I spent 10 days in Kalamata, Greece. It is a great place for cycling, even in mid-Winter.
For various reasons, I ended up not taking my own bike. It was awkward to hire a car which would carry four people, four cases and a big bicycle bag. I thought an VW estate may cope, but when I measured a friends boot, I knew it wouldn’t work and I had to leave the bike at home.
In other years, I may have paid some ridiculous money to hire a people carrier (or my own car), but since I’ve been off the bike during the tail-end of 2016, I thought another 10 days off the bike wouldn’t make much difference. At the best of times it can be a hassle taking a bike on a plane.
On arriving at Kalamata, our hotel had a magnificent view of the ocean, but also had a view of some beautiful hairpins, engineered into the nearby hillside. The sight of hairpins cut into the hillside made me wistfully regret not having a bike. The next day, I drove the hire car up the hill side and went for a walk. It is not the same, and the longing for a bike grew. It felt perhaps like an alcoholic going for a week of recovery and finding he is living next to a brewery.
For a long ride of 3-4 hours +, it is worth making some preparations and calcuations about how much energy to try and take on.
For anything of 100 mile plus, I will eat more carbs in the day or two before. For example, if I go out for a 1-2 hour ‘warm-up ride’ Normally I wouldn’t take any energy drink or food. But, in this case I would take a 750ml energy drink, to take on more carbs than usual.
I haven’t researched carbo-loading enough, but you have to be careful not to place undo stress on stomach by eating much more than usual.
It is also important to be well hydrated the day before and for the morning of the race.
The first issue is what is the maximum amount of carbohydrate that the body can absorb per hour?
The most common figure I have seen is 60 grams of carbohydrate.
However, recently, energy drinks manufacturers have cited research that if you take a mixture of maltodextrin and fructose, you can take up to 80-90 grams. Increasingly energy drinks have maltodextrin and fructose in the ratio of 2:1. But, high quantities of fructose can be problematic for the stomach, you would have to test on yourself to see your tolerance.
When I went for Aero Testing on Friday, Xavier said, make sure you keep measurements of your new set up.
Fortunately, I took his advice seriously and did actually do it. Two days later, my aerobars fell apart and, without those measurements, I’d be back to square one.
One way is to take photos with a ruler by the side. Always worth writing down on paper too.
Even if you are not a racer, but just someone who enjoys riding a bike – it is still worth doing for things like saddle height, fore-aft saddle. If you get a new bike, knowing past measurements is important for keeping continuity between bikes. Big changes in position can cause discomfort, loss of power, even injury.
It’s not the most glamorous job, but important to do.
If you’re a time triallist and looking to eke out marginal gains, it is even more important. Small changes of a few cm, can have big impact on drag factors.
These are my measurements, which will be of no particular interest to anyone, but if I post to my cycling blog, it makes it easier for me to find. And I’m going to use as I put my aerobars back together.
I have entered some longer distance races this so was keen to do a long ride. I have been wanting to do a 100 mile ride all year, but for various reasons, have never made it beyond 88 miles. Today was a good day, so I set off for a five hour ride, the longest of the year.
I still had a 56 single chainring on my TT bike. I didn’t have time or the right tools to switch it over. A big chainring limited my options. Normally, you don’t worry about terrain; in fact I often try to find steep hills. But, a 56 *23 severely limits where you can ride. I set off to Cirencester, which is one of flatest areas. Even hills of 8% had me pedalling a very low cadence. The first 60 miles were mostly fine, but then I got a bit lost in the Cotswolds and I was struggling up a few steep inclines. This is what it must have been like in the days of fixed – always worrying about coming across steep hills. I could have ridden road bike, but I feel it’s important to train on the time trial bike because it is quite a different position.
Anyway it was mostly a good day out. I took this photo in the Cotswolds and a few yards later my aerobars broke going over a pothole, you can’t quite see. It was 40 miles home with loose aerobars. Still it could have been worse like happening yesterday in the race or on Friday at Newport velodrome. I could do with replacement bolts pretty quick, but last time it took Trek a long time.
