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Groad Trip: The five phases of gravel fitness you can apply in 2022

My sponsors have been announced, projects are in planning, and the race calendar is set. Now the uphill slog to fitness begins.

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Groad Trip is Pete Stetina’s column on graveling and traveling. In 2021, he won 15 gravel races — more than any other rider.

The 2022 gravel calendar is overflowing with more events than any one rider can possibly do. Here are the events I have picked, how I plan to train for them, and some general training tips on the five phases of gravel training that you can apply to your own season.

My 2022 schedule

Perhaps the hardest part of offseason is building my calendar. Gravel is in a constant state of flux. It’s growing fast and is unarguably its own legitimate discipline now. We’re seeing the rise of big money super-series such as the Life Time Grand Prix, the BWR Quadruple Crown, and the UCI World Series.

Without a governing body however, there isn’t an official calendar; I’m free to choose what motivates me and fits my lifestyle. It takes hours of research; thinking about travel, family obligations, sponsor preferences, and scanning local gravel blogs for hidden gems. Conflict between event dates is inevitable and it is always difficult to leave some rad events off the program. I’ve done my best to fit in all I can and below is what I’ve come up with: I look at big and small, try to get to both the East Coast and Mid West a few times and even make time for some international adventures as I continue to push my personal frontier of gravel beyond geographic borders. I will attend both the Lifetime GP and BWR series as well as iconic independent events like Mid South and SBT GRVL. Finally I’ve got a slew of grassroots races as that is the true backbone of gravel and usually some of the most fun all year.

A note on the UCI Gravel World Championships: You’ll notice it’s missing from my list. I am a man of my word, and when I publish this list I make every attempt to be at every event on it. All other organizers have their dates set and registrations have opened and some already closed. I don’t see many open dates on my calendar; if Worlds happens to land on an open date and they pull off something that does indeed look like a good time, I may consider it. To come in as late as they have, their only option may be to step on an existing event’s toes.

My 2022 sponsors

The wind is at my back. Sometimes athletes need to change alignments, be that teams or sponsors or coaches. Better options may arise, or once-open doors might have shut. It’s happened plenty in my career. With the flexibility of privateering, my goal is to play the long game, and I’m glad to announce it’s working. I’ve really made an effort to work directly with those who support me and embed with them for a real relationship.

I’ve been adamant I don’t like the traditional mindset of “let the athlete just pedal and the industry handles everything else.” I can happily say it’s paying off, and I will continue on long-term trajectories with Canyon, Shimano, Sportful, Clif Bar, Wahoo, Athletic Brewing, IRC Tire, and Floyd’s of Leadville. I also have some new alignments with Storyteller Overland, The Feed, Orange Seal, and RTIC. With these brands’ collective support I feel I’ve set myself up for the best 2022 possible in terms of both fun and results. They all fit well together and there is a nice balance between industry and lifestyle.

My 2022 process and my recommendations for you

With the logistical and financial stones set, January has been all about the bike. It always amazes me how hard it is to gain those incremental fitness bumps, and how fast they disappear. Alas, I’ve done the winter build enough times I know the process and trust it. As we all look towards 2022 goals and ambitions, I’d like to share a broader philosophy of mine. No, it won’t supplement a coach; get yourself one of those! But I feel it might be beneficial to share how I break down the pre-season as I get ready for events. You don’t need to do the same hours I do. We all have different life obligations. Just take these ideas and customize it to yourself. It’s important to remember that endurance is subjective; a 3-hour ride is to some what six hours are to others. Endurance is just more than you are used to.

Phase 1: Base fitness. I usually take the first month or two just to ride, or in more honest terms crawl out of the soft belly of offseason. To callus up my bum from saddle sores. To get from surviving climbs to handling them. I’m not doing intervals but rather just try to up the ante incrementally whether it’s by time, speed, or power. I make sure I can finish a long ride without feeling absolutely shelled.

Phase 2: Endurance building. Riding is a major portion of my career but really only half of my privateer’s hustle is spent in the saddle. So for Phase 2 I clear my other obligations as I embrace the monotone existence. I pour all of myself into only the training.

Training is more than just pedaling. It must also include stretching, self massage, icing/taping ligaments, and eating. Eating on the bike, off it, and trying to be healthy about it but sometimes stuffing my face with ice cream because I really need the calories. Remember to apologize to your friends and families in advance because you will get hangry in Phase 2.

I ride long and hard, not necessarily doing intervals but letting the terrain and my whims decide. It’s that magical time of the year where fitness comes fast and the body remembers what it used to be able to do. I go to bed demolished yet I somehow wake up stronger each morning.

I just finished this phase yesterday. This year it included 35 hours of ride time over seven days. This is the recipe I need to break through to that next level, and have the robustness needed for constant endurance challenges all season.

Phase 3: Intervals. Usually never full gas but always repeating climbs and flats at varying intensities. This is the classic training we all know and where a coach for many really makes a difference. It’s about taking that base fitness and making it deeper and more hardy. Once this work starts it never really finishes all season. It’s the filler when you’re not racing or recovering. I try and keep things fun by always varying the workouts and the routes.

Phase 4: Sharpening. Your classic Vo2’s and 30/30’s; simulating the most uncomfortable parts of any race, whether you’re achieving them under offense or defense is arbitrary. These efforts are needed to break the race apart. I start these a week or two before the first race of the season, and will continually touch on them throughout the year. I likely won’t really hit these until March though. My first events of the year such as Low Gap Grasshopper or Transcordilleras will actually substitute as these efforts. I’ll need to forgo being perfectly primed at these early events so I can stay strong for a long season ahead.

Phase 5: The racing itself. Racing is the perfect practice to, well, race. One can always find another gear when being pushed by others. I’m a big proponent of supporting one’s early spring grassroots races. These are the heart and soul of racing, the vibe is usually relaxed, and battles between friends continue to be as fun as the first time I was challenged to sprint for a city limits sign.

Now it’s time to go stretch and ice, my body aches but I need to push tomorrow as 2022 Gravel looms ever closer.

(Photo: Sportful)