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Attack like Chris Froome on Ventoux!

Rob Hawkins

It’s always important to have something or someone to aspire to when training, someone that’s stronger than ourselves in one way or another or even a lasting image of a professional rider doing something extraordinary, something that we can refer to and fixate upon when the going gets tough.

It’s with this in mind that I’m going to start this all off with a look at Chris Froome’s superb double attack on Ventoux a couple of years back. How did he do this? What type of training gave him the ability to perform in this way and more importantly can you and I do something similar and if so how? Finally we’ll take a look at where can we use this practically every week during our own battles.

Shall we get started? Right, first let’s take the opportunity to look at this short clip of Froome dropping Contador, catching Quintana before finally dropping him and moving on to that famous victory… I know time is tight but do take a good look.

Watched the film? Great so what’s going on here?

1) Firstly it’s important to note that Froome is already riding at a very high intensity (obvious really!) behind Ritchey Porte and also has a relatively calm posture over the bike. I know lots of you feel Froome’s style on the bike leaves a lot to be desired but there’s a key point here. During and after the attacks Froome maintains a position with his arms well spaced apart and open chest allowing him to breathe as best he can. It’s also well worth taking a look at the riders facial expressions prior to the attacks. Take a look at Ritchey Porte’s grimace and show of teeth after 1 min 11 seconds in the clip as opposed to Froome who has his jaw open, more relaxed and composed suggesting that even at this high intensity he is in full control of himself and the situation around him, he’s not fighting himself here exactly the opposite in fact.

2) Froome launches a short out of the saddle burst of speed to test the water prior to his main attack of Contador.

3) When the main attack of Contador takes place Froome achieves this by having the ability to increase his already high intensity and leg speed (cadence) and then holds this new intensity for around 15 to 20 seconds. During this time he doesn’t look back until the attack is over and when he does finally check and sees the threat of Contador has been removed he reverts to an intensity, speed and cadence similar to that of where he was riding prior to the attack. He maintains this intensity, amazingly taking some recovery until Quintana is caught.

4) Froome now reels in Quintana, briefly assesses the situation before once again increasing his leg speed, and intensity dropping Quintana who can offer no response due to the severity of the attack.

5) Finally Froome checks back to ensure that there is no late response from either Contador or Quintana before reducing his intensity, cadence and therefore power back close to his normal sustainable climbing pace that was evident before the initial Contador attack to take the famous victory on Ventoux.

Did this all come out of chance?

We already know the answer to that don’t we? Absolutely not. Froome has trained specifically to be in the position where he knows that he can increase the intensity of his riding for situations just like this. Not only does he have the elements of his fitness finely tuned to support this but psychologically he’s aware that a move like this has a high probability of being effective due to the specific nature of his training so he has great belief in himself as well. Do yo see where we’re going with this? Good, it’s important that training is specific to what you want to achieve at any level in the sport.

In our ‘real’ world riding what can we do?

Well the answer to that is quite a lot. You’ll have already worked out I’m sure that there’s a whole lot of training needed to support you in having the ability to be able to ride like this but that’s the purpose here today isn’t it? To demonstrate that with training that’s specific to our needs we too can ride at a higher speed and intensity than we can today and when the going gets tough, if we’ve trained for it we can also launch awesome attacks like this (in our own way!!) so long as we’ve included an element of training that’s specific to this need.

So now that I know you’ll be looking to get a bit of this and drop your mates on the climbs wherever you’re riding let’s give you some specific information and training sessions that from my personal experience I believe will help you achieve this. Oh, you haven’t forgotten that you’ll need to work on other areas of your fitness first to support this have you? Not to worry we’ll be coming back to these areas at a later stage.

The background info you need

To achieve all of these heady things we’ve talked about so far there are two area of our fitness that we must look at. I’ll not bog you down with too much info, let’s keep this easy to follow and hopefully useful. The areas of interest are “Aerobic Endurance” and “Short Term Muscular Endurance”. We’ll look at these in more detail in further posts but for now here’s an over view of each. You were going to ask any way right?

Aerobic Endurance : Quite simply this relates to the amount of power you can create and sustain over a period of time and also how quickly you are able to recover after this period. For most of us road riders Aerobic Endurance is the most important aspect of training and if we neglect it in our early season training we run the risk of limiting the level of performance we can actually achieve further down the road. Hold that thought!!

Short Term Muscular Endurance : Not half as complicated as it sounds - This is your ability to sustain a riding intensity above something called your threshold, we’ll come back to thresholds in future posts re performance testing very soon. When short term muscular endurance is developed via training it helps you to resist fatigue and as a result is helpful when you are making those short hard efforts to drop your mates at the weekend (flat and climbs) or trying to get back to your mates when you’ve been dropped (that’s not going to happen so much now though is it?). If you’re racing this could be essential when you’re trying to bridge a gap or you could launch a round of small brutal attacks to wear the others down before finally launching a definitive attack yourself - nice!

Training Zone Summary (more in future posts)

We’re predominantly interested in Zones 1,4,5 and 6 for these sessions so here’s a brief overview of how each should feel given we’ve not looked in detail at zones yet. Sorry in advance if you know this stuff already.