It has been a stop start season so after doing a good race, it was in keeping to get a virus which knocked me low. Even when the virus seemed to be over, it still left quite a feeling of fatigue and tiredness. It’s taken quite a while to get back in the swing of it. It knocks your confidence to get a virus like this. After the last race, I was inspired to make last minute entry for national 50, but two hours later – suffering from temperature, the long drive to Devon didn’t seem so appealing any more and the deadline passed.
Still the past two days have been quite good. I went north to Banbury yesterday for a 90 mile ride. There are a lot of quiet, quintessentially English villages to cycle through. Plenty of interesting place names, Hook Norton, Duns Tew Wroxton, Tadmarton if that is your thing. I think I ended up on part of the course for Banbury Star CC hardriders, though I avoided Sunrising hill.
The highlight of the ride was getting overtaken by a guy on an electric bike going uphill. As he came past, he said “Well, this is embarrassing”. I’m not sure whether he meant – it was embarrassing for me or embarassing for him.
I was half joking about getting a train into a headwind in post on Tips for riding in wind. I never do it in Oxford, but when visiting Yorkshire, it’s a great way to see a few Yorkshire valleys I wouldn’t otherwise make it to. I cycled a hilly 6 miles to Bingley station and got the ‘slow pacer’ – Leeds to Morecambe train. It reminds me of what train travel was like in the 1980s; quiet, slow, a little dirty, a feeling of neglect, you’re the only passenger who gets off at the station.
However, the Bentham line is popular with cyclists – at different times, there were four different bikes on the train. One young girl took her bike from Skipton to Gargrave where she worked and was going to cycle the 3 miles home in an effort to get fit and lose weight. She said one mile on the bike left her feeling completely out of breath, but she hoped one day to be able to cycle both to and back to Gargrave. I encouraged her by saying – if you keep cycling every day, you will definitely see a big improvement quite quick. We all started with cycling for a couple of miles, and you never know where it may lead you.
It was the Tour de Yorkshire yesterday – Otley to Doncaster for both the mens and womens races. I could have gone to see the races start in Otley, but I preferred to go on my bike and watch the highlights on telly. Cycling through the Yorkshire Dales went well – though watching the highlights mainly consisted of fast- forwarding through two hours of ATP tennis wondering when the cycling would start. (TV problems apparantely) Yesterday the peleton went up Greenhow Hill. Today it will be Sutton Bank and a few more climbs in the North York Moors.
I have spent the past two weeks in New York. I’ve written before about cycling in Jamaica, Queens, NY, so won’t repeat it all. But it’s a tough place to cycle; even supposedly quiet residential roads can have cars (nearly always SUVs) accelerating at top speed. It’s a little scary place to cycle, which is probably why it’s so rare to see a cyclist in Queens.
But, the one great piece of good fortune is the outdoor velodrome of Kissena Boulevard. It is bumpy concrete, but it is traffic free and a safe place to cycle. It seems always open, and perhaps just one or two other cyclists going around during the week day.
The only training during the two weeks was to cycle two miles to the velodrome then ride for an hour at varying degrees of intensity. It’s no joke cycling around a velodrome for an hour. Not as boring as being on a turbo, but it gave a new respect for track cyclists. I was caught between gratitude for having a velodrome to cycle on and the difficulty in motivating myself to keep riding around in circles.
I remember when I was 13, going on a cycle holiday with a friend to Lofthouse. One day, we rode 75 miles on mountain bikes, including Greenhow hill and Trapping Hill in Nidderdale (which seemed like mountains at the time). The furthest we had been before was about 20 miles. It was an epic ride and for about four days after, we couldn’t walk properly. It was kind of an interesting experience to do something so far out of my comfort zone and capacity. In the whole of my cycling career, I have never been so shattered or literally crawled into a sleeping bag after a long bike ride. Perhaps because of this chastening experience, I’ve always prepared carefully for long distance riding – making sure I’m sufficiently trained before making a big jump in mileage. In a nutshell, you can always try and do long distances untrained, but it’s a lot more pleasant if you can make sufficient training to get used to the long distance.
