By Dave Harward

Peaking for A races and target events – and adapting when the plan changes.

Hitting a peak at the right time is the magical unicorn of sport. There are so many factors external of peak performance that are influencing the outcome, and all variables can’t be controlled. The best we can do is come to the line with solid preparation and focus. From there we give it our best! The preparation all comes down to planning and execution.

Since starting PLAN7 Endurance Coaching, I’ve spent nearly 17 years providing full-time coaching. Early on, I decided that following a periodized training methodology was the ideal approach for my coaching philosophy. 

As power meters progressed and became more available and affordable, I committed to building my analytical skills around training with power. Towards that end, it’s hard to beat the resources of Hunter Allen and Andy Coggan. They literally wrote the book on training with power! Over the years I’ve jumped at any opportunity to learn from these two in person or from their online seminars and master classes. Much of what you will read in this article is my interpretation and execution of principles from those seminars and their book Training & Racing with a Power Meter (2019).

The big takeaway is that building an annual plan based on periodized training methodology helps coaches and athletes maintain direction as well as create predictability in performance. The annual plan provides a progressive structure for more predictive performance outcomes. But how to build that plan – that’s easier said than done.


To help structure our approach to planning for peaks, we’ll start with some assumptions:

  • A solid base of existing fitness
  • Multiple peaks in a season
  • A background of competition in the discipline
  • Cycling as the discipline

Visualize the structure of a peak: a high point. That high point is only high based on a structure of lower points. There is development from the bottom to the top, and in sports performance terms, it is the product of progressive workload. There might be additional development available at that peak, although without some rest and recovery there will likely be some degradation.

The worst situation would be to keep pushing that peak fitness and then overdoing it, leading to stagnation or a significant fitness drop-off related to illness or injury. We can’t maintain peak fitness throughout an entire season.


Watching the start of the 2023 Giro d’Italia for the Jumbo Visma team shows what might seem surprising for a rider, let alone three riders who were called up last minute for a 3-week Grand Tour. These substituted riders drop into a team working to support one of the main contenders for an overall win. These riders were likely hopeful to be racing in the Giro, although being called up at the last minute may or may not have been part of their training plan. Regardless, it’s time to go, and they’ve got to be ready for it!

OK, very few of us have the chance to be called up for the Giro. However, most of us are focused on events and intentionally working towards a goal. Those who end up close to their desired result likely have executed a structured plan that focuses on building strengths and improving limitations, managing training within reasonable time constraints, resting and recovering properly, and training specifically for the demands of the peak event(s).

Could those Jumbo Visma riders have prepared better had they known for certain that they were going to the Giro? Likely, yes – and fortunately for us non-pros, we can plan our schedules with much more certainty, and certainty makes for a stronger structure.

A structured plan helps to predict fitness peaks as well as when to rest and recover. Training day to day is one thing. Having a structured approach with intention over an entire season is another. Our physiology becomes stronger and more efficient from training stimulus; however, it needs a variety of stimuli to see significant gains.

Look at the example annual training plan below. The Base Period is divided clearly with progressive and functional overload with integrated rest and recovery – a variety of stimuli. There are Build Periods leading into the Peaks of priority events as well as the rest weeks following. You can also see the planned duration (in gray) and the executed duration (in color) mismatched. Time constraints rule for those athletes who aren’t professionals. When there is opportunity to add time, it’s done with the coordination of coach and athlete to ensure constraints on time and fatigue are managed.

It’s easy to feel the monotony of training month after month and lose sight of goals. Keeping the annual plan as the guide for training week after week keeps the season peaks in focus.


The first step is to develop an aerobic base providing the foundation for improving physiological and neuromuscular skill. To do this as a coach, I start to consider when top priority events fall on the athlete’s calendar. Considering those dates, I have the athlete work on progressively increasing training time while maintaining overall physiological and neuromuscular skills. 

For example, an athlete who struggles with fast cadence will definitely see lower power/high RPM drills in the plan. This helps the athlete develop skills of pedaling efficiency across all cadence ranges. We may also have an athlete who can ride strong for 120-150 minutes and then always bonks. This could be due to poor nutrition, but they may also just need to push their training into longer duration sessions in order to adapt their bodies to extended times of output.

