Can we survive a pro cyclist's interval session?

Ollie and Hank try and keep up with WorldTour pro Matthew Riccitello as he does his low-cadence intervals up Mount Lemmon

Clock15:46, Friday 29th December 2023

Interval sessions are always hard, but just how hard can they get? To find out, GCN’s Ollie Bridgewood and James 'Hank' Lowsley-Williams joined WorldTour pro Matthew Riccitello on one of his toughest winter training sessions.

Many of us sprinkle our training with intervals, the repeat efforts of extreme intensity providing proven fitness benefits in terms of VO2 max and power output.

The same is certainly true of the pros, and while we can look at the data involved when it comes to the world’s best riders, seeing it in the flesh – from a rapidly fading rear wheel, in our case – puts it in a whole new perspective.

You might remember Ollie and Hank recently spent some time in Tucson Arizona, notably taking part in El Tour de Tucson. While they were there, they joined Riccitello, a rising US star, for one of his staple interval sessions, a low-cadence high-torque grind up Mount Lemmon.

But how long could they hang on?

The pro

Matthew Riccitello is 21 years old and about to embark on his second season as a professional. He came through the US junior ranks via two renowned development set-ups, the LUX Cycling junior programme and the Hagens Berman Axeon U23 squad.

He hit the WorldTour in 2023 with Israel-Premier Tech, riding his first Grand Tour, the Giro d’Italia, in May, and went on to win a stage and finish fourth overall at the Tour de l’Avenir.

Riccitello weighs in at just 55kg, making him a featherweight climber, but his time trialling is not to be underestimated, and he has a bright future as a general classification prospect.

The climb

Mount Lemmon is a well-known climb in Arizona, and a well-trodden haunt of pros in the area. It’s where George Hincapie used to train, and it’s where Riccitello heads for his intervals.

What makes it the perfect environment is its length, at over 30km, and its steady gradient, which hovers consistently around the 5% mark. That’s arguably the sweet spot for getting a good bite for the effort and then being able to carry on spinning the legs out between intervals.

“That fact that it’s 5% instead of 8%… it’s pretty hard to to put out high power on a 5% climb, so when you go to Europe and race up climbs of 8%, you find it then it easier to get the power out,” Riccitello says.

The intervals

  • 5 minutes at 5 watts-per-kilo, at 55rpm
  • 1 minute at 6 watts-per-kile, at 65rpm
  • 1 minute gentle recovery
  • Repeat seven times

“This workout is a staple for the winter,” Riccitello says. “I’ve always felt it’s really beneficial. It’s something I’ve done from really early on – at 17 I was already doing these, it’s just every year they’ve got a bit harder.”

To find out how long Ollie and James could keep up, watch the video above.

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