Zone 1 - Should feel easy and you can easily speak, this is the recovery zone during these sessions.

Zone 4 - You’ll only be able to manage short sentences and it will feel like a struggle to get anything out! This is our riding at high intensity zone for the first few of these sessions and also the recovery zone during attacks when out on the road (think normal hard climbing pace).

Zone 5 - Be able to splutter the odd word out and that’s about it! This is our ability to up the intensity for a short period before reverting to our normal (Zone 4) pace after the attack.

Zone 6 - Neanderthal noises only, unable to do anything else other than grovel, you’ll notice this is almost certainly when Froome hangs his head! We’ll use this at the back half of the sessions for some really hard attacks using Zone 5 as our fall back - Ouch!

Here are 6 weeks of Specific Training

I’m laying out 6 weeks of sessions here for you to include in your wider training plans. You’ll need to include 2 of these sessions a week and ensure you get a few quality days recovery between each to get the full benefits (more on why in future posts).

If you keep the Froome video in mind you’ll recognise that the first minute of each interval is the attack followed up by several minutes of high intensity riding to ensure the attack has stuck. If you look carefully at each week you will see that the time allowed for recovery decreases between each interval to encourage your development. It’s also important to note that in weeks 4,5 & 6 work shifts to higher zones.

Week 1

Repetitions per session - 5

Training Zones - 4 & 5

Duration - 1 minute @ Zone 5 then 4 mins in Zone 4

Cadence - 100rpm+ when in Zone 5 and 90rpm+ in Zone 4

Recovery - 5 minutes in Zone 1 (very easy - virtually no resistance).

Week 2

Repetitions per session - 5

Training Zones - 4 & 5

Duration - 1 minute @ Zone 5 then 4 mins in Zone 4

Cadence - 100rpm+ when in Zone 5 and 90rpm+ in Zone 4

Recovery - 4 minutes in Zone 1 (very easy - virtually no resistance).

Week 3

Repetitions per session - 5

Training Zones - 4 & 5

Duration - 1 minute @ Zone 5 then 4 mins in Zone 4

Cadence - 100rpm+ when in Zone 5 and 90rpm+ in Zone 4

Recovery - 3 minutes in Zone 1 (very easy - virtually no resistance).

Week 4

Repetitions per session - 3

Training Zones - 5 & 6

Duration - 1 minute @ Zone 6 then 3 mins in Zone 5

Cadence - 100rpm+ when in Zone 6 and 90rpm+ in Zone 5

Recovery - 6 minutes in Zone 1 (very easy - virtually no resistance).

Week 5

Repetitions per session - 2

Training Zones - 5 & 6

Duration - 1 minute @ Zone 6 then 3 mins in Zone 5

Cadence - 100rpm+ when in Zone 6 and 90rpm+ in Zone 5

Recovery - 4 minutes in Zone 1 (very easy - virtually no resistance).

Week 6

Repetitions per session - 1

Training Zones - 5 & 6

Duration - 1 minute @ Zone 6 then 3 mins in Zone 5

Cadence - 100rpm+ when in Zone 6 and 90rpm+ in Zone 5

Recovery - 2 minutes in Zone 1 (very easy - virtually no resistance).

How should this look?

To give an indication of how this will look as pictures speak louder than words in my case, on a graph here are a few examples of some training rides using exactly this method that I used getting ready for last summer. You can perform these sessions either outside on a hill (mountain in my case!) ideally with a steady gradient of around 5 - 6% or on the comfort of the turbo!

Key: Red Line = Heart Rate, Yellow = Cadence, Pink = Power, Green = Speed

1) This is a complete session on the turbo including a structured warm-up and cool down to ensure I’m at the right intensity before the main session starts and help promote recovery post session. Can you see the speed, cadence & power increasing for the first minute of each interval? Got it, good!

STME Training Session Rob Hawkins Colconquerors April 2014

2) This time a zoomed view showing the middle 3 intervals in a set of 5. Again note the increase in intensity at the start of each interval.

STME Training Session Rob Hawkins Colconquerors April 2014

3) Finally this is an outside ride on the Col du Telegraphe. You will see the speed increase between each interval due to the fact I’m descending back down to Valloire and using the descent as my recovery period before starting the next attack.

STME Training Session Rob Hawkins Colconquerors Col du Telegraphe April 2014

If you’ve been looking closely have you noticed anything different with my heart rate during the intervals? Good spot. Your heart rate will not increase radically during that 1 minute attack as it takes time for your heart to respond to the increased intensity that you are actually putting down on the road, in some cases this can be a few minutes. This is why earlier on I let you know how each zone should feel because if you’re using a Heart Rate Monitor (HRM) it will not show you are in the higher zones in time so you need to think of the sensations I explained earlier and make sure you’re following the session guide lines. Perhaps by looking at the pink power line you’re starting to see one of the many benefits of training with a power meter? Regardless of the technology you use to train with it’s still vitally important that you know how things feel on the bike and don’t just rely on the data.

