If you’ve recently signed up for a cycling tour you might be unsure about how best to prepare.  In this post we’ll lay out a clear training strategy to make sure you arrive at your tour with fresh legs and enough fitness to propel you to a strong finish.  Our first step is to understand the specific demands of your tour.

1:  Understand the Demands

Start by answering these questions.

  • How many days will you be riding? What’s the longest block of back-to-back riding?
  • What’s the distance/expected duration of each day including elevation gain/loss?
  • What’s the typical temperature range on your rides? How about the starting elevation?

Take these answers and construct a picture of exactly what your tour entails.  The more details you collect, the more closely you’ll be able to align your training plan with the demands of your tour.

2:  Utilize a calendar/create a plan

Sketching a plan on a calendar should be your next step.  The TrainingPeaks (TP) platform is a great tool to make your planning simple and flexible.  Here’s how to make it work for you.

  • Start by entering your tour date in your TP account. Check out this short tutorial for extra help.
  • Enter your available training time for each day of the week. Check out this short tutorial for extra help.
  • While the topic of training periodization is beyond the scope of this article, whatever strategy you use, match progressively more challenging workouts to your available training time.  If you’re unsure about how to invest the bulk of your training time, use the graphic below as a guide.
Not a lot of time to train? Ride hard.
  • If you’re crunched for time, your training focus should be progressively riding with more intensity or riding intensely for progressively longer durations. If your ride schedule is wide open, your progression should be based on a blend of intensity and ride distance/duration.
  • If possible, try to string together a series of rides similar in length/intensity to your tour about 3-4 weeks before your start. If you can’t fit in longer rides, focus instead on nailing high intensity workouts in a sequence similar to your tour (see graphic below).
  • In the final 1-2 weeks (taper period) before your event, remember to reduce your overall training volume (to shed residual fatigue) while maintaining training intensity (to maintain or slightly improve fitness) [1].
Click on the image for a sample training progression over the 6 weeks prior to your tour.

3:  Ride Consistently

The single best way to prepare for an upcoming event is to ride consistently.  Here are a few tips:

  • Get more sleep. A recent study showed those who slept under 5 hours a night were over 4 times more likely to catch a cold than those sleeping more than 7 hours a night [2].  If you expect to be healthy enough to stay on the bike, start by getting more sleep.
  • Improve your time management. The better you are at managing your time, the more likely you’ll be to not miss rides.  The book, Getting Things Done, by David Allen, presents a simple and intuitive system that can transform how you manage your time.  If your time management is lacking, give this book a shot.
  • Ride hard. Yes, slower Zone 2 type rides will improve your fitness [3], but if you’re crunched for time there’s no better way to improve all facets of your cycling than high intensity training [4].  Think you don’t have enough time to train?  A focused 10-minute ride (including warmup and cool down) can help keep you on track [5].
Warm-up for 3 minutes, go as hard as you can for 20s then rest for 2m X 3, yes it works to improve your fitness!

4:  Acclimate to the environment.

If your cycling tour is taking place in a warmer climate or at higher elevation, try overdressing on rides [6, 7] or taking a hot bath immediately after rides [8] every 3 days for 10-14 days before your tour.  Acclimating to heat in advance of your tour is a great strategy to make sure you’re prepared for hot weather or higher elevation [9].

5:  Practice Nutrition

Chances are there’s room for improvement when it comes to your fueling strategy.  Here are a few highlights to ensure you’ve got your nutrition dialed before your tour:

  • The most important concept for “on-bike” nutrition is to match your carbohydrate intake to the duration and intensity of your ride [10]. If you want a deeper look at fueling for an event, please check out this article. For a quick snap shot check out the graphic below.
Click on the image to head to our full article on fueling.
  • Working off the questions you answered in section 1, how might the environment/ride intensity impact your hydration strategy? For an in-depth look at developing your own hydration strategy, check out this article.  If you’re looking for a single piece of advice, make sure to start your ride fully hydrated, then drink to thirst [11].
  • Before you experiment with a new fueling strategy, make sure you’re regularly practicing your nutrition in the lead-up to your tour. The gut, just like other working muscle, is trainable [10, 12]. The more you practice your fueling strategy in advance, the better you’ll be on event day.
  • Fueling for the next ride in your tour starts as soon as soon as you’re finished with the ride for the day. For long multi-day tours a high carbohydrate approach (≈10g/kg body mass/day) is essential [13].  Make sure you have plenty of supplementary carbs on hand (my favorite is a pot of rice) to fill in the cracks if you’re still hungry after or between meals.

Putting it all Together

Click on the image for a detailed overview.

With a bit of planning and hard work you should be well on your way to enjoying the best cycling tour of your life!

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Nate Dunn, M.S.
Data Driven Athlete
@ddacoaching

References

  1. Mujika, I., Intense training: the key to optimal performance before and during the taper. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 2010. 20 Suppl 2: p. 24-31.
  2. Prather, A.A., et al., Behaviorally Assessed Sleep and Susceptibility to the Common Cold. Sleep, 2015. 38(9): p. 1353-9.
  3. Lucia, A., et al., Metabolic and neuromuscular adaptations to endurance training in professional cyclists: a longitudinal study. Jpn J Physiol, 2000. 50(3): p. 381-8.
  4. Gibala, M.J., et al., Short-term sprint interval versus traditional endurance training: similar initial adaptations in human skeletal muscle and exercise performance. The Journal of Physiology, 2006. 575(3): p. 901-911.
  5. Gillen, J.B., et al., Three minutes of all-out intermittent exercise per week increases skeletal muscle oxidative capacity and improves cardiometabolic health. PLoS One, 2014. 9(11): p. e111489.
  6. Ely, B.R., et al., Physiological Responses to Overdressing and Exercise-Heat Stress in Trained Runners. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2018.
  7. Stevens, C.J., et al., Acute physiological and perceptual responses to wearing additional clothing while cycling outdoors in a temperate environment:A practical method to increase the heat load. Temperature (Austin), 2017. 4(4): p. 414-419.
  8. Zurawlew, M.J., et al., Post-exercise hot water immersion induces heat acclimation and improves endurance exercise performance in the heat. Scand J Med Sci Sports, 2016. 26(7): p. 745-54.
  9. Gibson, O.R., et al., Cross-Adaptation: Heat and Cold Adaptation to Improve Physiological and Cellular Responses to Hypoxia. Sports Med, 2017.
  10. Jeukendrup, A., A step towards personalized sports nutrition: carbohydrate intake during exercise. Sports Med, 2014. 44 Suppl 1: p. S25-33.
  11. Goulet, E.D., Dehydration and endurance performance in competitive athletes. Nutr Rev, 2012. 70 Suppl 2: p. S132-6.
  12. Miall, A., et al., Two weeks of repetitive gut-challenge reduce exercise-associated gastrointestinal symptoms and malabsorption. Scand J Med Sci Sports, 2018. 28(2): p. 630-640.
  13. Williams, C., Carbohydrate intake and recovery from exercise. Science & Sports, 2004. 19(5): p. 239-244.

 

Written by Nate Dunn, M.S.

Nate’s entire career has been spent in education and coaching. As a former teacher and now Founder/Head Coach at Data Driven Athlete, he is most excited about helping clients discover more about themselves as they achieve their goals on the bike.