Ask the Experts: Cycling Q+A with Jim McConnel

Hi everyone,

Coach and triathlete Jim McConnel will be live in our forum between 1-2pm tomorrow to answer all your cycling training and racing posers.

Jim McConnel competed in the XTERRA (off-road triathlon) World Championships for several years, finishing 21st in the world in 2008. He has also been a sports massage therapist and triathlon coach and is now a brand manager with Madison.

Jim knows all there is to know about how you can get the best from yourself and your bike. His philosophy is simple: train smarter, not harder.

If you have any questions you have about cycling training and technique, Jim’s got the answers.

We're opening the discussion now so he will be able to get stuck in straight away at 1pm - so get posting!




  • What will make the most impact on my cycling apart from training: race wheels or a proper bike fit?
  • Hi Jim

    As I work away most of the time, a lot of my training has to be on a spinning bike. When traing for long distance, how can I maximise my returns on my training time, for say 2-3 hr sessions?


  • When training for IM Lanzarote, if I am looking at 3 bike sessions a week how would you structure these to get the most benefit and improvement on a hilly course

    Thank you

  • Can triathletes learn to go round corners or is it a genetic thing?

  • As Ian has alluded to, not everyone is born on a bike and with Triathlon growing at a rate of knots there are people taking to the sport who have not grown up with the techniques such as cornering and descending

    Can these be learnt and what are the top 3 tips ..... I am hopeless at descents as most on here will testify !!!


  • For my tuppence worth I was going to say 'You need balls!' Meldy.  But, on reflection, pehaps I'd better stay quiet!!  image

  • You don't half live dangerously mate!

  • Can you suggest a plan for turbo trainer sessions that will help with endurance training? I ask as I lose all motivation to sit on the thing any longer after 60-90 mins and was wondering how I should best use that time.
  • Hi Jim. Any advice on ideal heart rate zones as a percentage of max for Iron distance racing, please? I don't have a power meter. Also, since you're clearly a fan of hilly races, how do you flex your HR plan when the going gets steep? Thanks image!

  • Hi Jim,

    Any ideas what this is ?


  • Dear kittenkat What a question. It is the same principal for all athletes – whatever the level. Put simply 'train smarter, not harder' refers to the idea that by taking the time to sit down and think about the goal you have, you can break down the steps to achieve that goal all the way to the separate sessions you will need to do, to get there. The added even ‘smarter’ layer is that for all normal folks, we have to work out how best to use the time we have available to fit in those key sessions. An example might be to use your regular commute as a training run – then you are not wasting time spent travelling. It’s always best to do this with another person who can look objectively at your daily schedule – can be a coach, does not need to be.

  • Dear Red_Dog _Chris You need to consider that in the bike and person package, 80% of the total drag comes from the rider. So, if you can get a bike fit that puts you in a more aero position, you should deliver quicker split times for the same effort. Bike fit is not all about aero though – it’s about comfort too - you will definitely come off the bike with a better rested body from riding in a more comfortable position. This may and should enable a quicker run split – giving you the overall gain you are looking for. Bling wheels will help aerodynamics to a degree (see manufacturer data for claimed savings) and of course make the bike look more Pro. Personally, I’d take the qualified bike fit first, and once I was faster from those changes, invest in the wheels as a present to myself. image

  • Hi Jim,

    A bit off the usual cycling question, i have awful trouble finding my mountain bike in transition and was wondering whether you think it would be helpful for me to fit white tyres so it's easier to spot ?


  • @Dustboy. Thanks for the observation on my lifestyle. I think it's most important that in your sport you enjot yourself, and I can honestly say that any athlete who hasn't yet taken part in an offroad event before is sure to gain a unique experience as soon as they do! For a start - look to the Winter Offroad Duathlon series in the UK run by many event organisers - typically MTB / Trail Run / MTB  

  • Hi Jim. During the week I'm pretty time poor and therefore training has to be fitted around work family etc, i.e 10km run or 40 min swim or about an hour on the turbo. Basically i have around an hour in the evening. Particularly on the Turbo i don't think i'm using my time efficiently. My goal is to (as everyones is i suppose) is to ride faster and harder for longer. Any turbo workouts you can recommend? Many thanks

  • @Wildwill If you need miles, then you need miles. Spinning bikes can do this for you but they are monotonous. I would look outside these training windows for the opportunity to get your long bikes in on real roads with friends if possible, but if not, then suggest you arrange multi brick sessions instead - 40 min spin bike - 20 min run - 40 min spin bike - 20 min run - that kind of thing. Work at different tempos to keep your focus - build through the session perhaps, and enable your body to get used to changing discipline and energy demands.

