Not everyone lives on or near high mountains like the Alps, Dolomites or Pyrenees. When you see your heroes conquer the famous climbs in the Giro d’Italia or the Tour de France, you might get the idea to ride on one of those giants as well. Sounds like a great plan! But how do you train for this, how do you deal with hydration, your health or recovery afterwards? And do you have to change something on your road bike? Team EF Education First Pro Cycling gave us the best tips and tricks and we’d like to share these with you!
It’s all about preparation
Peter Schep, Performance Manager of the pink WorldTour squad of EF Education First Pro Cycling, explains how you can prepare and train for this in the best way. “Training is often a matter of splitting up various aspects. Ultimately you have to be able to combine these aspects. A mountain stage of 150+ kilometres can easily take up 6 to 9 hours. So first you start to increase your endurance training on a weekly basis. Besides you will also have to start working on your climbing skills. If you don’t live in a hilly area you can virtually climb on a Tacx trainer, for example. While climbing, you ride with a lower cadence and this often requires a little more from the hamstrings and the calves. You have to get used to this and start building that rhythm. Eventually you will make a test ride comparable to the mountain you want to conquer.”
“When you live in a flat area, a bike trainer is even necessary to prepare for this,” he continues. “Because sometimes you have to climb for like one and a half hour. You won’t find a comparable training ground anywhere near. With a bike trainer it is realistic and perfectly measurable. In this way you can also analyse your training.”
It might also be an idea to change the setup of your bike a little bit, according to Schep: “Riding up a mountain is more about absolute power than aerodynamics. So you often sit more upright than you would normally do on a flat road. You can choose, for example, to raise your handlebar a centimetre. This can also help to reduce some back pain.”
The big day
After weeks of preparation with long endurance rides, hours and hours of virtual climbing on your bike trainer and booking your trip to your favourite mountain, the moment is there!
So here you are, standing at the foot of the Tourmalet, Alpe d’Huez or Stelvio. And now what? How do you get up this thing without worrying about stepping off your bike halfway? “Because of the length of the effort, you limit your capacity to something that you can sustain for a long time. Riding above your functional threshold power is not recommended, except when you have to conquer a steeper part of the mountain.”
Because climbing can require quite some effort, you have to take care of your nutrition as well. This actually already starts a day or two in advance of the big day. “Eat lots of carbohydrates, like rice and pasta,” Schep suggests. “You must also start hydrated before you begin to climb the mountain and it’s important to keep filling your bottles with sports drinks during the ride. Also try to eat solid food as long as possible during the climb. Think of energy bars, rice cakes, etc.”
Bear in mind that you’ll come across some temperature changes, as the temperature in the valley can be a lot higher than at the top. Easy to carry items such as arm warmers and a sleeveless overcoat can already help coping with this. If you expect rain, take a rain jacket with you. Descending with a wet jersey can be very unpleasant, so try to avoid this.
What goes up…
…must come down. You’ve reached the top! Well done, hurray!! Now comes the fun part: going downhill at high speed. We don’t have to tell you that this can be dangerous, especially if you have no experience with this. To make your descent a bit more safe, Schep has some useful tips for you. “Position your hands in the drops to gain a bigger braking force. Also keep your hands on the brake levers to be able to react as quick as possible. Furthermore, it’s important to apply most of the braking force before a corner instead of in a corner. The reason for this? On the straight parts you can make more use your of your front brake and that is one stronger. Also, look far enough ahead of what is coming to anticipate.”
You did it! You can delete it from you bucket list and brag to your friends how tough it was and how fast you went downhill. Time to celebrate it and order a beer, or two, on a terrace. Or wait, don’t you forget something? Ah…recovery! What about that? “Our riders get on the Tacx bike trainers to cool down,“ Schep tells. “It is not good to stop at once after such an effort because of your blood pressure and high heart rate.” If you didn’t bring your Tacx trainer with you, you can also cool down with an easy ride of course. If you have plans to climb another mountain the day after, then the cooling down is even more important than having a little more recovery time. “And don’t forget to eat some good food and to drink enough,” Schep continues. “Again a lot of carbohydrates and some extra proteins. Also get more sleep than average, but that often comes naturally!”