This is a timely thread as I'm cooking up my winter training schedule, but the answer's pretty simple. To get fast, you have to ride fast. Big miles at a slow pace only gets you good at riding slow. Less miles at a faster pace, however, now you're talking!
I'm a duathlete (so I know a little bit about running too) and you can apply the concept of tempo runs and intervals to cycling. The problem is that in our world, cycling speed is far more variable than running pace. An easy run for me is around 5:45/k and I can hold that pretty much in any conditions. On the other hand, an easy ride for me is 30kph on the flat with no wind, or 15kph on the flat with a wind! So if I were to go by speed only, it would look like I've not improved with the headwind...
So first off you need some objective measure of effort unless your RPE is very well calibrated The simplest solution is measuring speed with an indoor trainer. You now can use speed as a proxy for effort indoors as you've now removed all the factors that affect the ride - stoplights, cars, wind, hills etc.
If you're serious about getting faster, I'd recommend the trainer and using it year-round. I do all my hard intervals on mine, even in summer. OK, it is deathly dull, but you get more bang-for-the-buck on your speedwork days too - an hour workout, no mess, no fuss.
Some workouts I like:
1) Straightforward tempo workout (outdoors, or indoors on rollers). After 15' WU, ride at an "irritatingly hard" pace. Conversation should be single words.
2) Threshold Intervals. These are like "Cruise Intervals" in running. My standard set is 2x 20' @ 60' TT intensity with 5' recoveries. This is my staple speed workout, I try and get in one per week. In winter I'll do these 2x a week with one workout building to 1x60' and the other staying at 2x20 (or building to 3x20 this year). If you're doing these right, the first set should feel pretty straightforward but hard towards the end, the second set should be hard from about 5' in. Conversation not possible.
3) "VO2Max" intervals. 5x5' all-out. I do these when I'm building up to something or just fancy a change from 2x20. I "roll into" the interval and try and build. Stop if you see significant speed drops during subsequent intervals.
IMO, increasing strength in the gym is a bit of a waste of time if you're doing it to get faster. The amount of force that you need to push down on the pedals is significantly less than you'd ever need simply getting out of a chair - in fact, it's very rare that you get a cyclist/runner who is truly strength limited. Don't get me wrong though, doing ST for all-round muscle balance and injury prevention is definitely the way forward in life.
EDITED to add:
Losing some weight helps too...
Edited by: WONGERCHI at: 10/1/2009 (12:02)
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Specificity, specificity, specificity.
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