  • @m_eldy Ahhh, IM training. If it was me and I had 3 bike sessions a week then I would do the following as a basic. Session 1 - long ride build up to the magic 6+ hour ride across about 8 weeks so mentally you know you can handle the kind of distance you will race over. Preferably done on a day when you can really relax, eat and sleep afterwards as it will drain you. Arrange friends to ride part or all of the way. Plan in advnace what you will do and mix up the routes. Session 2 - this has got to be a 2-3 hour endurance ride where you mix hills and recovery on the flat. It will be important to get used to going uphill for a prolonged period of time - Lanza is a hilly windy course and you need not to get daunted by the length of some of the climbs. Will be easy if you live in the Peaks or the Lakes. Session 3 - a session that could switch between a 90 minute recovery ride one week to an interval ride (turbo based possibly) where you try and build your power and top end - suggest building to from 6 x 4 minutes right through to 3 x 20 minutes over a course of 6-8 weeks where you are working very closely to your sustainable threshold. Hope that helps you.

  • Ok, Jim, serious question this time ,

    I am contemplating dipping my toe in to the realm of tri, however haven't actually ridden a bike since my teens (and that was loooong time ago), so what would your suggestion be for 'breaking' myself in ... would it be best to go for a structured plan from the off or just spent the first ???? weeksmonths getting used to ridingpottering about ?


  • @meldy and @ianm Hmmm, Triathlete's take a lot of stick for poor bike handling - especially from pure cyclists. Sadly, not all triathlete's are born cyclists and so can sometimes need to learn the basic skills before they take it to the race course as they have missed out on the formative years racing bmx's all over the local rec. Skills sessions can be run on a flat car park, grass area and show people how to safely and efficently corner, but here's three points that can help too: 1: Control your speed  - use your brakes well in advance of any corner where you need to slow down so that as you go around the corner you are no longer slowing up and in fact are in a position to accelerate out of a corner 2: Sighting - Look up and aorund the corner - do not focus on your front wheel as that will inevitably end in disaster and a poor line. Lean your body into the corner - with the inside pedal up and the weight of your leg in the outside pedal, down. 3: Plan - Be aware of those around you and decide what you are going to do before you do it. If it is a busy turnaround, remember that everyone is goign to come to a standstill just about and you do not own the road.

    p.s. have you ever seen a cyclist run? Usually there's a reason for that. image

  • @tortuga When I lose motivation I turn to Sufferfest and let the good times roll and my legs scream. Check their website for downloadable sessions tha will keep your interest.

  • @slowerthanilook % heart rate is really hard to get right foreveryone, we are all unique. What I suggest you do is test yourself with a 'make your own' threshold test to establish how hard you can really go for how long. IM training is all about Bullseye - out of the red and in the black. Just how close you get to the red will depend on how trained you are. Suggest check the web for an incremental turbo session that will gradually increase your output across 20ish minutes - try and do this session and as you have no formal recordig devices, consider your perceived effort at each stage - legs hurt, brain hurt, can do, cannot do etc.. Find the max effort you can sustain for a couple of minutes and work back from that to establish something you can hold for a longer period - up to 20 minutes - ultimately when it comes to IM you will move up and down the range, but if you know the max you can work at without going int he red, then that will be a start.

  • Thanks JIm .. I live in The Chilterns so we have a variety of lumps to train on  image

    Given that last statement I really should be far better at descending than I am  !!

  • @ P D 18 I think it's a great idea if you fit white tyres to your MTB so you can find it in transition, should really help you find it when in a state of shock after the swim with blurry eyes and elevated adrenalione levels! If it were not illegal to do so, you could also tie a helium balloon to the saddle. I would suggest however that if you were to do such a thing, your friends would laugh at you wildly and probaly never let you forget it.

    p.s. It may still be dark on the exit of Ben Nevis Tri in 2 weeks so you might want to consider taking the risk....

  • Thanks Jim.
    Looked more like an aspidistra to me.

  • Thanks Jim, may try the helium balloon option. As long as they make me faster than you then i'll be happy. Sea swim, less than 1km.... and ride upwards


  • @miles frith no one session will get you there I'm afraid. As before if you want an interactive and fun session - then pick one of Suffferfest's downloadable sessions from their website. Standard turbo fodder would suggest you do a block of one session per week to build your endurance where the main set would start in week 1 as 6 x 3 minutes ON with 2 mins recovery easy spin between each effort, gradually over the weeks you would go to 6x4 mins, 4x8mins, then a week doing something different like 10 x 2 mins max with max recovery. Rejoin endurance session with 4x8 , then 4 x10 then 3 x 15, another speed session, then fianlly move up to 3 x 20. If you can manage 3 x 20 min sessions at strong even interval pace you really will have climbed the ladder to have developed your riding to where you want it! Good luck! 

  • Thanks Jim. I'll climb on the sweat machine tonight and begin some intervals. Cheers!

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