us mere mortals want to be able to produce good power later in a race, when it counts and for us that may be more like the 2-4 hour mark.
So how do we get there and improve our own durability?

Let's hit the basics:
1. Z2
We all know about it, we all work at it.
It is critical to making our biomechanics more efficient and is a big factor in durability.
Z2 cheat sheet and specs here for those who need a refresher course-

However, even if you have your Z2 base installed, if you ride like a dummy throwing watts everywhere and burning matches needlessly, well, your durability goes out the window.
Which leads us to:
2. Efficiency, which is CRITICAL
Simply put,  the more efficient you ride, the more you conserve fuel and energy for later in the race, and to accomplish this you need to do several things.
3. Good cadence decoupling, which means you stop pedaling as much as possible. Studies have shown that you should aim for a 15% zero cadence in your file after a ride(typically I see anywhere from 2-5% in most files). And to do that you have to make a conscious effort to actually stop pedaling when possible. It can make a big difference.
4. Riding smart, sitting in the draft as much as possible, never turning a pedal in anger till you have to.
With greater efficiency, you waste less fuel when riding.
More on this efficiency topic here-

5. And without stating the obvious, good reliable fueling practices-


So, adding these things up means  that if you have strong fat burning abilities(Z2), and ride as efficiently as possible it  would allow you to save more glycogen(rocket fuel)for later efforts which would lead to stronger durability.

Are there variables here?
Of course, it's a sport, We're human.


Is durability the same as endurance or fatigue resistance?

Endurance not so much as I like to think of endurance as the ability to hold moderate efforts over long time periods, without needing a high end spike at the beginning or end.

Fatigue resistance, yes, very similar, and that is trainable, like doing intervals at the end of a 4 hour plus ride. Not fun but very beneficial.


Does durability apply to shorter races like crits?

Obviously the longer multi hour rides are the purest test of durability.

That being said, riding efficiently and saving rocket fuel for the end of a crit is pretty darn important as well.

Moral of that story is to ride efficiently all the time and it becomes a habit. A very good habit.

How about a VO2 max of 95. Could that help?

Yes, and let me know where I can get that.

Bottom line- having a good Z2 base, fueling correctly and riding smart can lead to better durability, ie, better results.


Coach Rick

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