Challenging multi-day cycling events (as opposed to ‘wine-and-cheese’ cycling sightseeing tours) are one of the fast-growing categories of cycling for amateurs. Some are competitive; others (like the Tour of California Race Experience) are not, but most feature big mileage, lots of climbing, and incredible camaraderie. One of the most popular event series is coming to the US in June 2017 with the Haute Route Rockies, a 6-day sportive stage ‘race’ through the Colorado Rockies. If you’re planning on riding one of these challenging multi-day events, you can learn a lot from the way pros prepare for and manage their efforts during stage races like the Tour de France.
Preparing for a multi-day event is different than preparing for a Gran Fondo or one-day road race. Everyone will start Stage 1 with fresh legs, meaning that day will be very fast as riders scope out the competition and test each other. The key to having great legs for subsequent days is preparing your body for the rigors of back-to-back days in the saddle.
When preparing for a multi-day event it is imperative to reconfigure your training schedule to incorporate blocks of back-to-back training. In the beginning this is simple 2- and 3-day blocks of endurance rides. What you are training is your ability to recover and perform at an equal level the second and third day. It is wise to take two days of recovery following these blocks so you are ready for more high-quality work. As you progress, endurance blocks should give way to Tempo blocks and blocks of lactate threshold intervals. When incorporating intervals into block training, complete your hardest work or greatest volume-at-intensity on the first day of the block.
Dialing in your nutrition strategy is the second key to preparing for multi-day events. You can make big nutrition and hydration mistakes in a single day of training or a one-day event and still perform well; you often reach the end before suffering significant detrimental effects. With block training or during a week-long event, those mistakes will catch up with you. Most athletes find they need to increase their calorie and fluid intake during each day of block training and multi-day events, not to finish each day, but to be better prepared for the following day. The food and fluid you’re consuming in the final 90 minutes is more to set you up for better recovery than it is to get you to that day’s finish line.
Crushing Your Multi-day Event
If you remember nothing else, remember this: Energy you expend today is energy you won’t have tomorrow. Everyone is affected by fatigue during multi-day events, so managing your efforts is the key to riding strong in the middle and end of a multi-day event.
Only burn matches when it matters most
Multi-day competitions are rarely won on the first day. Rather, they are won by allowing the miles to wear down athletes and eliminate them from contention. Typically the “Queen Stage” or hardest day is in the middle or even last third of a multi-day event. Whether you’re competing or just riding for fun, this is where you want to have the power and stamina to ride well. In the early days, ride conservatively. Sit on wheels, avoid the temptation to test yourself or indulge your ego. Save those matches for the challenges that really matter.
Be smart off the bike
During pro stage races, the racing only takes up 3-6 hours of the day. That leaves 18-21 hours of off-the-bike time that needs to be managed. For amateur events featuring back-to-back 5-8 hour days, you have less time to recover between stages. Good off-bike strategies are imperative because you spend far more time off the bike than on it. Here are a few things to remember:
- Start recovery nutrition/hydration immediately: When you’re training 4 days a week, rapid post-ride recovery isn’t as crucial because you have more time to rest between training sessions. When that recovery interval is shorter, you have to start sooner. A post-stage recovery drink or shake is a good start, followed by a full meal within about 60-90 minutes. Focus on carbohydrates, but don’t overload on carbohydrate to the point you displace protein and fat.
- Proactively cool down: Core temperature can stay elevated long after you’re off the bike, and that impedes recovery. Being overheated also makes it more difficult to get to sleep. Proactively cool yourself with cold towels, a cool shower, cold drinks (even an ice slurry drink), or a refreshing dip in the pool/pond/creek.
- Drink plenty, but avoid alcohol: You want to consume fluids throughout the afternoon and evening, but if performance is important to you skip the beer until after the final stage.
- Go to bed early: Trading war stories is a big part of multi-day events, but don’t stay up late doing it. The more sleep you can get the better you’ll perform deeper into the event.
At an event like Haute Route Rockies, some athletes are there to compete and others to just have fun. In either case, take your preparation seriously so you can have better performance and more fun on the bike. If you’re there for fun, you can be more lax in your post-stage habits. If you’re there to compete, those post-stage habits are absolutely crucial to your performance. And if you’re looking for some cool events to do in 2017, there are still spots open on Team CTS for Haute Route Rockies!
CEO/Head Coach of CTS