Sunday, August 30, 2009

Tips On Coping With Those Long, Hard, Passes

You read yesterday's entry and have decided to sell your car or house to go cycling in Italy. If you are going to ride across some of the passes you will want to read these tips from Thomson Bike Tours, They discuss the proper taper period before a tour, and a strategy for success:

1) Tapering:

Taper before your trip. Trying to get in a last minute 100 mile ride to boost your endurance in the week leading up won't help. You'll be better off tapering to make sure that you are rested for seven days of challenging cycling.

How best to taper?

  • Do your last endurance workout 7-10 days before Day One of your trip.

  • Avoid "big gear" workouts for 2-3 weeks before Day One.

  • Avoid exhaustive aerobic workouts for the three days prior to leaving for your trip (roughly 5 days prior to Day One).

  • Intervals (LT) are okay in the last week, but should be avoided in final 2 or 3 days before your departure.

  • Active recovery ride (very, very easy) in the days prior to departure. Or simply rest, if riding isn't an option.

  • Treat the first warm-up day of your trip as a Warm-Up, not a race!

If you're looking to peak for your trip, you'll want to reduce volume in the week before but maintain your intensity. High volume makes recovery more difficult, and lower volume allows the rest required for replacing glycogen stores, while giving you time to psych yourself up for the hard efforts ahead. To the degree your schedule allows, you'll want to continue to ride, but keep in mind that you'll benefit most from decreasing the duration of your intervals while maintaining intensity. (E.g., take the following hypothetical TT interval schedule, counting down to Day 1 of your trip: Day 7 = 5x3 minutes at or above LT; Day 6 = 4x3 minutes; Day 5 = 3x3 minutes; Day 4 = 2x3 minutes; Day 3 = Recovery Ride [Easy!]; Day 2 = travel; Day One = Warm-up Ride) Notice! — these are not long endurance rides.

A Caveat: Avoid the mistake of too many/too high intensity intervals in this taper period. Your legs should remember to work hard, but not be fatigued going in.

2) Recovery on the bike:

  • Proper gear selection helps recovery even while on the bike, so let us remind you once more: heed the recommendations for gearing!

  • Don't go "gang-busters" every day. Consider the Grand Tour riders. Each rider has a role. No one is the first up the mountain everyday from day one, and no one is on the front of the peloton all the time. There's a reason for this...! Hold back a little (5% here, and 10% there) by choice, not just because your fatigue level demands it. Choose your battles, and aim to ride best on your preferred stages/routes. If you're one of the slower climbers in your group, don't tow everyone to the base of the climb(s). If there are rollers or shorter climbs leading up to the big Cols, start each small climb in a gear you know you can ride in, and shift to a harder gear if you are feeling up to the task. Start the short climbs near the front, then drift back if necessary so that you won't have to chase on the descents, wasting energy before the big climbs. When you hit the big climbs, ride your ride--not someone else's.

  • Food is an essential part of recovery, both post-ride and during the ride itself. This means you must eat (even when you don't really want to eat). However, it can be a mistake to wave the van driver over and/or stop for a snack each time the van is nearby. Such stops at the van may seem like a nice rest, but remember: your metabolism is running hot, and you're consuming calories almost as quickly as you're ingesting them, and standing around by the van chatting is just wasting precious energy, even if it's just for 5 or 10 minutes (four or five of these kinds of stops add an hour to your ride, and that hour can make a difference!). Consider, too, that each stop requires getting the blood and your muscles moving again. So, plan for a nice lunch stop, and otherwise stop rarely and briefly, carrying some food with you (yes... even on a fully supported ride!!) to refuel as you go. Similarly, if the weather calls for a wind/rain-jacket or vest, carry it with you instead of flagging the van and stopping to shed, then don, then shed, then don... (you get the picture, right?) your wind or rain-cape. These stops take energy that you will need for the next climb or the next day.

3) Long climbs can trump grade:

In Italy, the Mortirollo is feared for its steep gradients, but the Stelvio is 25 km long and sufficiently steep to tax your energy. The mountains in France are long and unrelenting--e.g., the Col du Galibier from the northern approach (including the Col du Télégraphe) is 34.8 km — yikes! And the actual climb to the summit (starting in Valloire) is 18 km with an average grade of about 7%, with a max 10.1% coming towards the top.

These kinds of climbs must be respected (often wind is a factor), even though they don't elicit the drama of extreme elevation profiles (16% +) in the nightly rider meetings. These climbs can fatigue a rider as much or more than steep ones.

To conserve energy it can be very helpful to work as a group up to and even throughout the climb, and, as before, pace yourself. Settle into a climbing rhythm that is comfortable for you. Focus on relaxing your upper body (loose grip on the bars, relaxed arms and shoulders) and putting all of your energy into your legs. Remember! You only get so many "fun tickets", so you have to spend them wisely. On a trip, you want to start the tour with a maximum number of tickets, and ride efficiently and smartly such that you still have a few to spend on the last climb of the final day!

Photo: Stelvio

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