3 Steps to Preparing for Back-To-Back Events (or, Why the Giro-Tour Double is so hard!)


One of the best things about having a staff of full-time coaches is the impromptu coaching round-table discussions we tend to have. This week we had an interesting discussion about the Giro d’Italia – Tour de France Double, or more broadly the attempt to win two back-to-back Grand Tours in a single season (Giro-Tour or Tour-Vuelta). The wider implications of this conversation for amateur athletes is the discussion of how much recovery and training is necessary to perform well in two big goal events. How far apart should the events be, and how should an athlete recover/train between the two?

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This year it was Alberto Contador who was trying to win both the Giro and the Tour in the same season. As we head into the final weekend of the Tour de France, Contador is in a battle for 5th place and is not in contention to challenge Chris Froome. You could conclude, therefore, that the 33 days between the two events is too short; but that may be too simplistic a conclusion. Some of the time Contador lost, especially in the first week, may not have been due to inadequate fitness or too much fatigue. There’s a lot of luck that goes into having a great Tour de France, too.

The biggest challenge to racing for the win at two back-to-back Grand Tours is balancing the need to recover from the first one and the need to train effectively for the second. A Grand Tour is a huge training stimulus as well as a competition, and the training load from a Grand Tour is pretty much impossible to replicate with shorter races and focused training. That can be a good thing; many of the riders who will have success later in the season will be riders who completed the Tour de France.

Why the Giro-Tour Double is so hard

What’s tricky about the Giro-Tour double is that it takes at least two weeks (more likely three) to recover from the Giro, which doesn’t leave much time for purposeful training prior to the Tour de France. A rider’s fitness should improve following a period of recovery, that bump itself is not enough to deliver a rider to the start of the Tour de France in optimal, fully-rested, and tapered race form. CTS Coach Renee Eastman pointed out that the recent changes to the format of the first week of the Tour de France makes the Giro-Tour double even harder. Instead of 5-6 flat sprinter stages, recent Tours have incorporated more climbing and Classics-style racing in the first week. This makes it more difficult for a rider who did the Giro to “ride himself into the Tour” with a series of high-speed but relatively “easy” stages (“Easy” is relative, of course.)

What happens if there’s too little time between the end of your first goal event and the start of your second? Well, if you focus entirely on recovery in an effort to be as fresh as possible for the second goal then the risk is that you won’t have the race-specific power and speed necessary for aggressive racing. This will often manifest as the ability to stay with the field but the inability to respond to or initiate attacks. For an amateur racer or noncompetitive athlete doing back-to-back events/tours, that means having great endurance but a lack of top-end power.

If you focus on race-specific training between the two events you risk compromising recovery. This often manifests itself as the ability to race aggressively early on, followed by a gradual decline in performance as the residual fatigue builds. Not having any direct information on Contador’s program or data it’s unclear which – if either – scenario accounts for his Tour de France performance. However, if I were venture a guess I would say it’s likely that fatigue caught up with Contador in the last week of the Tour de France. It has only been in the Alpine stages that he’s really been distanced during prolonged climbs.

Since it is late July, there are a lot of amateur athletes who have already completed at least one major goal event, and many of you are in that critical time period between events. So, what should you do?

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1. Prioritize recovery from your first event.

It is important to view your recent goal event as a training stimulus. What would you normally do following a big training block? You would focus on recovery in order to maximize the adaptations from the training stress. The only reason you’re tempted not to do this is because you have another event coming up and you’re worried about detraining. Logically, the longer the event, the longer the recovery period afterward (one-day event, up to a week of recovery vs. ultramarathon, up to three weeks of recovery).Returning to full-strength, event-specific training too early diminishes the adaptation you’ll experience from the first event and shortchanges the effectiveness of the training you’re doing for the second one.

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2. Figure out what training to focus on.

The preparation for and completion of some events builds high-end power and speed, like a criterium or XC mountain bike series. Following these events it’s wise to focus on bolstering your aerobic system with longer rides and lactate threshold intervals. If your first event was a longer endurance event, like a marathon MTB race or multi-day cycling tour, then your aerobic engine is likely very strong but you’re high-end speed and power for accelerations and attacks need some attention. Short, high-intensity interval training and some fast group rides or motorpacing sessions would be good.

3. Rest again before your second event.

One of the biggest mistakes athletes make going into their second major goal of the season is training too much. This either results from a lack of confidence (“I have to do more. I’m not ready. I haven’t trained enough between these two events.”) or a desire to leverage the fitness improvement from the first event (“I’m feeling great, and if I do more I’ll perform even better!”). Regardless of how much event-specific training you’re able to fit in between the events, going into the second event tired will be detrimental to performance. At some point you have to realize that the fitness you have is the fitness you have and trying to squeeze in more workouts isn’t going to be beneficial.

The big question before the Tour de France this year was whether the Giro-Tour double is doable. I think it is possible but it’s obviously very difficult. It’s not just the fitness and recovery that have to perfect, but the stars would have to align in the races themselves. The conditions, the courses, the competition, and all the unforeseeable aspects of racing would have to tip in favor of the rider making the attempt. All things considered, Contador wasn’t that far off.

Have a Great Weekend!
Chris Carmichael
CEO/Head Coach of CTS

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