How Sofia Got So Good Off-Road—And How You Can Too

Sofia Gomez Villafañe is a regular at the Absa Cape Epic, and far further afield in the off-road scene. Here's part of her secret.


By Rosael Torres-Davis |

A regular favourite at the Absa Cape Epic, and the Olympic Games, Argentinian powerhouse Sofia Gomez Villafañe’s recipe for off-road success has been defined by regular adjustments to her training plan. Having focused her early career on mountain bike racing and cyclocross, she was used to the 20- to 90-minute efforts of the short track and cross-country events where she developed her solid off-road skills and explosive speed. During her college years, she dabbled in road and off-road disciplines, taking what she needed out of each.

With the guidance of coach Carmen Small, she developed her endurance to succeed in stage races like the Absa Cape Epic and ultradistance one-day events like Unbound Gravel 200 by building volume during the base season, as most road professionals would. Then she fine-tuned the engine with training races and lower-priority events in the late winter and early spring. “We had to train my tempo power and ability to ride at a high level for long periods, but we also kept a lot of VO₂ intervals that I call ‘selection makers,’” Sofia says. “The race plays out by who can make what selection and who missed it.”

Other strategies included calibrating her nutrition to her training loads and needs, knowing the difference between low-volume weeks and recovery weeks, and better understanding the process and science behind her training.

If you’re new to gravel riding, she says, “get familiar with your equipment.” Make sure your bike is in working order ahead of training and events, and learn things like your preferred tire pressure, how to use a plug kit, and what tools you need to make a quick handlebar adjustment. Most gravel races are self-supported with few aid stations.

As for the riding, if you come from a road background, get comfortable with the slipping and sliding that occurs when traversing loose terrain. If you come from a dirt background, you must really learn the tactical aspects of riding in a peloton. “If you can meet in the middle and take the best from both, it makes you the most well-rounded athlete out there and the hardest one to beat,” Sofia says.

3 Key Workouts That Make Sofia Gomez Villafañe So Formidable

The following workouts use the Coggan Power Zones. If you’re using heart rate or rate of perceived exertion (RPE), refer to the conversions here.

1. TEMPO POWER BUILDER*

→ 30 min warmup easy spin
→ 3 x 15 min Zone 3 with 10 min rest in between
→ 20 min cooldown easy spin

Make It Harder

→ Build up to 3 x 20 min intervals, with 10 min rest in between.
→ Build up to 6 x 20 min with 10 min rest after each of the first three efforts, and 20 min rest after each of the second three.
→ Build up to 4 x 40 min with 10 min recovery after the first effort, and 20 min recovery after each of the next three.

*This workout is best done on flat or rolling terrain.


2. CLIMBING POWER

→ 40 min warmup easy spin, include a 10 min effort at a low Zone 3
→ 5 x 8 min Zone 4 with 4 min rest in between
→ 15 min cooldown easy spin

Make It Harder

→ Build up to 4 x 12 min, 3 x 16 min, and 3 x 20 min with 5 to 10 minute of rest between efforts, depending on how your legs feel. (For a more advanced workout, do the intervals at Zone 5.)


3. ENDURANCE WITH 30-30s

→ 10 min warmup easy spin
→ 20 min of hard endurance at 70 to 80% of FTP*
→ 6 min of 30 seconds at 120 to 160% of FTP and 30 seconds of recovery
→ Optional: Repeat x 2 starting from step two
→ 15 min cooldown easy spin

The goal of this workout is to teach your body to recover from hard accelerations at a hard endurance pace.

*FTP (functional threshold power) is the average power output that a rider can sustain for an hour, and acts as a measure of your current fitness. FTP can be calculated with a 20-minute test.

READ MORE ON: Gravel Training MTB training off-road skill off-road training Skills training

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