Interview: Chris McNamara

A leading coach at trainSharp, Chris Mcnamara, continues to win races and coach cyclists from pro riders to those who just ride; we chat about his goals for 2021 and much more

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Interview: Chris McNamara

A trainSharp coach for many years now, Chris McNamara is busier than ever despite the pandemic showing how highly regarded trainSharp and its coaches are, giving their clients some structure and focus on their training what ever their goals maybe.

One of my last road races in 2020 was the Jock Wadley and one of the leading riders in that race was Chris. He came back later in the year to race time trials but explained that 2020 was tough for the young road race riders who found the pandemic lockdown mentally hard with no or little racing to make a name for themselves. For such riders, seeing their career in jeopardy, the huge gap in racing has been very tough and those who see this first hand are those coaching them like Chris.

“So much from cycling is year-on-year development” Chris explained. “You don’t suddenly become good unless you are born with world class genes. Development is about consistency, workload, application and riders can make better improvements in training than in racing”.

“I had a lot of coached riders last year putting out PB numbers (best power numbers). With no racing, they were able to focus on the training and I think a really common mistake that amateur riders make is trying to race far too often. When the midweek evening crits start, they might be racing Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and again on the weekend and with that you find you can’t fit any meaningful training in. They quickly plateau and start to almost go the other way.”

“When they are doing too much top end and not enough endurance to back up that intensity work, they start to see their numbers go the other way. So when there isn’t racing, you can plan the training really carefully and apply the best of overload and monitor it very closely.”

This is backed up by some pros who said much the same thing in 2020 during five weeks of short time trials; racing, resting, racing and so on, and they did find by the end of the block of racing, the form taking a dive.”

“If you do five or six weekends where all you ride is a 25 which you have to be fresh for, you’ll have a rest day the day before which pretty much leaves just one intensity day and one endurance ride for the week and you will find you will start to de train and start to lose condition. You can help prevent this if you are prepared to train quite hard after your time trial which is a hard thing to do mentally but it really works and you can still be pretty fresh for your next race but keep the condition high.”

The Jock Wadley in 2020 was his last road race he has done and since then, it’s been a full year without road racing and that is yet to kick off in the UK. It’s been a very long time since Chris hasn’t had a season of road racing.

“I have been racing every season since I was 14 or 15” he says so it’s the first time Chris has had a full year out of road racing.

Asked if time trials help fill the void left by no road racing, Chris replied, “yes, for me personally. I had a new bike from the team that I got before the Jock Wadley and so that was a nice project. When I could see time trials were going to be on the calendar, I built the bike and was doing quite a few aero sessions with young Connor (coach at trainSharp) at the track at Brighton. Position, equipment and getting the aero position correct and then training in that position so I could see the power come up in the time trial position”.

“I had never done that before and usually fit time trials in and around my road racing so for last year, when I knew there was only going to be time trials, I was like I am really going to focus on that and set myself a goal of trying to get top 10 in the national 25. I didn’t quite do that but I wasn’t a mile away in a stacked field. The goal is to crack that this year…”

Like for so many riders last year, even a coach as long standing as Chris, 2020 saw new challenges for him. “When coaching time trial riders, I have always preached despite opinion being divided on this, that training in the TT position and making everything as specific as possible, was important. For me, it wasn’t something I’d done as road racing has always been my main focus and I’ve always fitted the time trials in around the road racing.”

“So it did bring home to me how much harder it is to do efforts, especially indoors on the trainer, in the time trial position but you do see the benefits of it. Although the power may not be as high as you can hold in the road position, when you get out on the road you will probably see an extra 15 – 20 watts by just doing those long sustained efforts in the TT position”.

“I swear half the training effect for time trialling is getting mentally used to that feeling of extreme discomfort. Holding your hands to the flame and getting used to the feeling of the pain. So there are two effects of training, one is the physical adaptation and another one is the mental side of embracing it and getting used to that feeling.”

Road Racing in 2021
Whilst Chris is keen to do well in the TT’s in 2021, road racing is also something he is keen to get back to. “When the road racing starts, I hope to embrace that and get to Belgium for some weekends as kermesse racing is something that always inspires me.”

