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My mountain bike races are starting out like a Zwift race this year. A Race last month was almost 5-miles of balls to the wall before we settled in. I thought my heart was going to blow out of my chest. I've been racing a long time, but seems excessive this season.

How do you train to maintain a sprint intensity?
 

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Make your base pace faster so you don't have to sprint.

The reality is that no matter who you are you can only sprint for about 20s, after that you start to slow down in a hurry. The fastest people are so aerobically efficient that their maintainable pace looks like a sprint.

How do you become aerobically efficient? Long steady miles.
 

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My mountain bike races are starting out like a Zwift race this year. A Race last month was almost 5-miles of balls to the wall before we settled in. I thought my heart was going to blow out of my chest. I've been racing a long time, but seems excessive this season.

How do you train to maintain a sprint intensity?
It's not about how you start, it's how you finish. Sprints aren't sustainable, that's why they're sprints.

You want to practice sprinting for 45-60 minutes strait? Do a cyclocross race. It's freaking brutal.
 

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Race starts into a 4, 8 or 10min interval.

Do ~30min of interval work like that.

That said, as LMN said, raising the lower end of the spectrum up is a great way to make you faster across all zones.


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Most mass start XCMs are like that. Sprint to death to acquire position, then crawl at threshold/high tempo until the end. Whoever finishes the first climb and descend usually get what they get at that point. Of course, that also means you don't "fade" afterwards.

What we train back home is to do VO2 Intervals with the first interval all out without reservations.
 

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As others said, good to build a large aerobic base, but also add (at some point) the specificity of race starts.

When I think back to my best performance years, it was when I built the biggest base I could into a weekly race series and used these races to build specificity. I got better every race rather than just having same placing for whole series.

Also, looking back (and confirmed by today's sport science), some years I burnt all my matches before race season started, by preparing for race season with too many high intensity sessions. Those seasons I started good, stayed the same and then went backwards.
 

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Ask yourself if you need to. Do you HAVE to sprint to finish well? I can't tell you how many races I have done where I was way in dead last, can't see a single person. And hour later I start picking people off. By the end of a two hour race, I am on the podium.

I know some courses suck for passing, but how bad? Can you let them burn out those first 5 miles, pass them later in the race?

Do you have an 80% rule?

If it is something you need to do (or, want to do), then I think you answered yourself with an option...Zwift races.
 

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Yeah, this definitely depends on where you think you stand relative to your competition. If you'd literally have to sprint to hold onto the front for 5 miles, it sounds like you're punching above your belt. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does change your strategy, because you definitely don't want to try and follow. If you think you have a shot at a good finish, then it's worth burning a match early to avoid the funnel. And this takes A TON of practice. Even at the WC level, they get this wrong sometimes (looking at Nino and MvdP in Albstadt).

But, assuming you have, and are willing to burn, a match at the start, then the training specificity comes down to over/under type efforts. So, you could start VO2 work with a sprint that then settles above threshold, or you could do a threshold like interval that oscillates above and below LTHR (but not much below). Essentially you need to train your body to clear lactate buildup while still very near your threshold. Scratch that, you need to train your body *and mind* to do that.

To LMN's point, the start really shouldn't be a sprint for you. It'll be above threshold, but definitely not a sprint. Some people (and maybe you) might sprint right at the end to get the hole shot, but, it depends on where your fitness and skills are at whether you think that's a good idea for you.
 

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what cat and AG are you in?
Like *onespeed* alluded to, CX will improve your starts for mtb. I've been racing cat1/2 masters 45-55 cx, and the starts seemed insane in my first season in that group: in grid, rock your bike side-to-side just a little and you're banging bars with the guys on either side (44cm bars), then sprint in a group for a 90deg corner 100' away. As could be expected, after 3 or 4 seasons it's gotten a lot more comfortable and mtb starts don't intimidate me anymore.
Getting faster overall really is the answer, like the other guys said. It seems more like a 'sustainable big effort' than a sprint to take the hole shot at that point; you start, you feel good and go for the front and there you are.
 

