It's a week before the Big Day. How should you use that time? Here we look at the do's and don'ts of final week prep.
The Big Race is coming. A week and a half to go.
Time is running out as it starts very soon indeed, so you better not get training harder.
Yes, I did say not.
One thing I have learned about the week and a half before a bike race is that you really cannot improve that much in strength, stamina or power in those 7 to 10 days beforehand. However, you can do a lot of damage by overtraining, by riding to fatigue, and by simply going over things too much in your head, thus putting at risk all your previous gains by using up too much nervous energy.
The key to the final week of pre-race prep is to be as calm and composed as possible and to make decisions about your training, rest, hydration and nutrition that will allow you to maximize the work you have already done, ensuring that when you get on that start line your condition is optimal.
‘Consolidate your previous gains’ is a phrase I use a lot. It simply means that instead of jumping ahead of yourself and leaving holes in your preparation, it is far more beneficial to take care of what you have gained.
This way, your base will be solid and established, and all further gains will be real and not fleeting. So often, in that week before the big race, you see riders going out on death marches of 170km or battering themselves up that hill in the hope of somehow making the Great Leap Forward from Cat 2 quality to Cat 1.
It doesn’t work that way, and we know it too. Better to shore up what you have, to use short, sharp intervals (in their three and fours, not in the dozens) and to taper your lead into the sharpest point possible.
My final week prep before a big race would look something like this:
Day 1: Off
Day 2: Relatively moderate spin, anywhere from 1 up to 3 hours, depending on time. This would be a tempo ride (say a 6 on a Perceived Rate of Exertion (PRE) Scale). Fairly flat, if hilly I would spin as much as possible.
Day 3: A medium-hardish 3 hour ride. Either with a group, or preferably alone. Personally I prefer riding alone most of the time as it gives me control over my efforts. I’d try as best I could to ride a route that emulated the race route, do a couple 10-15 minute TT-like efforts, some shorter, harder sprints every 15-20 minutes or so, and also throw in 3-4 hard hill efforts.
Day 4: A spin or off completely. I prefer to be off the bike at least twice the week before a big race, knowing that when I am doing the hard efforts, I am nailing them and thus getting the benefit from them at 100%.
Day 5: If it is a one day race, I’d go for a 2 hour ride, a hard day where I’m going to glycogen depletion. Studies have shown that depleting the glycogen stores starts of a cycle whereby the glycogen is replaced rapidly, being at its absolute peak between 60-72 hours later. So, three days before the race I like to do about an hour to an hour and a half of hard, dedicated, shorter intervals. This isn;t a last-ditch attempt to get fitter so if I am not feeling it, I’ll skip it. Rather, it is a ride to get the system working and to have your energy stores at their optimal by race day.
For a stage race, the duration is shorter as you need more energy later in the week. Intervals again in this case but less – you needn’t do too many , you just want to isolate the muscles, get the cardio blasting and tap in to those glycogen stores so that the system starts working.
Day 6: Typically off or a light spin.
Day 7: Pre-Race prep day. Usually an hour and a half at a light spin with 3-4 short sprints in succession early on, 2-3 three 3-minute seated intervals at a TT pace, and finish with another 3-4 sprints. Some people prefer to just ride lightly, I find that I need the tension in the legs, and to remind them that they belong to a bike racer.
On the Day: Studies have found that 3-4 short, 20 second sprints in succession about 20 minutes before a race can stimulate production of the body’s natural EPO. It works, and it’s all legal!
In the race, there are two great ‘rules’ I was told as a spotty-faced 15 year-old by a grizzled veteran of the road. These have served me well ever since and they are:
If you are going to attack early, follow wheels for the first 20-30 minutes and let the attackers tire themselves out. Wait for ‘The Lull’, the moment when the speed drops and everyone looks at each other, desperate for respite – that is when you have the best chance of getting away. The experienced riders know to go when everyone else is spent, and you'll see them earlier on preserving energy to make their attacks later.
In the race, if you have friends in the pack, communicate. How quickly cyclists forget they are actually part of a team. Plans don’t often work out but by staying clam and thinking about a situation and how to handle it, rather than going of individual instinct, you can make better decisions.
Finally, stick to what you know and ride to your strengths, and take care of those weaknesses. If you don’t train to do 100km solo attacks – don’t try it in the race!
Train for these things. You have to get all the jigsaw pieces on the table before you can attempt to see the big picture. If you're not hitting all aspects of racing in your training, there will be pieces missing come race day too.
Confidence is a hugely underrated element of bike racing. If you prepare badly or do things in the race you never normally do and have a bad day as a result, that can stick in your head for months and affect all future performances.
This is supposed to be fun. For most of us, we get precious little chance to take risks and to wear ridiculous clothing and just enjoy ourselves like kids every day – so take it. The result should not define you, but the effort and the sense of achievement should enhance all other aspects of your life – something the pros forget all too often, sadly.
So yes. Go forth! Go crank!
Winning the Points Classification at the 2012 UCI 2.1 Tour de East Taiwan.