Chris is looking forward to a stage race as well which will have a team time trial, individual time trial (both on road bikes) and two tough road stages and he’s marked that on the calendar as a possible goal for his team Nuun-Sigma Sports-London. “It should be a race that suits us” adds Chris. As for time trials, the goal is again that top 10 in the national 25 and the 50 CTT Championships.

Roadies doing TTs

Last year when I visited the Cuckney Club Time Trials organised by Team Sheffield, I saw some pretty high profile road riders doing them. Former British Road Race champion Connor Swift who’s doing the classics in 2021, and James Shaw too who was racing abroad. A look through the weekly time trial results now and names like Steve Lampier, Freddie Scheske and Max Stedman crop up. So are time trials good for road riders?

“Yes” says the coach to many a ‘name pro racer’. “I have always thought they compliment each other really well. Using that sustained power, you’re building the engine and I think there are huge benefits to a rider’s road racing like when in breakaways or having that confidence to have a go on your own in a road race and know what kind of pacing and numbers you can hold and what it feels like. So I think they cross over really well. ”

“If you come from a road back ground and start to do time trials, I think you can switch between the two quite nicely. The guys who have been pure time trialists all their life and then try road racing, find it difficult to handle the changes of pace in a road race and that is something they have to train for but from a road riders point of view, doing TTs is only beneficial.”

“I have been trying to get a lot of the guys, whether they have a TT bike or not, to have a go at time trials because the road bike category is becoming more popular in time trials and ultimately it’s a really good training session. No matter how hard you push yourself in training, having a number on your back and the adrenalin that goes with racing, is always going to be beneficial”.

Asked if he has been training for both road racing and time trials this winter, Chris replies “this winter, every structured effort I have done over the winter, maybe three or four times a week on the time trial bike on the trainer, has been a bit of an experiment to see what sort of gains I can get. But I am still riding the road bike on weekends with another rider. I have a lot of years in my legs getting that explosive style of riding and once the restrictions are eased and we can do some chaingangs and we had a really good one going at trainSharp, you get to do those breakaway efforts, sprinting for road signs and what have you so you cross over quite well between disciplines”.

Getting ready for races
Getting ready for racing has been difficult says Chris when riders don’t have definitive dates. “My approach to this” explains Chris, “is to get riders to 95% of their condition, mainly maxing out their aerobic fitness and threshold power and keeping their training load high so they are in a great position so that when we have definite dates on the horizon, we can start to back off the volume and bring in the Vo2 max efforts so they will be in good shape.”

“The way the lock down is, I think the approach for me is for riders to be in the best shape possible and not look at too far ahead because we don’t know how things will go with the pandemic. So it’s about taking advantage of any racing that comes along. You see that in the WorldTour and the riders are producing their best numbers at the start of the year because they don’t know whether events are going ahead or how long they will go ahead”.

Chris agrees that having race dates on the horizon is a big motivation when out training. “We use Todays Plan and when you put a race day in there and you have a countdown to their goal event, that makes staying focused so much easier for riders”.

Like last year, especially for the road racing community, the season will be a short one. So is choosing goals important in that period? “Yes” says Chris. “I don’t think it will be a long enough season to back off and have a midseason break so it’s about hitting the season going well and maintaining that condition for as long as possible.”

Coaching riders as Chris does, he does see how different riders respond differently to workloads and that is where having a coach is so important. “Some riders respond well to a large volume and they go well doing 20 to 25 hours a week but for another rider, I would not attempt that and for them, it might be 8 to 10 hours. Some go well off endurance, some go well off intensity and as a coach, it’s my job to figure that out, to find out how riders respond and recover.”

“Another golden rule with long steady distance rides on the weekend common place among riders is to see how such riders are affecting the quality of the structured efforts in the week. They might be doing back-to-back five hour rides Saturday and Sunday so the question will be, are they going to recover so they can do a decent session on a Tuesday. If not, I have to shape the week differently”.

Chris is certainly shaping his own training well having won some time trials already in 2021. Riders wanting to have some one like Chris looking over their training and helping them fulfil their potential, can contact trainSharp by emailing Paul for more information ….


My thanks to Chris for the chat and we wish him well for the 2021 season…



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