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I think everyone answered your questions above, your sprint is the front pack’s VO2 and threshold. That was the case for me in my first year in Cat 2 in 2018. This year after a good winter of training I am now leading the pack in Cat 2. I didn’t train my sprint, my FTP went up 100 watts as I learned how to do structured training and base miles. The XC race will always start off hard, but usually settles in after 10 mins or so.
 

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My best ever result at cx Nationals was when I held back for two laps and let my position slide to very near the back. I then got down to work and reeled them in one by one to 15th place. I rode better because I wasn’t blowing up. It was a very heavy and technical course though with a mixture of snow, very slippery mud and lots of climbs and descents.
 

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My last race was a good for me.

I started hard, the first 10 minutes was my all time best 10 power. The crazy thing is other people started even harder, at the 10 minute mark I had my lowest position of the race. I passed a few completely shattered riders at the end of the race.
 

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How long are your'e VO2 intervals for this? Are you doing 2 min repeats or longer ones? Full recovery or 50% recovery time vs interval time?
usually 8-10 minute sets.

2 minutes of all out doesn't do anything for you unless it's a short XCO climb.

My last XCM race, I had to put out 30 minutes of power way above my threshold (with the first 1 minute actually standing and sprinting up hill)I actually hit a new 20 minute CP PR just so I could start solo-ing to the end.

It really depends on how the course profile looks like, although generally speaking, try to do your hard days with first intervals going all out. If you are going to do the classic 2x 20 minutes, you may not survive the 2nd set if you're going way above your threshold.
 

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Another thing to think about (surprised no one mentioned it) is a proper warm-up. (That in itself can be a discussion for another thread)

I realize that can be tricky with big XC Races and getting good position on starting line.

Everyone who starts using a Muscle Oxygen Sensor is amazed at how long it actually takes to warm up (myself included),,,pending on age, air temp, etc. it could be 30m that includes efforts thrown in.

https://medium.com/humon-blog/how-to-optimize-your-warm-up-using-muscle-oxygen-989ab4936e81
 

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It does depend on the course; if you've got 100 yards of narrow double track (like we often have) you really have to give it up to be in a decent position for the single track entry, and keep the first turn chaos behind you, then recover a little in the single track. This also includes getting there early enough to watch an earlier race group start, and see where you need to hang around in order to be in good position for your grid/lineup (find that spot where you can stand off in the bushes at the side, and when your group gets called up you take two steps out and you're in the right spot at the front). Arrive to start/grid early to get the spot you want at the front, arriving 15-20 minutes early to grid is a small effort requiring just a little discipline compared to trying to fight your way up from 20+ guys back.

For a race with a long or steep gravel road climb start, it often works to let the really excited starters go a little bit and watch them blow up later, but try to keep them in sight while managing your effort to just below 'blow-up' level.
 

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How long and steady? Do you think a sweet spot base program (such as TrainerRoad) is sufficient, or even a substitute for long base miles?
It is a time-crunched option for those that don't have the time, or desire, to put in long "traditional" base hours. Especially those that do base miles over the winter and are forced indoors due to weather. Good luck spending 4-6 hours on a trainer doing base hours week after week.

So sweet spot base is a good substitute and will increase your fitness coupled with the proper Build and Specialty plan periodization schedule.
 

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It is a time-crunched option for those that don't have the time, or desire, to put in long "traditional" base hours. Especially those that do base miles over the winter and are forced indoors due to weather. Good luck spending 4-6 hours on a trainer doing base hours week after week.

So sweet spot base is a good substitute and will increase your fitness coupled with the proper Build and Specialty plan periodization schedule.
Well...you basically nailed this winter and all of spring in Michigan so far!
 

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Especially those that do base miles over the winter and are forced indoors due to weather. Good luck spending 4-6 hours on a trainer doing base hours week after week.
I really don't think anyone base training at the amatuer level does that. One should either cover long base mile sessions via appropriate cross training, and probably limit it to 120TSS (about 3 hours), maybe even less if CTL isn't that big.

LMN had his own coaching rule of thumb of long sessions being a little over twice your current CTL. I followed that and it does work well.
 
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