The Endangered Outdoor Ride

  • By Matt Fizgerald
  • Published Jun 14, 2011
  • Updated Oct 24, 2012 at 4:21 PM UTC


No elite triathlete has taken the indoor cycling trend farther than 2010 Ironman Coeur d’Alene and Ironman Cozumel winner Andy Potts. Until 2009, Potts did all his bike training indoors. The only time he rode his bike outdoors was when he was racing. Under the guidance of coach Mike Doane, Potts rode a Computrainer in his garage for two-and-a-half hours per session, six times a week, including high-intensity work in most of those workouts.

“When I get on the bike, it’s very dedicated riding,” Potts says. “It’s very focused. Everything is written down to the minute. When my coach writes my workouts, each minute is accounted for, as opposed to, ‘Oh, just ride out to such-and-such place.’”

This is the benefit that all triathletes who are sold on indoor cycling point to. Riding inside is conducive to “high-quality” training. There are no stoplights to stop for, no descents to coast down, and no other cyclists to draft behind. Motorists cannot distract you from the task at hand, weather conditions cannot slow you down. The idiosyncrasies of the roads do not affect your workout. Instead, you are free to perform exactly the workout you design.

Beyond all that, the indoor trainer, much as the pool does with swimmers, encourages athletes to divide their workouts into variable-intensity segments to stave off the boredom of training in a confined space. Consequently, athletes spend more time working at higher intensities on indoor trainers than they do outdoors—and they get fitter in the process.

It’s probably no coincidence that triathletes with swimming backgrounds, like Kessler and Potts, are leading the indoor cycling trend.

“I think it was my mentality of growing up as a swimmer,” Potts answered when asked why he chose to buck tradition and ride exclusively indoors at the start of his multisport career. “I didn’t have any problem following a black line. Mentally it doesn’t exhaust me—it doesn’t drain me. I’m able to engage my mind in other things while I’m doing that activity. So it almost became a challenge.”

It would take an impossible experiment in which Potts cloned himself and trained outdoors to determine whether his indoor routine gave him the best possible race results. But the results he’s achieved suggest it didn’t hold him back. Most notably, Potts scorched a 2:04:28 bike split to set himself up for victory in the 2007 Ironman World Championship 70.3.

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