Road Cycling Skills

Top Tips for Winter Training from Drops Cycling Team Riders

We asked Alice Barnes and Abi Van Twisk for their tips

Temperatures have taken a dramatic drop over the last week or so, and they’ll no doubt continue to plummet until we emerge out the other side, blinking into the spring light.

That doesn’t mean it’s time to stop riding, though. Racers like Abi Van Twisk and Alice Barnes of Drops Cycling Team will keep logging the miles throughout the season, and there’s no reason for you not to do the same.

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We caught up with the pair at an evening with Naqi – the team’s new skincare sponsor – hosted at Kingston’s Sigma Sport bike shop.

Naqi’s physiotherapist tests the products on the girls at Sigma Sport

London based Van Twisk rode for Drops throughout 2016, coming 20 in the GC at the Tour of Norway at just 19-years-old. She is a fan of the Spring classics, whilst Alice Barnes (yes, Hannah’s sister) is based in Manchester and is the reigning Under 23 National Champion, a title she’s held on to for a second year.

Living in very different areas of the country, it’s no surprise that their approaches to winter miles aren’t exactly identical.

Alice Barnes: the group rides make the miles go by approach

Alice Barnes. Image: @dropscycling

Barnes lives with a number of British Cycling’s Podium Programme riders, and being based close to the National performance centre is never short of ride buddies. She said: “I try to be out on my own as little as possible! I’d always advise that you train with people if you can, you’ll enjoy it more. It just sort of keeps your motivation high and you’ve got people to chase.”

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The 21-year-old uses winter mainly to focus on logging long, endurance rides. She tells me: “Getting the miles in [over winter] rather than the intensity is quite important. If I’m on a climb I’ll go harder, but it’s mostly getting the distance in to get a good base – I do intensity just before the racing season.”

That impacts the way her season is organised, but it’s deliberate – she tells me: “I generally am not as good at the start of the season, and I build up. I don’t want to be peaking at the start and having a big dip where all the main races are. I get most of my intervals and speed work at early season races.”

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Aside from logging miles on the bike, she’ll also spend time in the gym this winter – and tells me: “I’ll be training in the gym, but not as much for strength, more for core training. To give me a better position and avoid injury. It’s one thing I’m lacking – strength in my core, my arms and my back.”

Abi Van Twisk: entertainment on the turbo for set intervals

Abi van Twisk. Image: @dropscycling

Being London based, Van Twisk doesn’t have quite the same quantity of local pro and development riders ready to go out for a four hour ride of a Tuesday afternoon. She says she gets most of her efforts done indoors on a turbo trainer (preferring rollers for pre-race warm ups).

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She tells me: “I always ride on my own – which I would not recommend! But I do actually do a lot of turbo training. If it’s a really bad day, or really cold, or it’s a two hour ride, I like to do that on the turbo. Just to mix it up – you can just get your efforts done, really intensely. Especially if your route could otherwise be disrupted by traffic lights or traffic. If you’re in a city, I think the turbo can be really good.”

Turbo miles are incredibly effective – you never freewheel and you don’t have to stop for anything (except your legs dying!) – but they can be boring.

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When completing longer sessions, Van Twisk makes use of YouTube – she tells me: “I put a stage of the Tour de France on – or the Tour of Flanders. And I watch it. Time goes away quicker. You don’t really watch it during an effort, but in between you just tap away easier. And music – I just bang it on shuffle and listen to anything upbeat.”

During shorter sessions, she drops the visual aids and keeps the intensity high – telling me: “If there’s lots of intervals or efforts, then you’re kind of in your own mind-set and I just get on with it, it goes quite quickly. If you were doing a shorter session I’d recommend doing lots of efforts, with shorter recovery.”

It’s easy to overheat when training indoors as you don’t get the cooling effect of the breeze. Personally, I couldn’t live without a fan when riding indoors – but Van Twisk is obviously made of stronger stuff than me and says: “I don’t have a fan – I quite like when I’m really sweaty, it feels like it’s been a good workout! I couldn’t live without a timer. Or music.”

Clothing and the Bike

Drops riders out in winter

Of course, both riders have completed their fair share of cold, winter rides – and they’ve got plenty of suggestions when it comes to preparation.

Barnes lists her ‘can’t live without items’, starting with a headband “because my ears get cold!” She also adds a buff, overshoes, gloves and tends to layer up a lot. She says: “I usually wear a short sleeved under jersey, a long sleeved under jersey, as sort of a base, and then a jacket.”

Van Twisk’s favourite item at the moment is the Santini Reef jersey, which she says: “Covers you under your bum, it’s longer than a normal jersey, when you get spray up your back it gets you really cold so the Reef jersey helps to prevent that.”

The girls are also using Naqi products – including their Vorta Plus Cold Feet Protector which slows down heat loss. Van Twisk says she also uses cling film on her feet to keep them warm on really cold days and Barnes adds: “You can use Naqi warm up oil on your lower back and bum too, to keep you warm when there’s splashback.”

When it comes to the bike, tyres are a major consideration. Van Twisk, who says she’d rather train on her race bike than bog herself down with a heavy winter steed and mudguards, explains: “I’d recommend spending money on a really good winter tyre, even over a nice wheel, at this time of year. You might think ‘oh a lighter bike would be nice’ but when you start getting punctures… it’s not worth it.”

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The pressure in the tyres is really important, too. Barnes says in a dry race she’d usually run 85 to 90 PSI on 25mm tyres: “Being light we often ride higher pressure than we should. On wet, greasy roads I’d go down 5 – 10 PSI.”

She won’t leave home without a light, either – commenting: “I use a USE Exposure light, it just keeps you protected – even in the day. Sometimes if I’m climbing in the Peaks it can suddenly turn foggy, and then you’re a bit stuck.”

We hope those tips help you our over your winter rides. We’re publishing tips, tricks and motivation all through November to keep you riding – check out our ‘Motivember’ articles, and don’t forget there are prizes up for grabs!

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