Benchmarking your performance and target performance is a very important element of your training and build up. It give a direction and focus to your training and creates objectives and goals.

Performance benchmarks describe or define the level of performance you wish to achieve and it has a direct relationship to race demands (see the earlier tip on race demands).

For example in track endurance, a National level male can complete a 4 km pursuit in 3:40. Researching all of the elements of the performance and benchmarking will establish the method how a rider will have to perform to succeed at the identified target or level.

A good performance benchmark should be measurable, specific, relevant, reliable, and valid, and cover a wide range of factors e.g. technical, tactical, physiological, and psychological.

An experienced coach will use many different techniques to identify and research performance benchmarks that are appropriate and relevant for the rider; for example testing will highlight the rider’s level of performance and his/her strengths and weaknesses.  Once these have been compared to the performance benchmarks that have been established, they will be able to identify goals for the rider and prescribe training for the rider, with the aim to progress the rider from the current level of performance to reach the desired level of performance.

Once the performance benchmarking activity is complete, we then formulate two short, medium, and long-term goals and a time line for the rider.

The next important step is using a relevant process and tools to monitor the performance and make necessary adjustments.

By Houshang Amiri
Photo by Louise Hodgson-Jones

An analysis and understanding of race demands along with suitable preparation and training, will improve your performance and bring positive changes to the outcome of your race. Consider your next important race, think of any specific demands of the race and create a list of factors that could impact your performance.

Many races and competitions require different components and levels of performance, and so training needs to reflect what these components would be. Consequently, identifying and understanding the demands of a race can help the coach and rider to specify goals in response to race demands and then prescribe appropriate training.

Identifying as many different types of demands, including all of the factors, are important and can maximize your performance.

Factors can be listed under these categories:

  • Technical
  • Tactical
  • Physiological
  • Psychological
  • Nutritional
  • Biomechanical
  • Mechanical/equipment
  • Environmental
  • Logistical
  • Recovery

Race demands can be measured or observed, and they can be categorized for a particular type of race. For example, if the above list relates to track sprint we may add the sub categories as follow:

  • Technical: start gate, timing and balance
  • Tactical: choosing the line, considering the wind direction, indoor vs outdoor track
  • Physiological: muscular power and agility
  • Psychological: activation, focus
  • Nutritional: strategy for refuelling between the heats
  • Biomechanical: double disc wheel vs rear disc or no disc wheel – indoor vs outdoor track
  • Mechanical/equipment: gear selection
  • Environmental: hot, cold, altitude, wind
  • Logistical: travel, transportation
  • Recovery: jet leg, recovery from each day

By Houshang Amiri

What type of rider are you? Sprinter, climber, stage race or a time trial specialist.

You will do well if you know your strength and weaknesses, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. You need to know the superiority and inferiority of your Key Performance Factors (KPF). When you know those variables you can train with purpose and strategize your race plan.

Your performance depends on the KPF, or in other words, the physiological qualities – sprints, climbs, time trials, endurance capacity, efficiency and the ability to recover and stay healthy. There aren’t many cyclists out there that have more than two of those qualities. For example, if you are a climber you should have good endurance capacity and the capability that permits you to climb well after 150km of racing while maintaining your status in long stage races. If you have those two qualities, you have a great chance to do well or win stage races. On the other hand, if you are a time trial specialist with similar endurance capabilities you will have the chance to do well or win a less hillier stage race (don’t forget team support as winning a stage race is impossible without a good team).  However, as a time trial expert or a climber your main performance will come on a one day TT (time trial) like Nationals, Worlds or a major Games, and if you are a climber you will hope to have a top mountain finish.

In other words every cyclist must have one outstanding quality that will put him or her on the podium. Developing a world class quality will take years e.g. Ryder Hesjedal won his first grand tour (Giro) after doing nine grand tours, or Svein Tuft won a silver medal at the 2008 World Championship ITT (individual time trial) after wining many TT’s.  Winning a one day race is much more detail orientated than winning a stage race.