Training for long distance sportives
Quite a few people ask about advice for doing a big ride, perhaps a hilly 100 mile sportive. There is no particular set training plan you need to follow, but as a few guiding principles, I would suggest.
If you’re starting from no training at all, any cycling is going to help build up fitness. The first thing is just to go out on the bike, increase the distance each time and get used to being in the saddle for a longer time. If you start off with a 30 mile ride, each week try to add another 10 miles on.
Long rides. For a sportive that might take 6-7 hours, if you can manage to do training rides of 3-4 hours, you will be a long way to getting ready for the endurance. If possible, try and do a few 5 hour rides. The more you can do the better, but a weekly long ride of 3-4 hours will be reasonable preparation.
Decent intensity. If you are time pressed and struggling to find time for a long ride, to some extent, you can make up for the lack of miles, by increasing the intensity of cycling. For some of the training rides, try and maintain a good pace – just below your threshold. This maybe around 18-20mph on a flatish course or 90% of FTP, 80-85% max heart rate. Some call it sweet spot training. You may find that you can only maintain this level for an hour, then you start to slow down. Training at this higher level has a bigger training benefit, but has the added benefit of not being as tiring like full on intervals.
Mix up training. If you are able to get some base fitness from riding for a couple of months, it will then be helpful to mix up the training – not just plodding along at same effort all the time. You can start to do some hill intervals. You don’t have to go at 100% all out pace, but it will be good practise for the hills on the big ride.
Stress and recovery. The basic principle of training is stress and recovery. You stress muscles by doing more than before – recovery then allows your muscles to become stronger. If you are tired from training too much, rest and recovery will be the biggest help. It depends how many hours you have to train. If it is only a small number, you are unlikely to be over-training.
How long to prepare?
The longer you can prepare, the better. For a 100 mile sportive, you could just about get ready in a couple of months. But, if you can have some base fitness over winter, then you will be in a much better position, rather than having to start from scratch in April.
A good question is whether racing makes good training or whether to be in the best form for races, you should do less racing and more training. And the other thing is what to do when you haven’t got any races.
Often when watching Eurosport you will hear people talk about riders lacking race fitness. For example, you can spend four weeks on a training camp, but it is only doing actual races that really brings about top form. For example, Chris Froome came to the Tour of Catalunya after a big training block in South Africa, but compared to his usual form, looked a little off the pace. However, at other times, riders like Quintana have come out of training in Columbia and gone straight into good racing form in races.
The other school of thought is that too much racing can interfere with gaining peak performance. For example, in Graeme Obree’s training book – he talks about the need to cut back on racing so that it doesn’t interfere with his training schedule. But, Obree had a really unique approach to training – go all out for an hour then spend 2-4 days recovering.
I’m thinking about this issue because my next race won’t be for a month, which is quite a long time at this stage in the season.
Advantages of racing as training
You can guarantee in a race, you will have the best motivation to go as hard as you can for the race duration. I sometimes do private time trials where I ride around roads and measure my time. But, I never seem to go as hard as in a race. Often in these private time trials, I even give up after 75% of the imagined course. There’s no one there to make you get to the finish.
A key element of getting to peak performance is stretching yourself and making more effort than previously. To get this new peak, a race can be an excellent way of getting more out of yourself.
Technical aspects of racing. Whether time trials or road racing, a big component is the technical aspect – tactics and pacing. If you rely on training, these other aspects can become rusty. Racing a course like Buxton yesterday, forces you to think about pacing (wrong again), and technical aspects of cornering. It is also a test for things like equipment, clothes and pre-race strategy. These things can take more practise than you might imagine. As an amateur with no one to hand clothes, I’m often fumbling around in the back of the car with 20 minutes to go looking for some item of clothing e.t.c.