a version of this article originally appeared on the Round the Island website, which is connected to the ANZA Cycling group.
The Big Race is coming. A week and a half to go.
Time is running out as it starts very soon indeed, so you better not get training harder.
Yes, I did say not.
One thing I have learned about the week and a half before a bike race is that you really cannot improve that much in strength, stamina or power in those 7 to 10 days beforehand. However, you can do a lot of damage by overtraining, by riding to fatigue, and by simply going over things too much in your head, thus putting at risk all your previous gains by using up too much nervous energy.
The key to the final week of pre-race prep is to be as calm and composed as possible and to make decisions about your training, rest, hydration and nutrition that will allow you to maximize the work you have already done, ensuring that when you get on that start line your condition is optimal.
‘Consolidate your previous gains’ is a phrase I use a lot. It simply means that instead of jumping ahead of yourself and leaving holes in your preparation, it is far more beneficial to take care of what you have gained.
This way, your base will be solid and established, and all further gains will be real and not fleeting. So often, in that week before the big race, you see riders going out on death marches of 170km or battering themselves up that hill in the hope of somehow making the Great Leap Forward from Cat 2 quality to Cat 1.
It doesn’t work that way, and we know it too. Better to shore up what you have, to use short, sharp intervals (in their three and fours, not in the dozens) and to taper your lead into the sharpest point possible.
My final week prep before a big race would look something like this:
Day 1: Off
Day 2: Relatively moderate spin, anywhere from 1 up to 3 hours, depending on time. This would be a tempo ride (say a 6 on a Perceived Rate of Exertion (PRE) Scale). Fairly flat, if hilly I would spin as much as possible.
Day 3: A medium-hardish 3 hour ride. Either with a group, or preferably alone. Personally I prefer riding alone most of the time as it gives me control over my efforts. I’d try as best I could to ride a route that emulated the race route, do a couple 10-15 minute TT-like efforts, some shorter, harder sprints every 15-20 minutes or so, and also throw in 3-4 hard hill efforts.
Day 4: A spin or off completely. I prefer to be off the bike at least twice the week before a big race, knowing that when I am doing the hard efforts, I am nailing them and thus getting the benefit from them at 100%.
Day 5: If it is a one day race, I’d go for a 2 hour ride, a hard day where I’m going to glycogen depletion. Studies have shown that depleting the glycogen stores starts of a cycle whereby the glycogen is replaced rapidly, being at its absolute peak between 60-72 hours later. So, three days before the race I like to do about an hour to an hour and a half of hard, dedicated, shorter intervals. This isn;t a last-ditch attempt to get fitter so if I am not feeling it, I’ll skip it. Rather, it is a ride to get the system working and to have your energy stores at their optimal by race day.
For a stage race, the duration is shorter as you need more energy later in the week. Intervals again in this case but less – you needn’t do too many , you just want to isolate the muscles, get the cardio blasting and tap in to those glycogen stores so that the system starts working.
Day 6: Typically off or a light spin.
Day 7: Pre-Race prep day. Usually an hour and a half at a light spin with 3-4 short sprints in succession early on, 2-3 three 3-minute seated intervals at a TT pace, and finish with another 3-4 sprints. Some people prefer to just ride lightly, I find that I need the tension in the legs, and to remind them that they belong to a bike racer.
On the Day: Studies have found that 3-4 short, 20 second sprints in succession about 20 minutes before a race can stimulate production of the body’s natural EPO. It works, and it’s all legal!
In the race, there are two great ‘rules’ I was told as a spotty-faced 15 year-old by a grizzled veteran of the road. These have served me well ever since and they are:
- If you’re not alone and the wind is on your chest, you’re in the wrong place.
Meaning, position yourself intelligently and do not waste energy. Cycling is a numbers game, and energy levels are crucial.
- If you don’t feel good, take a chance. However, if you do feel good – do nothing until that moment.
Knowing when that moment is exactly comes with time, but basically, do not give up your natural advantage with speculative attacks. If you feel great, wait, and give it all. All you have to do in a race to win, is to go faster than everyone else for one tenth of a second. Simple!
- And another I almost forgot: Stay away from the manager’s wife. The old boy who bestowed these three nuggets of wisdom upon me had, he told me, got into a ‘spot of trouble’ on one tam he rode on…
If you are going to attack early, follow wheels for the first 20-30 minutes and let the attackers tire themselves out. Wait for ‘The Lull’, the moment when the speed drops and everyone looks at each other, desperate for respite – that is when you have the best chance of getting away.
A word on cramping. It happens to us all – well, most of us. One key to limiting the cramps is to train harder. Simple but true. The other is to hydrate well the week before the race. On the morning of the event you should be peeing water, clean and clear as from a mountain spring.
Things like Nunns and drink mixes help, but in my opinion the best thing out there for cramps is Extreme Endurance, which you can find here: http://www.xendurance.com. I make no money from this at all though they do sponsor me, but I take this because it really does help a great deal with my cramping. It’s the only product I recommend.
In the race, if you have friends in the pack, communicate. How quickly cyclists forget they are actually part of a team. Plans don’t often work out but by staying clam and thinking about a situation and how to handle it, rather than going of individual instinct, you can make better decisions.
Finally, stick to what you know and ride to your strengths, and take care of those weaknesses. If you don’t train to do 100km solo attacks – don’t try it in the race!
If you never usually get up three hours before a hard ride and eat 6kg of wholewheat pasta and drink beetroot juice by the gallon – don’t do that before the race either.
Similarly, if you are racing for the first time and don’t usually guzzle four gels and a 1kg peanut butter power bar per hour, again, probably not too smart to do that on race day either.
Train for these things. Work out what works in an environment where there isn’t a finish line and you can actually ride home to throw up!
Confidence is a hugely underrated element of bike racing. If you prepare badly or do things in the race you never normally do and have a bad day as a result, that can stick in your head for months and affect all future performances.
This is supposed to be fun. For most of us, we get precious little chance to take risks and to wear ridiculous clothing and just enjoy ourselves like kids every day – so take it. The result should not define you, but the effort and the sense of achievement should enhance all other aspects of your life – something the pros forget all too often, sadly.
So yes. Go forth! Go crank!