I once coached a Master cyclist, who told me his strength was sprinting. He used to have a strong sprint finish, often beating other riders. After some testing we started working on his weaknesses (endurance capability and aerobic power) while keeping his strength maintained (sprint qualities). It took about a year of change to get him close to his potential and one year he rode over 90% of his races with the front group, and won over 80% of those races, or ended up on the podium.

By Houshang Amiri


Success and performance in cycling is heavily dependent on precise individualized planning. As time is the most valuable factor, our goal is to make the most out of it and make each session count. In order to do so it is vital to:

  1. Identify the “Current Performance.” Where you are in physical and physiological readiness compared to your competition.
  2. Identify the “Performance Target.” The level you need to perform for the upcoming season and beyond.
  3. Identify the “Performance Pathway.” How you are going to achieve the targets.

As Key Performance Factors (KPF’s) are different for each cycling discipline, it is critical to know and identify the KPF’s for your discipline, e.g. if your main aim of your cycling discipline is Individual (KPF’s) as indicated below, this is an important step in order to know your Current Performance and set your new goals and objectives for a Performance Target. After pinpointing these factors it is essential to rank yourself against those KPF’s to recognize and establish the Performance Pathway.

The Main physical KPF’s for an Individual Time Trial (ITT) – 7 is very important, 1 is not as important

  • Maximal Aerobic Power 7
  • Aerobic Capacity 5-6
  • Anaerobic Lactic System Power/Capacity 1
  • Anaerobic Alactic Power/Capacity 1
  • Endurance Capability 4-5

Speed: Acceleration Speed (Speed Strength) 1

Speed Endurance 5

Maximum Speed 1

Change of Speed 1

  • Muscular Endurance 7
  • Muscular strength 3-4
  • Efficiency: Riding Economy and Pacing 7

Aerodynamics 7

  • Body composition 5
  • Flexibility 5

An experienced coach can provide important information like KPF’s to lead and manage the pressure, allowing the athlete to focus on training.

By Houshang Amiri

I stated in a previous article on On-Bike Efficiency, that in order to get most out of your training and fitness, and to improve your on-bike economy, there are several factors to consider. Most of us get carried away with improved mechanical efficiency e.g. aerodynamic tubing, ceramic bearing, or lowering the weight of the bike by replacing the nuts and bolts with titanium just to save a few grams. This may give you an edge depending on what you want to do on the bike, however, before you start spending money on high tech equipment, consider choosing proper equipment in relation to your riding and racing style.

Consider your body positioning or riding posture (bike fit). Getting an appropriate bike fit may take up to 3-4 hours and will take in consideration your unique or Irreplaceable Biomechanical Circumstances (IBC) e.g. the differences in left and right side, muscular flexibility and joint range of motion, hip, knee, and foot aliment, your training, racing details, etc. The key part of your bike fit is your connection to the bike when you transfer the power to the pedals – the shoe, cleats and pedal system.

For the shoe, cleats and pedal set-up consider choosing the right type of shoe and the right size (consider a proper insole as many shoes won’t come with a suitable one), and pedal system. Next is to position the cleats based on your IBC. This will consist of foot fore/aft positioning, stance width (side to side positioning), arch type, forefoot tilt and alignment at the foot and pedal interface. This key alignment prevents the repetitive side-to-side movement of the knee which can have negative biomechanical effects from the foot all the way up to lower back.

If you get this set-up done accordingly, your on-bike economy will improve significantly providing comfortable and efficient pedaling. It will help prevent injuries and will enhance the recovery time.

At PCC we offer bike positioning and fitting. We use cutting edge technology ITS WedgeTM and Cleat Wedge by “BIKE FIT SYSTEM®” to make corrections and proper alignment.


