- 7-day stage race in the mountains, total 850-900km and 20,000m climbing
- Six in-line stages averaging 140km and 3,200m per stage
- One mountain time-trial of 15-20km and 1,200m climbing
This is clearly an endurance event. Each stage will take from 5 to 8 hours to complete, depending on the level of the rider, including between 3 and 5 hours of climbing on slopes averaging around 6.5%. The critical qualities to develop are:
- Power at lactate threshold
- The ability to repeat climbs at or near the lactate threshold power.
- The ability to recover and repeat the next day.
- Descending skills.
It is important to note that there is no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ training plan. The optimum plan for you depends on your training history, available time and goals for the event, to mention just the most important variables. The advice that follows – and indeed all advice you’ll read anywhere that is not developed specifically for you by a coach – must therefore be taken as general guidelines only, to be adapted to your own situation.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the macro structure. The 10 months between November and the Haute Route in late August are broken down into five distinct periods:
1. Transition period (November to December)
During the transition period you may take a short break from road cycling. Try mountain-biking, cyclocross or even practice another sport, such as running, swimming, or cross-country skiing. The summer races are won in the winter, however, and by December you should be back regularly on the bike, rested, recharged and motivated for a new season!
2. Base period (January to March)
The priority is to develop core skills and strength, which will improve your VO2max and FTP (Functional Threshold Power, the highest average power you can maintain for one hour). This means lots of work at both ends of the cadence scale, and intervals in Zones 3, 4 and 5.
You should build in regular leg-strength execises off the bike as well as core-strength exercises and of course a regular stretching routine. There is no need to waste time on low intensity endurance rides.
3. Build period (April, May)
- Increase the volume: the transition to summer time should allow you to get out during the week, and the better weather and weekend sportives should also help putting the miles in.
- Increase the intensity: do more and longer intervals at the lactate threshold (upper Zone 3, lower Zone 4).
- Of course, you must also maintain the qualities that you developed during the winter in order not to lose the gains (high cadence, leg and core strength, flexibility).
4. Pre-competition period (June, July)
These last two months are your final opportunity to make a real difference. The closer you get to the start date, the more your training should ressemble the future event. As early as May, certainly from June, you should feel ready to tackle a sportive with a significant amount of climbing. Start stringing together 2 then 3 days in a row at 90-100km and 2,000m of climbing. Book yourself on a training camp where you will do at least 70% of the Haute Route’s distance and climbing.
This is also the last chance to do some serious work on your descending skills. Again, a training camp is the best option!
In parallel you should be continuing to make a major effort in training to develop your power at aerobic threshold. You should be alternating short but intense interval sessions in Zones 4 and 5 with longer rides that include plenty of climbing and/or lengthy periods at the upper end of Zone 3.
5. Tapering (last 2 to 3 weeks)
It is now too late to train. The objective in the last 2-3 weeks is to maintain your fitness while dramatically reducing your fatigue, so you arrive at the start at the peak of your form. Every 3 to 4 days, do a relatively short but intense workout that simulates race conditions, then rest. You should almost feel that you are not doing enough!
Final word on the macro structure
It is absolutely essential to build in breaks during your training. These don’t normally appear in the macro structure outlined above (with the possible exception of the transition period), because they need to be planned at the next level down, as an integral part of the three or four week mini-cycles within each block. Without breaks you are certain to overtrain, resulting in sickness and/or injury. Failing to rest and recover enough is the biggest mistake made by amateur cyclists. Read here for more on planning the next level.
In Coach’s Corner #2 we will look at training very specifically for the Haute Route.
Updated November 13th, 2016.