The training I love to hate: 4-minute hill repeats! That's where I start at the bottom of a hill, I usually use the same gentle 1-mile climb on a bikes-only paved trail at UCSC, and ride up it as fast as I can. I then coast back down, rest, and repeat this several times in a row. My friend Mark Edwards got me started on these repeats, which are a form of "intervals" training.
I hate these with a passion, but I try to remind myself that each one brings me that much closer to being an uber-mensch, capable of tearing the legs off mere mortals. ;-) These do, in fact, make me faster. Much faster. If somebody were to ask me, "what one thing can I do to get faster?" I would tell them to do these repeats once or twice a week and take it real easy the rest of the week. Since I added these into my regimen for the 2007 season, I've had my best race results ever, by far. Other things have helped too, but these repeats are at the top of the list.
I usually do six repeats in a session. That gives me about 25 minutes of riding at my, oh, I forget, some threshhold or another. Maybe it's my lactic threshhold? Anyway, that's what makes you faster.
Most guys don't like structured training, and prefer to ride with those maverick group rides that form out of nothing all over the country. Try to get those 25 minutes at 95% from a group ride. You will almost certainly fall well short, even though you feel like you worked really hard (well, you would work really hard, just not as hard for that long).
My friend Steve Rosen didn't believe this and took up the challenge on a group ride he specifically used as a test. Well, he fell way short of 25 minutes, and admits he might have gotten about 6 minutes at 95% . The problem is that you're in danger of getting dropped by the pack after each repeat, assuming you can find a way to get such a hard interval worked into whatever route and shenanigans the pack cooks up at random. If you take an all-out pull at the front for 4 minutes, you're liable to get dropped as soon as you finish the interval because you're so exhausted you can't even draft them. So you hold back a little instead, which means you're not getting as hard a workout. Do the repeats; you will be glad you did. Heck, then when you do join a group ride, you will... tear their legs off! :-)
I time each climb. The best technique results in the fastest time, so try to match that technique each time. Ideally each climb in a session will take about the same time, and as the weeks pass by they should get faster. The times may bounce around due to wind, temperature, what you ate for breakfast, etc. But if I see a consistent pattern where each repeat in a session is successively slower, I cut that session short and save myself for the next one. It means I'm not rested enough from my previous rides to go 95% for the full 25 minutes.
Today I rode these repeats on my new Giant TCR C2 for the first time, and set a new record: 3:58! My fastest previous climb there was 4:05. Granted, I may be getting faster, but the new bike didn't hurt either.
There is a technique: Try to pace yourself so that you don't get too tired early on. Be consistent, spin fast and smooth, feel the lactic acid start to burn your legs, and as you near the end you will cry for your momma, hitting about 95% of your maximum heart rate. Then take a nice break, smoke a cigarette, whatever works for you. I don't know what is best, but I take a long break and wait for my heart rate to drop down to about 65% before I start the next repeat.
Remember: Suffering during training translates into fun during races! :-)