Bike Fit System

By Houshang Amiri
Photo courtesy: Project 303

Although you need to constantly work on your speed, on the bike or off the bike, it is also vital to plan a focus block, a block of training that will focus and aim on developing speed. This block can be 6 to 9 weeks within a certain training phase. Because maintaining your top form is much harder than building it up, it is important to ensure that your speed development fits within your race calendar, and adequate timing of the block will ensure to achieve your top speed when it matters.

One of the most efficient ways to manage your speed development is to plan it into a YTP (Yearly Training Plan).

As cycling is an endurance based sport, speed development is important. A background of good form and fitness will enable you to endure high intensity training, and ensure you have the capacity to repeat workouts and recover from the workload.

Targeting the right type of speed quality and it relations to the competition is important, for example if you are planning to win an uphill finish in the stage race your speed workout will be different from one who is tapering for a flat road race.  Preparation for time trialing requires a very different adaptation than the other two.

Depending on the demands of your cycling discipline you may want to focus on the one speed

I like to classify the speed quality as follow:

  • Top speed, or maximum speed – the highest velocity you will achieve
  • Acceleration speed or speed strength, commonly called power – this is the amount of time required to get to the top speed
  • Speed endurance – the amount of time you can hold the top speed

Training Tips: In general, regardless of what kind of speed you decide to focus on, there are a few common concepts you need to follow.

Leg Speed – Your cadence and how fast you can spin your legs is fundamental to your over all speed. Regardless of what kind of speed quality you are going to work on, you need to have the necessary leg speed. For example, a top track sprinter cadence can hit 200+ RPM and be able to hold the cadence of 175-190 RPM for 10 seconds or so. The other example, a BMX rider, must reach their top speed in the first few pedal strokes. It is critical that cyclists need to repeat those top performances many times during the race at different times, while in time trialing you need the ability to hold a relative high tempo for a long time.

During the training ride you should plan a few sprints, each sprint can be 30-60 seconds or 100-250 meters, for every 30-45 minutes, depending on your fitness. Choose a gear combination that you know you can spin to the maximum cadence; after each sprint keep a record of your top speed. After a while (few weeks) you will feel the gear combination becoming easier to hit the top cadence. When this happens, it is time to build progression in to the workout and do the same sprint with a bigger gear. The ultimate goal is to use the biggest gear you have, for example: if you can hit 125 rpm with 53×13, your top speed will be 64km/h, so make sure to plan an adequate recovery while you are working on the speed.

Developing speed will take time and require a systematic approach. Remember good fitness does not necessarily result in good speed.

Specific speed training must be applied as part of regular training.

While genetics, the type of muscle fibre (Fast-twitch and Slow-twitch) will dictate how fast your top speed will be, or and how quickly you can accelerate to the top speed, proper training is critical to developing your talent.

By Houshang Amiri


Winning needs character, and character is something that must be developed. While talent is God-given and needs to be discovered and developed, winning character is not something we are born with, and therefore we need to take the right steps and systematic approach to build this key element of winning. As a coach, I have seen many athletes with no special talent for achieving their goals, while others utilize their talent well, while achieving only half of what they are capable of.

Those with character have destiny and they become role models and serve as an example for others.  Developing this kind of quality is important to athletes and coaches as well as their support staff within organizations.  Staff in offices must meet their athletes and coaches level of excellence; perhaps the key task of any managing committee or board of directors is making sure the appropriate person is in a leadership position.

The main success factor comes from knowing that you can give your very best of what you are capable of in every situation. When your training and preparation meets your challenges and competition, your very best is likely good enough to win.

Giving your best on everything you do is a good habit, and those habits eventually become your character. Of course there is a lot out there we want to do but you can’t (at least for now). The key is not allowing those that you can’t do to interfere with what you can do.

The late Ayrton Senna, three-time former Formula One world champion, and one who many believed was one of the best Formula One driver’s ever, crashed many times in the front while he was in the lead. When one reporter asked him: “You were so far in the front of the race and only thing you needed was to maintain your speed to win.” He responded: “When I get in the car I want to make the next lap faster then I did the last lap. I don’t think about winning the race, I want to give my best every time for every metre of the race track.”

