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Cycling Fitness Q&A - Dave Smith answers your training, nutrition and fitness questions

Our health and fitness expert is back to answer your questions this week on knee niggles, bike fits, stretching and more, take it away Dave…

You've done the weekend ride (yes, okay and maybe the Monday morning one too) - now it's time to ask some questions and we've got Dave Smith back to answer them. 

If you would like to ask Dave a question about your cycling fitness, training or health you can drop him a line at fitness [at] or you can email us at info [at] putting Fitness Q&A in the subject line 

Bike fit confusion

As a relatively new cyclist, I know I would benefit from a bike fit but am a bit confused about which system to choose? I’ve not seen any definitive review of all those on offer. Which one do you recommend?
Baz K

Dave Smith: I can understand your confusion – there are so many claims and counter-claims and so many factors that will determine if a fit has been successful. My view is that you should choose a practitioner rather than a system. Find out who the top riders in your area trust and use. The entire process is a dark art, you may find a perfect position for power and comfort, then lose on aerodynamics. You may find your backache gone, but power loss to boot. And a position can take a few experiments to get dialled right. That’s without considering shoe inserts or cleat spacers. The guy I trust most is Garth Kruger at Vankru, but expect a long wait to see him. And I’m not (necessarily) saying he’s better than absolutely everyone. Horses for courses.

Knee niggle

I have a niggling pain in the tendon on the rear, outside of my right knee. Mainly when I’m really digging in on a hard effort in a big gear. What do you suggest?
Angela R

Dave Smith: Don’t dig in on a hard effort! For now at least. It sounds like a tendon of the biceps femoris, one of the three hamstrings muscles. See an injury specialist; in the meantime, massage it with an ice-cube twice a day on the painful area. And maybe have your saddle height and position checked.

Hot drinks

I like riding in winter and I like staying warm. Is there any reason why I can’t take hot drinks instead of the usual energy drinks on long rides?

Dave Smith: Absolutely no reason at all from a performance point of view. I often take hot chocolate in a Camelbak Furnace flask. Sometimes with an espresso added, sometimes hot herbal tea. It’s all absolutely fine, just don’t burn your tongue!

Sprinting for climbers

I’m never going to be a decent sprinter, but as a climber, I think that it would be good to improve my sprinting for race finishes from small groups of other skinny chaps. Is this mad, and what can I do?
Pete J

Dave Smith: It makes perfect sense and you can add some speed without damaging your climbing performance.  Sprinting has two elements, speed and force, that combine to make power. There are two interval sessions I’d suggest to help you develop both.

One is to ride towards the bottom of a slope, then hit it hard and sprint uphill for 10 seconds. Turn around, ride back and repeat, 8-12 times. Sometimes hit the bottom fast, sometimes, start from a slow speed – which is sometimes how a sprint will start.

For speed, it may sound mad, but you should sprint on a downhill gradient that will allow you to spin a big gear at high rpm. Or, on the flat one gear lower than feels comfortable. Aim for 10-20 seconds of all-put effort, and again start some sprints from a fast approach speed and some from a slow. Allow 1-2 minutes easy riding between efforts.

Each of these sessions once a week and in 3-4 weeks you’ll gain an extra kick that should help you shed some skinny guy in the last 200m of a race.

Good luck!

Sportivist to racer

I want to move from sportives to road races and time trials. I know I’ll need to put more intensity into my training, and have some useful books I’m working my way through. But my question is about ‘how hard’ it is? I’m OK on a long 4-5 hour ride at about 17mph but I have no experience of competitive riding and have no idea if I can even expect to finish.

Dave Smith: It’s harder that you can imagine, but it’s feasible to prepare well enough to not only complete but compete in road races and time trials. Thousands of people of every age are already doing so and they have no magic powers. The key in training is to re-calibrate the level of suffering and discomfort that you are prepared to tolerate. And you do this by exposing yourself to new levels of suffering and discomfort – hopefully your books will outline some good interval training sessions. However, don’t forget to also get comfortable riding close to others, bumping elbows and cornering in a group.

In the case of time trials it’s invaluable to learn how to pace yourself, ideally in what’s called a negative split, where you ride the second half of the event faster than the first. It’s also important to warm-up thoroughly.

Pre-ride stretch?

I have a bet with a club mate about stretching. They say you should stretch before riding and racing I say it isn’t necessary. Can you be the referee?

Dave Smith: They owe you a pint/fiver etc. Stretching is something that should be done if you need to enhance the range of motion of a joint, by lengthening a muscle or group of muscles. So, let’s say you are reliably informed that a particular pain/injury is caused by tight hamstrings – you would target them with a specific stretching regime 3-4 times per week. However stretching is NOT something that you need to do before exercise and can be counter productive. You should however warm-up before intense efforts and part of that would involve moving the muscles through the full range of motion demanded by the activity. But stretching isn’t a part of that.

Dropping weight

As a former rugby forward I’m a big guy. I know I can’t become a racing snake, but can I get smaller to make the hills a bit less daunting?

Dave Smith: The simple answer is that if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. Muscle will atrophy if it’s not used, just as it goes through hypertrophy when trained to generate large forces – which your rugby training achieved. Look at the shape shifter Bradley Wiggins going up and down from heavy(ish) track rider to tour climber. But losing muscle will take time. In the meantime, ride your bike, ride your bike and stay away from the bench press – and whole chicken for lunch.'s founder and first editor, nowadays to be found riding a spreadsheet. Tony's journey in cycling media started in 1997 as production editor and then deputy editor of Total Bike, acting editor of Total Mountain Bike and then seven years as editor of Cycling Plus. He launched his first cycling website - the Cycling Plus Forum at the turn of the century. In 2006 he left C+ to head up the launch team for Bike Radar which he edited until 2008, when he co-launched the multi-award winning - finally handing on the reins in 2021 to Jack Sexty. His favourite ride is his ‘commute’ - which he does most days inc weekends and he’s been cycle-commuting since 1994. His favourite bikes are titanium and have disc brakes, though he'd like to own a carbon bike one day.

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