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Best training focus for last month before the alps

Jul 12, 2009
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Hi,

A question for any experienced alpinistes, "What is the best focus for the last month before a planned alpine epic riding week?"

By way of background, myself and 5 five buddies are heading to Briancon for 6days alpine riding. We are doing 5 circular routes covering the Izoard (Day 2) and Vars (Day 3), the col d'ornon and alp d'huez (Day 4) and the d'allos and de la cayolle (Day 5) with the best part of the marmotte route but without allp d'huez on Day 6 and a leg stretcher out and back over the montegevre on Day 1.

We are a mixed bunch containing ex Cat 2 racers, keen sportive riders and TT riders.

We have nothing like the alps in the UK but are making do with UK sportives with up to 2500m of climbing in 160K, MTB racers, TT and track sessions as the background to our trip. The last sportive we plan to ride is on May 25th and is tough by UK standards.

So far, I have done a month focussing on strength riding in January (plus one 100K solo ride a week and one 130K+ sportive a month), tempo riding in February, threshold riding in March and three minute power interval repeats in April.

Question is, what would be the best training focus for my final month's training in May?

Trouble is there is so much conflicting advice out there, I'd be really keen to hear what has actually worked for any of this forum community before to help me decide.
 
May 2, 2010
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Hi,

To be honest, it sounds like you are doing really well and doing virtually everything you possibly can, living here in the UK.

The thing you really cannot replicate here is the sheer length of the Alpine climbs, 20 to 30 km's, and the constant effort required. One climb I like to do is the Col du Petit St Bernard from Bourg St Maurice. It only averages 5% or so but it is literally 30 km's long and there is not one metre of flat on it.

Here is one thing I do as far as training goes, unfortunately it requires a turbo and a power meter.

I know from tests I have done that if I can average 220 - 240 watts on a long climb then it will not be too shabby (for ref. I am 70kg's)

I start out about 6 - 8 weeks before with the following once per week:
1) 10 mins warm up.
2) 30 mins at 75 to 80 cadence, 220 - 240 watts "flat-line", no rest.
3) 5 mins warm-down

I then add 5-10 min's per week to the point where I can maintain at least 1 hour at 220 - 240 watts / 75 -80 rpm.

You could maybe accelerate this to 10 min's per week and, if you don't have a power meter, approximate power by feel - it should be hard! By the end, your heart rate should be at the top of Level 2.

The key here is "tension" and the low to medium cadence, you've got to have the resistance there. There's no point doing 240 watts "spinning" - it is not the same. It's the lack of "free-wheel" effect that is the key - stop pedalling on the flat, the bike keeps going, stop pedalling on a steep climb, you fall off.

Or, you could do as the Dutch guys do, i.e. go out and ride for 2 hours into a block headwind!

Above all, when you get there enjoy it, it is stunning.

Colin.
 
Jul 29, 2009
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I've been to the alps a couple of times and it's great fun. Can't go this year so I'm jealous!

I found the best training method was to find the biggest hill near by- in my case Ditchling beacon (1.4km av 10%) and go up and down loads of times! 10 reps equals an Alp d'huez imo.

An unexpected bonus was it improved my descending as well.

If you have something suitable you can also try intervals while going up. ie 1 min hard 1 min easy and repeat a few times whilst climbing. Good to see if you can recover while still having to go up hill in case you over do it!
 
Jul 12, 2009
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Thanks

Gentlemen, thank you for your replies. I have just ended up doing a dutch 4 hours into a headwind riding home from my in-laws but you have both given me a session to try that i had not thought of.

Just out of interest, when you say upper zone 2 for HR, Colin, what % MHR are you considering. I have read a lot about sweetspot HR for climbing (78-83% MHR0 or are you refering to a higher threshold effort?

Jon
 
May 2, 2010
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Jon, sounds like you have got your training in today alright!

I think your "sweet spot" HR figure of 78-83% for climbing is probably just about bang on. I'd be interested to know where you got this from?

For training I tend to use Peter Read's levels in his "Black Book", as follows:
Level 0 = 55-65%
Level 1 = 65-75%
Level 2 = 75-85%
Level 3 = 85-95%
Level 4 = 95%+

Then, from practical testing in the Alps I have found that my best endurance climbing zone conveniently equates to his Level 2. However, 85% would be an absolute maximum, so your 83% figure is probably better.