So you’re now in possession of a very potent series of training sessions that if followed correctly will see you dishing out some hurt next season, not to mention feeling great about yourself on the bike!

A quick recap of where you can use this

1) Riding at a higher sustained pace on climbs/general.

2) Riding harder and faster with confidence up short sharper hills.

3) Launching devastating attacks and closing gaps.

Before we get carried away there are other areas of training that we need to help us get here. I’ll be taking a look at these critical areas of your development in future posts.

So what else do you need to look at to make a step change?

1) Training Zones - If you didn’t already I’m sure you now understand at least one reason why you need to use these?

2) Fitness Testing - You’re training correctly but how do you know it’s working? A regular test will help you determine if you’re on track.

3) Technique & Tactics - You can be as fit as you like but if you don’t have solid pacing strategies and use your fitness wisely whilst developing your on bike skills you will be held back and others will pass you by.

4) Psychological - Cycling is tough and just like Mr Froome we need to understand how to motivate ourselves, remain focused and turn off some of those nay saying thoughts that creep in at times (daily for me!!).

5) Energy - You’ll need to develop a basic understanding of how you fuel yourself and how what you put in is used to keep the legs turning and wheels rolling.

6) Well being - Knowing when you’re tired and taking a step backwards to ensure you don’t burn out or become ill. There are some simple steps you can take to keep an eye on yourself each day.

7) A structured plan specific to your goals - Have a training plan that helps develop your levels of aerobic endurance and that is focused on achieving your goals and will help you to be consistent in your approach to training. This is where real progress occurs - CONSISTENCY IS EVERYTHING!!

Well for today, that’s it. I hope you’ve found the information useful and that you can see how structured, specific training can help you achieve your goals.

I’ll be back to cover the additional topics discussed above and much more soon.

If you’d like to be aware of when other topics become available just sign up to receive updates when new posts go live towards the top of this page. If you’d like to know more kick the discussion off below and I’ll be sure to answer - check back for my answers.

Rouler bien!


  • 29 Nov 2014 09:31:17

    A power meter is an excellent training tool but not the be all and end all as you know.

    Thanks very much for taking the time to present the “Trainerroad” software. I’ve just spent some time on the site looking especially at the model they use to calculate and correct the power output. I was especially interested as they support all of my devices including the Cyclops turbo that I use. I think that this is a great addition to your training approach and an excellent first step in determining if you (and others reading) enjoy training in this way and can the perhaps justify the considerable outlay of a power meter which over time has benefits that we’ll come to soon in future posts.

    To close it's always good to have a personal recommendation especially from someone very focused on improving performance.

    Bon weekend…

  • 29 Nov 2014 03:55:56

    Can’t afford a power meter at the moment but when riding on the turbo, I’ve been enjoying using the Trainer Road software which displays your virtual power. Highly recommended

  • 28 Nov 2014 14:33:37

    Hi Kx Kx,

    Firstly many thanks for sharing the power zone calculator for Michael and others to use, that’s exactly what I was hoping for, others that add further useful information and tools allowing readers to expand their knowledge and enjoyment further.

    Like yourself I’ve been training and riding with a power meter for a while now (8 years) and it really does help to highlight exactly what you’re doing in training and then allow control when riding, racing etc as you say. I certainly like to know how hard I can go for a given time on these climbs! I’ll be covering more on training with Power at a later date.

    Have a great weekend and thanks again for the positive contribution to the post.

  • 27 Nov 2014 18:19:39

    Nice article. Of course this sort of attack (and the training that goes with being able to launch and control it) benefits enormously from having a power meter! Some people may not like the robotic style but it’s a tactic that certainly worked!

    I am a total power meter convert now. Knowing exactly what your limits are, rather than just guessing with feel or heart rate makes executing moves like this much more precise. I’m sure Froome knew exactly how many watts he could sustain for each of the surges and stuck to the plan so as not to go too deep into the red and end up over-gassed near the top!

    Michael: Here’s a power zone calculator.

  • 27 Nov 2014 08:25:11

    I believe he uses SIS energy products as well ;-)

    It’s actually pretty much the same when using your power meter. If you have your zones set up correctly from conducting your frequent threshold tests you can be comfortable using the zones I mention above to obtain to correct training stimulus.

    For example if your FTP (Functional Threshold Power) is 295 watts you’d be riding towards the top end of zone 4 when the session demands zone 4 work. If your zone 5 range was 305 watts to 338 watts for arguments sake when you launch those zone 5 attacks you’d be somewhere towards to top end of this for those minutes before stepping back to around 290-205 watts to stay away and make the attack hopefully stick.

    We’ll come to setting training zones for Heart Rate and Power soon as getting these set correctly is essential to ensure the training we complete is specific to our needs.

  • Michael:

    26 Nov 2014 23:48:09

    Interesting read Rob. I always thought the good Froomie was fueled by something else than pure interval training and arms well spaced :-)
    Jokes aside though, can you add the zones when using a powermeter ? Aware that it is individually but is there a certain formula that we can apply from FTP i.e. if your FTP is X then your zones 1,2,3 etc. will be this and that ?