Preparing for optimal cycling performance at altitude
Picture this: You’ve crested the top of the Col du Meraillet, taken a quick sip from your bidon and re-zipped your jersey and gilet before enjoying the short, fast descent. In a matter of kilometres, you’ll be climbing again up to the top of the Cormet de Roselend. The views are great, but sadly, the legs don’t feel too good. Apart from the mountains being longer than your local climbs, the added effect of altitude has made you feel like today is going to be one of the hardest days ever on the bike to date…
…if only you could go back 6 months and start your training…fortunately (if you’re reading this blog late 2018/early 2019) you can! The dark, cold and wintery months (if you’re based in the UK like us) is the time of year where you lay the foundations of your base endurance; which means getting in the miles and completing some sweet spot sessions one or twice a week, before upping the intensity to harder intervals around March-April, and then winding down in June-July ahead of the big day. Of course, this type of training is going to increase your fitness (FTP predominantly) – but completing this on the road or your indoor turbo trainer won’t give you the necessary adaptations for riding at altitude.
As you’ll remember, the Letape 2019 route has two main mountain summits considered as being “at altitude”: the Cormet de Roselend (1968 m) and the Val Thorens (2365 m) – with many others reaching 1000 m in elevation. Due to the relentless climbing and lower partial pressure of oxygen, your legs begin to burn and then feel empty quicker than your usual weekend rides. See here for some more information on this. To prevent this from occurring, or at least minimising the negative effects, we recommend training in our altitude chamber 3-4 times per week for 6 weeks. In terms of sessions, it’s best to complete your intervals, whether that be anaerobic (<3 mins), aerobic (3-5 mins), sweet spot (5-15 mins) or tempo (15-20 mins), in the chamber whilst getting your long distance rides on the road over the weekend. If you’re unsure of what session to do exactly then our Ride Club will feel that void, which includes 45 mins of tailored intervals at percentages of your FTP for mixed durations.
Why(?) I hear you ask. Essentially, completing intervals in an oxygen-deprived environment (hypoxia A.K.A simulated altitude) will force your heart, lungs and muscles to work harder to continuously keep hitting a target power. This will no doubt make every interval feel harder than usual, but this also makes the recovery tougher (feel shorter) too as your heart, lungs and muscles will be starved of the good stuff they need (oxygen) to prime themselves before you rev the leg speed up again for the next interval. Is there anything good about this!(?) is probably your next question. Of course! The adaptations that take place following a period of altitude training include, but are not limited too: increased FTP, increased efficiency (lower heart rate for a given power), increased lactate threshold and increased VO2MAX. These increases will be bigger than completing the same training over a similar time period at sea level, primarily due to training in a tougher environment than our bodies are naturally used to functioning in.
To fully understand the gains you’re making, we can also assess your cycling performance at altitude via our Power Profiling test. Overall, a tough session but very worthwhile to know your benchmarks!
In regards to making sure you’re hydrated and fed well across the whole day, we always recommend eating and drinking little and often as the kilometres fly by. This way, you can continuously maintain an adequate level of hydration and glycogen stores, without having to overcompensate if you go too deep. Due to appetite being reduced at altitude, it will feel a lot harder to consume large quantities of carbohydrates in one sitting than usual. Also, drinking fluids and eating snacks you prefer that have been tried and tested rigorously (by you…well in advance) is always handy to prevent any shortcomings on the day whilst in the saddle… i.e., no one wants to do a Tom Dumoulin! For more information on this, get in touch with our in-house nutritionist Robbie Green (RD) to schedule a nutrition consultation and target your needs more specifically.
If you’re still unsure about why altitude training will help you perform optimally during Letape, check out this video when Joe Norledge of Bike Radar come to do our Power Profiling assessment before and after 6 weeks of training.
Don’t leave it too late to make Letape one of the best rides of your life!