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Monday, July 11, 2011
Four ways to ride faster

By Selene Yeager

After seven days of full-throttle, crash-filled sprint stages, the Tour riders are getting a much-needed rest day today before heading to the Pyrenees for some serious uphill racing. If this year's Tour is like past races, by the time riders reach Paris's Champs-Elysees, the average speed of the victor will be a stunning 25 mph. On a bike. Over more than 2,000 miles. Yeah, that's anything but average. But you don't have to be genetically gifted to ride like the wind, says James Herrera of Performance Driven Coaching in Colorado Springs, Colorado. (Herrera has helped everyone from 20-time national champion and former U.S. Postal rider Mike Creed to out-of-shape executives to get fast.) Whether you're a charity rider, a triathlete, or an everyday Jill who just likes to ride, these pro tips will help you pick up speed fast:

Bite off more than you can chew. Most riders spend way too much time riding just hard enough for it to feel like exercise, but not enough to make gains, says Herrera. "You've got to push the limit and bite off more than you can chew to take your speed to the next level," he said. Try intervals of one to five minutes at chest-heaving pace. Take equal amounts of rest between efforts. Aim for four intervals your first time out, building up to six. Do those on two nonconsecutive days a week.

Crest and kick. Watch Alberto Contador and the Schleck brothers crest an hors categorie climb and you'll see that they don't stop (and slump over their bars) when they get to the top. They kick over the crest to keep their momentum (and speed). Follow their lead by training your body to recover on the fly. "Ride steady but strong up the first half of the climb, accelerate to a brisker pace for the second half, making certain not to take yourself into the red for too long, then maintain that brisk pace over the top and into the first part of the descent," Herrera said. Once you're back up to speed, dial back your effort to a steady pace.

Shift early and often. Too many riders are "one-geared wonders," Herrera said. "They'll grind up a hill, making their legs burn and fatigue, then they'll spin like mad on the flats, which spikes their heart rate and drives their breathing out of control," he said. "Both are inefficient, and ultimately slow you down." Use your shifters to maintain a constant, manageable tension, aiming to keep those pedals turning briskly at about 90 revolutions per minute (to determine your rpms, count how many times your right knee comes around in 60 seconds). As soon as your cadence starts to slow down or speed up, shift. "You'll fatigue much less quickly and maintain a better cruising speed for your ride," Herrera said.

Strengthen your support system. One look at strongman Thor Hushovd, who spent the first week resplendent in the maillot jaune, and you can see how strong, supporting muscles make you faster uphill, downhill, and sprinting to the line. Your core is the foundation that you push against to put power into your pedals. The stronger and more stable it is, the faster you can go without fatiguing. "Focus on the abs, obliques, back, and hips to maximize your potential as a cyclist," said Herrera. Here are his three favorite get-fast moves. Do these three to four times weekly to unleash some horsepower you never knew you had:

Wood chopper: Stand with your feet just beyond shoulder-width apart. With your arms nearly straight, hold a medicine ball above your head. Now, bend forward at your waist and mimic throwing the ball backwards between your legs, allowing your hips and knees to bend naturally. Quickly reverse the movement with the same intensity, and return to the starting position. That's one rep. Do 15 to 20.

Mermaid: Sit on your right hip with legs extended to the side, knees slightly bent. Cross your left foot in front of the right. Place your right hand on the floor directly beneath your shoulder. Place your left hand on your left leg. Lift hips off the floor, extending left arm overhead, so body forms a diagonal line. Without bending your right arm, lower hips and left arm back to start. Perform four to six reps. Switch sides.

Hover: Lie face down on the floor with your upper body propped on your forearms, with elbows directly beneath your shoulders. Your body should form a straight line, supported by your forearms and toes. Hold 15 to 20 seconds. Do two reps.