As a coach I have many conversations with clients about their fitness and one theme comes up time and time again.....The obsession with FTP as THE DEFACTO marker of fitness and performance. We all know that FTP is important as it defines your metabolic fitness. In layman's terms how hard and how long can you ride when your body is metabolising lots of things that make you slow down.
However fitness is much more than just FTP. The chart below is a power curve. The Y axis is power in watts and the X axis is time. The blue line is this riders maximum power at each discrete time point along the curve.
This whole power curve is your fitness
I have added in some approximate areas that bound the 5 most important fitness abilities. Neuromuscular power is all about your sprint to win races or beating your mates to the village sign. Anaerobic power is all about those short hard efforts in a race or punching up a steep short climb. VO2MAX defines the upper end of your aerobic capacity and is important for those hard 3-8 minute efforts. FTP is your maximum, sustainable aerobic power and is important for long climbs and events like 25 mile time trials. Stamina and aerobic endurance are the key determinants of how you will perform in longer events and rides.
All of these things are part of your fitness. What you are training for and what your current ability is, should determine which part of this fitness spectrum you should train.
On the bottom of the chart I have added approximate aerobic vs anaerobic contributions to each fitness ability. As you can see for any effort under VO2MAX in terms of intensity, it is primarily your AEROBIC energy system that is making the power.
The key takeaways being that for most of you AEROBIC ENDURANCE and STAMINA are the most important fitness abilities you need to develop.
Strength training is very important for you as an aging person but it won't raise your FTP!
VO2MAX is highly effective at raising your aerobic capacity but it is the CHERRY ON THE CAKE, aerobic endurance, stamina and FTP IS THE CAKE, in that order.
Too much intensity on top of badly developed aerobic fitness won't make you faster, it will make you tired and slower so focus on the basics first.
Firstly, ride your bike at an easy to moderate intensity, and ride it lots, 2-5hr rides will develop great aerobic endurance. After that add in some shorter, harder rides of 60-120 minutes to build stamina. Make sure you factor in rest and eat well.
That is going to get you a long way towards where you want to be if you are a sportive/gran fondo rider and want to ride strongly with your mates and have a Paris Roubaix beer at the end!
If you want to squeeze more fitness 'juice from the sponge' or have more specific race or event abilities you need to develop, then that's where a coach is invaluable. They should be an expert in balancing that trade off between volume, intensity and rest which becomes more important when you add in higher intensity training.