Athletes and people with winning characters are more likely to make mistakes but they are the ones that can turn the mistake into a valuable lesson and experience. By the end of the day, if you are not making mistakes you are not trying hard enough, and you won’t let praise and criticisms change your focus.

Remember winning is the outcome of preparation at all levels, and your destiny is based on your character.

By Houshang Amiri
Photo by Steve Hewick

You can’t win the race from the back of the pack. Whatever your sport or cycling discipline there are seven stages of development based on Canadian Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD).1- Active Start; 2-Fun-damental; 3-Learning to Train; 4-Training to Train; 5-Training to Compete; 6-Training to Win; 7-Active for Life.

First, you start being active and having fun with a variety of exercises. Then you get to know how to train; after training for a while you get fit enough to take part in a higher level of training “training to compete”, and you learn to train hard and smart enough to be competitive, and after that comes “training to win.”

Those stages of LTAD will take years to complete and during those years many things can go wrong. But in order to succeed you have to know where you are heading, and how are you going to get there.


To start the process you have to dream with your eyes open and see yourself at the top of the word. The biggest part of winning is believing in yourself. However, you will a need a system and expert advice to go with you on your journey, and those you choose must believe in your dreams. You will never win a race unless you believe you can win it – just believing it won’t be enough. You can’t win a race unless you put yourself in a position from which it is possible to win.

Winning position

It is easy enough to talk about these things (especially when you’re a good talker) but the question is how do you achieve success in an actual race? When we talk about the system there are no perfect systems and only some systems are functional, but that is not an excuse and should not stop you from getting into a winning position. You may create your own support team, and start working as a team – a functional team is stronger than its fragments. This set up can be particularly effective from the teamwork developed between the athlete and the coach. As the coach doesn’t always attend all training sessions, this type of teamwork is vital.

A Dream (visual imagery) must be developed and practiced on a regular basis – “I mean every day” – just like riding your bike every day and for years to come. The visual imagery doesn’t just shape your pathway; it is also one of the best ways to prepare before a race. When you concentrate on a perfect race scenario, you are putting yourself in a Winning Position. When I talk about the perfect race, it is the race that you thought through piece by piece, and there is nothing in the scenario you do not know about. The more often you go through those scenarios in your mind, the better position you will be in when working out how you would react to a particular situation. It will prepare you for any critical situation you will encounter. In any case you should not forget that only one person is going to win… and that is you… keep saying to yourself “I am going to Win”.

By Houshang Amiri

There are many factors that play a part in the overall efficiency and riding economy on the bike, some directly and some indirectly. Riding efficiency means moving as fast as possible with the lowest energy expenditure. To achieve the best efficiency a few things come to mind:

  • Balanced body (muscular strength, core strength and stability, flexibility). Most of these, if not all those factors, need to be developed and refined off the bike.
  • Technique (riding and pedaling technique and efficiency) and choosing the right equipment – individualized bike fit and set up (frame size, crank length, shoe and pedals etc.).
  • Aerodynamics

The above elements must be considered in very detailed segments when coaches and trainers approach an athlete’s training. Building a strong and balanced body requires hard and systematic work during the off-season. For example you can’t or should not start working on speed/agility if your motor skills in the left and right side of the body don’t have the same function and stability. These factors are very important for an athlete as high quality training can cause risks leading to long-term injury, which could end an athletic career.

When determining bike position the rider should experience minimum effort (so as natural as possible) when cycling, but at the same time it must allow the maximum ability to apply force to the pedals in a given cadence for the best power output and speed. Power = Torque (applied force on the pedal) measured by Nm x Cadence measured RPM. A good bike position should tolerate the best in each side of the equation (Torque and Cadence). To execute a superior technique the rider requires an excellent bike setup. Some of the factors to consider for bike positioning are saddle height, saddle fore/aft position within UCI legal criteria, cleat position, forefoot tilts adjustment, stance width, and bar position. All of this does depend on how functional the rider is – functional means not just using arms and shoulders to maintain stability on the bike.

