by Andrew Randell and Steve Neal of The Cycling Gym
Nothing motivates you to train and ride consistently like a few goal events sprinkled throughout the year. After putting in the effort to get ready for a ride, you want to make sure that your legs are as good as possible on the day. So, you need to do an opener. Think of it as the workout that will turn you on, so that on event day, your legs feel good. You will typically do this workout the day before your event. But the best timing and the best style of opener depends on the event and the type of rider you are.
The week before your goal event – whether that’s a gran fondo, a charity ride, a cross country, cyclocross or a time trial race – you’ll usually have more rest than in a normal training week. You don’t, however, want your legs to switch off so that they feel dead on the day. The opener will switch them on so they’re ready to jam.
The characteristics of your goal event will determine what your opener should look like. If the event is longer or less intense, the opener is actually less important. If you are doing a big, long marathon mountain bike race or, say, the Dirty Kanza gravel ride, you probably don’t need to worry much about opening up the legs. The first six hours of riding will do that for you. For this scenario, getting out for a nice spin, some endurance at a higher cadence to limit muscular fatigue, is probably best. In the case that you still feel like you need to do an opener, you might consider doing a 75-minute endurance ride, with the heart rate pegged below the top of your endurance zone. During the ride, put in between six to eight 8–10 second all-out sprints, with 6–8 minutes of rest between the sprints. Each sprint is essentially an acceleration on a heavish gear that lasts until you lose the torque in the pedals.
Inversely, the more intense the event, the more intense the opener and the greater its importance. If you are racing cyclocross, criteriums, mountain bike cross country or time trials – events that are indeed intense – then the opener can be key to having a successful day. For these events, you might incor- porate as much as 20 minutes of race intensity (that is, threshold efforts) into the opener, with plenty of rest between the efforts. An opener such as this might feature 4 x 4 minutes of intensity with 8 minutes of rest between efforts. The ratio of rest to effort should be 1:1 or even 2:1.
What is most important, though, is figuring out the opener that works best for you. Are you better off riding easy and feeling very rested on event day? This practice might work if you are an older rider. Maybe you like to do your opener two days out from the event, and just an easy spin the day before. The more you ride and the fitter you are, the more you may find the need to do an opener. Use your secondary events or perhaps club races as opportunities to test out different approaches.
One thing not to overlook is proper fuelling after your opener. Make sure to have a snack ready to go, to be eaten within 20 minutes of finishing your ride. Then, have a good meal a couple of hours later. You want to ensure that your muscles are fuelled for your event.
There is a relationship between your event and the type of opener to do. The more intense the event, the more intense and important the opener. The longer the event and the less intense it is, the less important the opener. With those guidelines in mind, try some different workouts and figure out which opener suits you best. Find out what makes you feel your best on event day.