More time in the Base Period provides greater improvements in efficiency and being prepared for the hard work to come in the Build Period. This can also become a pitfall if our training stimulus stagnates. Regular testing can maintain a progressive and improving baseline to our efforts. A solid 6-8 weeks in this period will provide solid gains. Progression of intensity is important If more time is available. That progression is based on regular testing of effort at key durations, i.e. Critical Power, 1-minute, 5-minute, 20-minute, Functional Threshold Power, etc. 


The solid level of aerobic fitness built during the Base Period provides the foundation for everything in Build. Maintaining & building on known strengths, improving limitations, and preparing for demands of top priority events is now the work at hand.

We might see varied Build Periods in a season with multiple peaks, especially if the top priority events cross disciplines through the season. I work with a number of riders who put high priority focus on road & gravel events, gravel & MTB events like the Life Time Grand Prix, or unroad events like Belgian Waffle Ride. So many of these events require a broad spectrum of skill in one race day.

A Build Period leading into a priority cross-country or cyclocross event may lean more towards physiological and neuromuscular skills of low cadence/high power, as well as top-end VO2 efforts at the start of races. The contrast would be a long road race state championship requiring strong endurance, efficient tempo and threshold capability, and repeated attack/sprint efforts crossing all energy systems.

Finishing off these Build Periods typically leads to event performance providing valuable data to assist in the preparation of upcoming events and focal points for the next Build. This drops us into the lap of tapering for the peak and performing at the peak!


This period includes the priority performance as well as tapering your training to be rested just enough without losing that optimal edge of fitness. Visualize Base and Build Periods as honing and sharpening your chef’s knife. In that context, the Taper and Peak are preparing one or two amazing meals before needing to hone and sharpen again. Using the sharpened knife too often during the Peak can lead to dullness and potentially missing your target.

Those key event demands discussed earlier become the priority in the Peak Period. We could go through endless examples of the “how to” for different events – though we would end up with a novel and at least one sequel. Suffice it to say, keep the knife sharp by allowing it to rest. Some lower priority races with similar demands to your top priority event could be a great way to stay on that fine edge of peak fitness. The key element here is to make sure there is plenty of recovery available.

Reduction of training volume and frequency of intense training sessions is part of tapering into peak performance. At this point we’re trying to cast a net on that unicorn of peak fitness. The pitfall in the Peak Period is thinking that a little more work will improve your chances. It won’t. Your structured annual plan becomes your greatest ally at this point. Stick to the plan, toe the line and give it your all!


Ideally, you started the 2023 season in November 2022 by setting goals, prioritizing events, and registering months in advance. You upgraded your training tools and spent months diligently executing your training through winter and into spring. Your early season priority events are right on the horizon – and WTF? They’re canceled due to snow or lack of registrations. Or maybe a family issue arises, and one of the biggest targets of the early season you hoped would give you that big boost to another level is out of reach. What to do?

Take a moment or two, go for an open ride chasing a segment you’re after and then move on. It’s called perspective. Rework the schedule with your coach, throw yourself into a big training week, or take a staycation and recharge the batteries for your next priority event on the calendar.

Given that we’re all subject to the whims of life, I always encourage my athletes to plan for multiple top priority events. Whether you’re hit with bad luck, time constraint challenges, illness/injury, or event cancelation, make sure you can redirect the time you’ve spent building your fitness.

Detours happen, but stick to your plan, adjust when needed, maintain perspective, and always rest more than you think you should!

Dave Harward is the owner and head coach at PLAN7 Endurance Coaching, founded in 2006. He has been a USA Cycling Certified Coach since 2006 and became a Level 1 Elite Certified Coach in 2010 as well as a USA Cycling Certified MTB Coach. He is also certified in Power-Based Training through the Hunter Allen Peaks Coaching Group. His extensive racing background of over 30 years crosses through MTB, CX, road, and gravel with numerous Category 1 state championships and a Category 1 Bronze Medal at the 2012 USA Cycling MTB National Championship. Dave was cofounder of the Utah High School Cycling League after extensive work in 2011 developing the league structure. He is always looking for ways to improve inclusivity in the cycling community and loves coaching athletes with a focus on integrating athlete goals and time constraints to build a successful training plan.

Contact at

May 25, 2023 — First Endurance
Tags: coaching

Leave a comment

Please note: comments must be approved before they are published.

Join The Conversation

Did you find this post interesting and valuable or was it a waste of your time? Do you have a topic you’d like us to cover or a question you’d like answered? If so, leave a comment below and we'll get back to you right away.

    1 out of ...