Two people ride bikes in an outdoor race

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How to Train For Your First Bike Race, According to a Pro Cyclist

Maximize your preparation for race day, whether you hit the road, stay inside, or both.

By Eric ArnoldApril 24, 2024


This past winter, when the hillsides near my house were blanketed with snow and the mere thought of taking my bike out of the garage for a weekend ride ranked up there with arm wrestling a polar bear, fellow Peloton member Liesel_Vink asked if I’d be interested in joining a 50-mile bike ride in the spring.

Every year she gathers a team, Suds Girls Crew, to raise money for the American Heart Association in honor of her late father. I eagerly accepted since I’ve been looking to tackle a new challenge after clocking thousands of miles on my Peloton Bike over the past four years. But a question immediately arose…How do I train for a bike race, anyway? I had no idea where to begin. 

Choose the Right Race to Compete In

Before signing up for an event of any kind, think about the type of race you actually want to compete in. Is it indoors or out? Hilly or flat? Long or short?  A benefit ride may be a great place to start if you’ve never done a competitive ride before. Benefit rides can be competitive, but the purpose of the ride is to benefit a charity or cause, so it can be as intense as you want it to be—or not.

You’ll also want to consider how you will train for it.  “At the end of the day, the most important factor is that the training gets done, whether it’s indoors or out,” says Peloton instructor and pro cyclist Christine D’Ercole. She trains indoors when the weather is cold, but emphasizes that “it’s equally important to train on the terrain on which you will be racing.” 

“Training for your race is based on the demands of duration and intensity,” Christine says. That’s whether you’re training for the 3,000-mile Race Across America, a 200-meter time trial in a velodrome or anything in between. Select and understand your race, first, then build your training plan around it. 

Outdoor Races

No two races are the same. Beyond the type of race, consider the location and terrain you will compete in. “37.5 miles on a flat at sea level is a very different ride than the 37.5 miles from sea level to 10,023 feet of elevation on Haleakala in Maui,” Christine says. She also notes that there are several types of outdoor races to consider.

  • Century Rides: 100 miles, and a good place for anyone to start with as a benchmark.

  • Stage Races: Races that take place over several days. 

  • Crit Races: Short course races with multiple laps, that require riders to make tight turns.

Indoor Races

Consider an indoor race, especially if you prefer sprints to endurance rides. And best of all, you can do some of your training indoors, including on a Peloton Bike. A Virtual Race is a type of indoor race. They’re exactly what they sound like. Race against other people—also pedaling at home—through a virtual world. Virtual races vary in length and difficulty.

Regardless of the type of race you choose, Christine says it’s important to establish your fitness baseline so you can create the most accurate and impactful training program. Take the 20-minute FTP test on your Peloton Bike, which determines your endurance pace. “Once [you] know your data, [you] can train to your strengths (or weaknesses) depending on what you want to achieve,” she says.

In other words, the data might surprise you—maybe you thought you were a sprinter, but it turns out your body shows a preference for longer, steadier endurance rides. So, let the data help you pick the race that’s right for you.

Velodrome Races 

Velodrome Races are races on oval, indoor, or outdoor tracks that can last 10 seconds (200 meters) or 20 minutes (a few miles), with several lengths in between.

“A Velodrome is a type of stadium. Spectators can view races in their entirety from the stands around a banked oval track. There are multiple race formats and they are shorter in duration compared to the Crits and Stage Races. Races are as short as the 200 meter time trial to a 200 lap Madison Race. There are both indoor and outdoor Velodromes,” explains Christine.

Build a Bike Race Training Plan Around Your Goals

Once you’ve selected a race, it’s time to build your training plan. In my case, the race will be 50 miles on relatively flat roads—but I live in a hilly area. By training on hilly roads, so my thinking went, I’d be adequately prepared for a flat endurance race. (Right away, however, I learned two harsh lessons: 1. Shifting gears timely and sensibly takes practice, and 2. On a Peloton Bike, if you’re having trouble with a hill you just dial back the resistance—but on a road bike you would potentially shift into a lighter gear as you approach the incline in order to avoid shifting under torque. But there are a couple of other key considerations to bear in mind.

Understand Your Goals

Everyone who enters a race for the first time has a different goal. Is it just to finish? Is it to finish strong, feeling like you could do it all again right away? Is it to win? Once you understand your goal, you can start developing your training program. 

Determine Training and Recovery Frequency

Finding a training plan can look several different ways. You can consult a pro or coach who can help you make a plan if you aren’t sure what’s right for you and your fitness level. Your plan will be based on the type and length of race. In my case, I found an eight-week training schedule of three rides per week. My plan included recovery days for each week, typically with two full rest days after the longest rides, on Saturdays. Here’s an example of how the first few weeks looked like for me:

  • Week 1: Tuesday 6 miles; Thursday 9 miles; Saturday 12 miles

  • Week 2: Tuesday 9 miles; Thursday 12 miles; Saturday 20 miles

  • Week 3: Tuesday 12 miles; Thursday 12 miles; Saturday 25 miles 

Of course, this is my personal plan, so what works for you may look different. For example, on the days that I know I can’t ride outside, I can just hop on the Peloton Bike. 

