Almost there – the last few days before the start. Here are a few important but less obvious things to think about in these final moments.
The last week: tapering
Common sense will tell you that in the final few days before a 7-day stage race you should ease off a bit. The technical term is “tapering”. Put simply, you should significantly reduce your training time and distance for the last 7 or 10 days (depending on your level).
The best results are obtained by reducing the time/distance by between 30% and 60%. Riding less however is not enough to taper effectively: you must also ride right! Contrary to what one might think, it is important to keep some high intensity elements in your rides. These should be shorter and followed by longer active recovery periods than usual. For example, a few sprints (20 to 30 seconds), a few blocks of progressive acceleration (up to 2 minutes), and/or a few blocks of very high cadence (up to 15 seconds), separated by double the normal length of recovery time. Your muscles will recover very quickly from these exercises since they are not long enough to result in the production of significant amounts of lactic acid, and the overall effect should be to bring you to your peak.
On the other hand, although the time and distance will be significantly reduced, you should maintain the same regularity in your training. For example, if you generally train three times a week for 2 hours, keep your three rides but reduce each one to just one hour. Failure to do this will inevitably lead to detraining.
It is particularly important to keep a healthy lifestyle, in terms of sleep, diet and avoiding any activities that might result in water retention, such as remaining standing for hours on end. If possible, take some extra days off just before the race and arrive long enough in advance to be sure you have no unnecessary stress.
This is not the first time you have packed for several days of cycling in the mountains. We assume, therefore, that you are not very likely to forget your helmet, your sunglasses or your shoes (or even your bike).
There are a few other things, however, that you may not have thought about:
- A second pair of shoes, preferably identical to the first pair, with the cleats in exactly the same place. If it rains, you will be extremely happy to have a dry pair. Failing that, a hair-dryer might save you, combined with balled up newspaper…
- Wet-wipes. These are as useful for you as they are for your bike.
- Wet-weather gear. Think about a skullcap, a cap, a thermal winter jacket, winter gloves and neoprene gloves.
- Spare derailleur hanger. These are specific to each model of bike and extremely hard to replace urgently. The cost of a spare is very low: better to be safe than sorry.
- A small backpack. You will find this a real lifesaver if ever it rains at 2000m. Rain at high altitudes often creates conditions you would normally expect in mid-winter: wet and windy with temperatures close to zero. It is perfectly possible in the same day to go from hot and sunny summer weather in the valley to the depths of winter on the summit. Remember the 2011 Etape du Tour Issoire-Saint Flour: more than 60% of the participants were forced to abandon. With a backpack of warm clothes they would have had no problem to finish. (The alternative to a backpack is to wear two jerseys, using the first one to carry the extra clothes and the second one for the puncture repair kit, energy bars, gels and the rest of the usual clobber).
This is the final in our series of Coach’s Corner articles for the Haute Route 2014. We do hope you have enjoyed reading them and that you have found them useful.
Wishing you all the very best of good luck for your race, and above all, ride safe. We look forward to seeing you on the start line!
© Alpine Cols 2014