For my 1 hour "condensed" turbo workout I'll normally push it to 85% but then back-off on the Watts a bit if it keeps going up.

BTW, I notice that you are off to the Alps quite early in the season. Be aware that some of the Cols could still be "technically" closed then. I use the following URL for information on the Cols:

http://www.infotrafic.com/route.php?region=FRANC&link=cols.php?ALPS

As you can see, the Izoard, Croix de Fer, Galibier, etc. are still closed at the moment but they are normally OK by the last week in May.

Hope this helps, Colin.
 
Jul 12, 2009
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Sweetspot

Colin, Thanks for the info and also for the link. We are keeping our fingers crossed on all the cols being open and I'm hoping i don't get too much stick for the fact a later departure was impossible because of my wife and my little girl's birthdays!

The sweetspot idea, and indeed the whole training at an intensity that serious coaches used to call "not hard enough to bring about improvement but just hard enough to tire you out!" seems to have popped up in the last year or so.

I've read quite a bit in the cycling press about this. It kind of stands the whole, below 75% MHR mostly and occasional bursts above 85% MHR on its head, mainly because most amateur riders can only really sustain an effort that remains BELOW their lactate threshold for any significant amount of time (i.e. the time to climb an alp or a 25 mile TT).

This has led to quite a lot of stuff being written about this idea of sweetspot training. That is to say, learning to sustain an effort that is hard but always just below your Red Line.

I think it was Mike Cotty (UK Cannodale Head Honco and 1st UK finisher in the etape a couple of years ago) who recommended this sweetspot idea for replicating alpine climbs on a turbo. I think he was even more specific than me. 80-82% MHR for one hour with the front wheel raised on a pile of magazines!

I took 78-83% from Chris Carmichael. Tempo, he calls it, but I guess we are all talking about the same thing. It's got to be basically the FUNCTIONAL MHR you can sustain for the challenge you are attempting.

I have pushed 80-85% MHR for 2 x 20 minutes in threshold sessions but could not sustain this for 1 hour+ like I will need to to do in the alps. That leads to training specifically for alpine climbs by training to become more efficient at a HR that is sustainable.

Voila, Le sweetspot!

I've a feeling all the science in the world won't stop it hurting like hell though.....
 
Jul 30, 2009
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Colin's workout plan seems pretty good - you need to find the level you can sustain for an hour plus and what your preferred cadence is.

Gearing becomes pretty important. I find sometimes eg 39:25 will be too low, but the next one up is too high - so either you end up going too slow, or it takes too much effort. It's then quite easy to lose your concentration because it doesn't feel right.

Keeping your rhythm on the hairpins is also important, and they can be pretty steep.

Remember to eat - LOADS :)

The best approximation to the gradient and bends I have found in the UK is Box Hill nr Dorking, they are just 5-10 times longer with a much better road surface. Even if you do hill repeats you still get a breather so its not as sustained, but 4-5 reps somewhere near but below your Lactate Threshold on that is a pretty good workout.

The mental side of it is pretty important - you have to be relaxed, not stressing on kit, not worrying about what other guys are doing, must not be hungry - then break the climb down into chunks and eg give yourself a mental high five every time you go past on one of the white and yellow km markers - they have the altitude on so you can tick off another 80m climbed each time.

You have to ride at your own pace too - if you are in a group, do not try and hang on with faster riders, just let them go, you will pop and if you do that with 80km and a couple of Cols left to climb it's going to be a long day...
 
May 2, 2010
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Jon, thanks a lot for the info. Your reference sources tend to back up what I have worked out somewhat empirically for myself which is really good to know.

Yeah, it is all about sustainability. There is one word that sums up the Alpine climbs the best, and that is "relentless". Having said that, you will love it, so you might as well warn the family now that you will be going again next year - you're gonna get hooked!

Vivre le sweetspot, Colin.
 
Jul 29, 2009
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Just realised when you're going. Having cycled there at the same time I would suggest that clothing choice is very important.

I found going down much worse than going up.

As I discovered to my cost the top of the Galibier, in the snow, is not somewhere to be without the right kit, particularly having got sweaty and the fact you won't be peddling for some time.

The Cafe at the Lautaret is a life saver but not all mountain top cafes are open at that time.

BTW You can also find some web cam views from the ski resorts to give you an idea of what to expect.