Consider Cross Training

Even if you cycle every day, it’s important to carve out time for other types of exercises. 

One area that I know needs improvement for my race is leg strength. There are plenty of lower body strength classes on the Peloton App and, if you haven’t tried them before, you’ll learn as I did that they will make your legs sore. After all, you’re using the muscles in different ways. But over time, strength work will leave you less sore and putting up bigger numbers on the Bike.

But there are other ways to build strength and endurance ahead of race day. Here are two:

Cross Train with Running

Remember, biking is a low-impact endeavor. But when you run, each stride involves your foot hitting the ground. This impact helps increase your bone density, which can help prevent injury.

Cross training is important to help us avoid injury from repetitive, limited range of motion activities,” Christine says. And cycling is, by its nature, repetitive with limited range of motion.

Cross Train with Rowing

Rowing is also great for strengthening your core and lower back (a part of your core), which helps you maintain your posture and balance on the bike—especially over long distances. 

You’ve also probably heard that rowing is a full body exercise, working multiple muscle groups simultaneously so you expend a high amount of energy at a lower overall impact. That’s exactly what you need when training for a cycling race.

With both running and rowing, though, there’s another key benefit: building your mental strength. Put simply, your brain needs a break from biking all the time. Mixing things up with other exercises helps clear your mind, especially as your training rides get longer as race day approaches. 

Five Tips on How to Train for a Bike Race 

While it might seem daunting training for your first bike race (even if it’s a charity ride), if nothing else you just get out there—or clip into your Peloton Bike—and ride. Just as we all get better at various things with repetition, cycling is no different. But if you want to put in your strongest possible performance, bear these tips in mind.

Establish a Baseline

As Christine mentions above, take the FTP test and a sprint test to help you figure out where your strengths are, what type of race to enter and how you should train. “No matter what kind of race you do, it is essential to create a base of fitness,” she adds, and by doing long endurance rides such as Power Zones during the winter months, you’ll build your fatigue resistance.

Train to Your Strengths

Christine, for example, knows that one of her strengths is around a two minute effort. So her training involves building her capacity around that duration. No matter the type of race and training you choose, she says, “that program should have the correct balance of low-, mid- and high intensity, as well as strength, plyometrics, overload, stretch, and recovery.”

Remember Your Goals

If it’s your first race, the goal should be to finish. How you want to feel after you finish—ready for bed, ready to party, or somewhere in between—is up to you, and should influence your training. “Part of training is developing the mental ability to catch oneself before they give up, and instead of pulling back, pushing harder,” Christine says. “This requires a willingness to go deep, confront fears of discomfort and plow through them.”

Eat and Sleep Well

Data scientists like to use the expression “garbage in, garbage out,” meaning if you don’t put in good information, you won’t get good insights back. The same goes for training. Food is fuel, so take a look at your typical consumption habits and do a little homework on nutrition to help determine how it can help your training. Plus, be sure you’re getting an adequate amount of sleep. This is what helps your mind and body recover and prepare for each new training session and, ultimately, the race.

Stay Positive

“Be patient. Allow yourself to be a beginner. Ask questions. Curiosity creates possibilities. Do not judge yourself. Set the ego aside.” All great pieces of advice from Christine, someone who’s been through it all on the bike. “What we say to ourselves has a profound impact on how we behave.” 

Perhaps the most important piece of advice Christine offers, though, is to remember that it’s ok to feel a bit of race day jitters. “We often get nervous as race day approaches,” she says. “[But] nervousness has the same physiological response as excitement. Remembering this can help us reframe and reinterpret what we are feeling.” Understanding what that nervousness is and where it comes from can also be what pushes you forward.

How To Train For a Bike Race with Peloton

Peloton has you covered for training for a bike race, whether you want to train on the Peloton Bike with guided Power Zone classes from expert instructors, Peak Your Power Zones Progam with Christine, cross train with a comprehensive library of strength content, or recover with instructor-led mobility and stretching classes—you can find it all on the Peloton App

If you’re already a dedicated Peloton rider, the hard part is already done. All you have to do from here is apply a bit more structure to your training based on the type of race you’ve chosen. But whether you’ve had your Peloton Bike for six weeks, six months or six years, you’re ready to start training for your first bike race. 

At the end of the day, keep in mind that your race should be fun. Think about it that way, “and you just might surprise yourself and make yourself proud,” Christine says. “Sometimes, simply finishing the race is a win. Sometimes, showing up is gold.”


Christine D'Ercole

Christine D'Ercole

Christine D'Ercole

Christine D’Ercole is a decorated track cyclist who brings this expertise to every Peloton class.


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