I believe each cyclist should work on pedaling techniques on a regular basis through all levels of their development. Some of these techniques may feel unnatural e.g. “the upstroke”, however through many years of experience and having seen hundreds of cyclists, I believe it is important to accommodate the natural position of the foot on the pedal by utilizing the equipment, e.g.  choosing the right cycling shoe with the right curve angle to suit the individual’s natural pedaling.

The best aerodynamics position is possible with a functional body (as explained above) and the more aerodynamic you are, the less power you need at a given speed. This has become one of the key factors in time trialing.

By Houshang Amiri


What are the benefits of a warm-up?

Performance during training and racing will improve with an appropriate warm up. There is no doubt that time spent on warming up and cooling down will not only improve your performance, but also accelerate the recovery process and prevent injuries. It is important to have your own personalized warm-up and cool done routine experimented and developed during training.

In general your warm-up routine should include two main segments. A: Muscular warm-up; B: Nervous system activation. Short warm up for longer races and a longer warm up for shorter races must be considered. Some of the physiological effects are widely published and researched, and can include: increased speed of contraction and relaxation of warmed muscles; improved economy of movement because of lowered viscous resistance within warmed muscles; facilitated oxygen utilization by warmed muscles, because hemoglobin releases oxygen more readily at higher muscle temperatures; facilitated nerve transmission and muscle metabolism at higher temperatures – a specific warm up can facilitate motor unit recruitment required in subsequent all out activity; increased blood flow through active tissues as local vascular beds dilate, increasing metabolism and muscle temperatures.

Warm up example for a Road Race:

  • Duration: 20-30min
  • Start working through the gears with very low intensity/cadence and build up gradually increasing the cadence before shifting to the higher gears. Start with 39×19-18-17-16, then get into the big ring and follow the same routine as the small ring 53×18-17-16
  • 1-2×3-5min (2-4km) at race pace (~90%MAP) rest 2min
  • 5min easy small ring, finish the warm-up 10-20min before the start of the race

Warm up example for ITT, TTT, Criterium Prologue

  • Duration:35-55min progressive
  • Start working through the gears with very low intensity/cadence and build up gradually increasing the cadence before shifting to higher gears. Start with 39×19-18- 17-16-15. When you get into the big ring make sure you ride enough in each gear until you feel comfortable 53×18-17-16-15.
  • 5min easy
  • 2-3×1-4min (1-3km) at race pace (90-95%MAP) rest 1-2min
  • 10 minutes easy spin, small ring,
  • finish the warm-up 15-20min before start of the race

Environmental Effect on Warm up

Weather conditions will affect your warm-up and the outcome. For example if you are warming up in extreme heat your warm-up should be shorter, but long enough to provide the quality without increasing the core temperature.

In cold and wet weather the key is to stay warm and dry, and not to forget to properly hydrate and replace fuels during the warm-up. This also applies if you use a trainer indoors for your warm-up.

A quality warm up will have a positive affect on the race outcome – planning the logistical part of the warm-up is the key to its quality.

What are the benefits of a cool down?

An appropriate cool down will:

  • Aid in the dissipation of waste products – including lactic acid
  • Reduce the chances of dizziness or fainting caused by the pooling of venous blood at the extremities
  • Reduce the level of adrenaline in the blood

Cool Down (warming down) should consist of the following:

  • 15-25 minutes, small gear, gradually reduce the pressure on the pedals, lower the intensity and bring the heart rate to resting zones by end of the cool down.
  • Longer cool down is required for intense training and racing, this process allows a decrease in core temperature, heart rate and blood pressure, and it facilitates active removal of waste products.
  • 5 to 10 minutes moderate static stretching exercises are ideal to improve or maintain range of motion and flexibility.

By Houshang Amiri