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Pro workouts: tempo efforts with Owain Doull

Our British classics stalwart and former Olympic champ is setting the foundation for his 2024 season at home on his Wahoo KICKR

December 4, 2023

Owain Doull is back to training.

The British classics stalwart and former Olympic champ spent a month off the bike, relaxing at home in Cardiff with his newborn and wife. He has just begun his first workouts to get ready for 2024. We spoke to him to understand what he will do this winter to get in racing shape for the WorldTour season, which starts in January.

During the off-season, Owain did some running and gym work. Now, it’s time to get back to riding, though the weather in Wales, where Owain lives, is often grim in November and December. Owain likes to get out in the country, riding from village to village on the local stone-walled lanes. Out in the hills, the wind whips across the heather, where flocks of sheep roam, unbothered by rain, hail, or snow. It’s beautiful for bike riding, but hardly ideal for intervals.

So, Owain normally does his efforts indoors in the afternoon on his Wahoo KICKR. After a few hours on the bike in the morning, he’ll head home for lunch, relax for a bit, and then head to his bike room to get in some more work. He’s got the full Wahoo set up: KICKR, Headwind, and desk. Training inside lets him focus on his efforts and keep his power consistent.

“For me, living in the UK with the weather and everything, I tend to do a lot of split days,” Owain says. “Two to three times a week, I will do a double day with a general ride in the morning on the road and then a session of efforts on the turbo in the afternoon. When it is a bit colder outside, I find I can get more quality out of doing it indoors on the turbo where everything is controllable. It might be really cold outside, it might be raining or icy, but with Wahoo, I have everything that I need to get everything out of myself inside.”

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The workout

Warm up

20 minutes at an easy pace

Tempo effort #1

20 minutes in Zone 3


10 minutes at an easy pace

Tempo effort #2

20 minutes in Zone 3


10 minutes at an easy pace

Tempo effort #3

20 minutes in Zone 3

Cool down

20 minutes at an easy pace


As your fitness progresses, you can extend the Zone 3 blocks to 30 minutes. You can also do them over-geared to improve leg strength or at high cadences for leg speed.

*Zone 3 is either 75%-90% of FTP or 85%-95% of threshold heart rate

* FTP= Functional Threshold Power, the maximum power output you could maintain for one hour, which is approximately equivalent to your best 20-minute effort, minus 5%.

*Threshold HR= the maximum average heart rate you could maintain for one hour.

A normal afternoon workout at this time of year involves a 20-minute warm up plus three 20- to 30-minute Zone 3 tempo efforts with 10 minutes of rest between each. For these tempo intervals, Owain will keep his power between 300 and 320 watts. In November, that is a hard enough pace that by the end of a workout his legs will be starting to hurt.

“At 300 to 320 watts, I am just starting to put that next layer on top of my base,” Owain says. “Everything at this time is gradual and a progression. When you first start doing them, those 20-minute efforts are pretty hard, but week by week they get a bit easier and your perceived level of intensity or effort to get them done becomes less. They are not massively hard. By the last one you start to feel your legs, but it is just about staying in the zones and just kind of ticking them off, and trying to hold yourself back sometimes. By the time we get to the bigger races, like Flanders or Roubaix and the other classics, those kinds of power numbers are basically what you are averaging for the whole race.”

Training benefit

Zone 3 intervals build on general aerobic base work. Their purpose is to increase muscular endurance and strength. By keeping the effort aerobic, i.e. below the tipping point where your body will begin to produce large amounts of lactic acid, you are able to put a great deal of stress on your muscles without doing acute damage. As your muscles recover from and adapt to this stress, they get stronger, so you are better prepared to take on more intense efforts later on. Specific adaptations derived from Zone 3 intervals include improved muscle glycogen storage and aerobic conversion of fast twitch fibers, as well as increases in mitochondrial enzyme activity.

“It is all about putting different stresses on your body."

- Owain Doull

Pro tips

Perceived effort is the most important metric for Owain for these efforts. He and his coach do keep track of his heart rate and expect to see his average pulse drop week by week as his training progresses and he gets fitter, but Owain has been a pro for a decade now and knows how to trust his legs.

“I ask myself at the end of the effort, how much longer do I think I could hold on at that pace?” Owain says. “If you maybe have another ten minutes in you, it’s probably too hard, but if you think you could do it for another twenty minutes, then it is probably about right.”

Since, Owain usually does these intervals as the second workout in a double day, it is important that he eats a good lunch between sessions.

“If I am doing three 20-minute intervals or three 30-minute intervals after a morning ride, then that last one is going to be a lot harder than it should be if I have underfueled,” he says.

Getting stronger is a matter of recovering well between workouts and gradually increasing the amount of stress that he can handle. As the season approaches, Owain will increase the power he holds for these efforts. He will also start to add in variations, accelerating at certain intervals mid-effort or completing them at higher cadences to improve his leg speed or very low ones to improve his strength.

“It is all about putting different stresses on your body,” Owain says. “That is the most important thing with training: finding various ways of putting your body under different forms of stress, instead of giving it the same stress constantly. Say you are most comfortable at 80- or 90 rpm and all of a sudden you are doing them at 100, 110, or 120, or vice versa you go down to 40- or 50 rpm, it puts a different stress on your body.”

This year, he has started to add intensity to his workouts earlier than he has in the past. He wants to be in great shape when the racing season starts.

“I am hoping to do Down Under,” Owain says. “But, the season starts so early anyway. Whether you are in Oz or Challenge Mallorca, it doesn’t change too much, because everyone is racing early and every race is full gas from the start of the year. It is not how it was five or ten years ago when you could afford to build into races. Now you have to be in pretty good shape from the first race. If you are not in good shape from the start, you will get found out pretty quickly and that is not a great place to be.”

The WorldTour season starts January 16, but the hard work has already started for Owain. He is laying the foundation for a great year of racing at home on his Wahoo KICKR.

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