Pro Tips by Nic Hamilton: Race Week Prep
The Tour of Alberta presented by ATB Financial is right around the corner. Athletes are beginning their final preparations and starting to look over the stage profiles and earmark some personal objectives. This installment of Pro Tips will aim to shed some light on what is happening during the days leading up to the event.
A large majority of the racers you will see at the Tour of Alberta presented by ATB Financial just finished up at USA Pro Challenge (Colorado’s professional stage race). Coming down, relatively speaking (Alberta is still quite high) from altitude the athletes’ number one concern will be recovery and regeneration. With a lot more oxygen available for the recovery processes the athletes will likely see a surge in their fitness before the TOA begins. However, you have to be careful to do the small things right. After a race the immune system is very, very taxed and getting sick or picking up a bug during travel is a real possibility. Athletes will try to sleep a ton as they travel from Colorado to Alberta.
Some will be selected for interviews and TV spots to highlight their teams. This is always great exposure for the sponsors and athletes should never turn these opportunities down but sometimes they can be taxing. Riders who are typically featured in these media pieces will also be asked to attend press conferences the day before. Press conferences are a chance for cycling and local media to ask questions of riders which often provide valuable quotes to help hype the race or to write intermediate pieces or features throughout the event. It may mean one less nap but as a professional these things are integral to the job.
This recovery period between races is a modified “taper”, a term many runners are accustomed to, however they will still ride every day. In fact, some of them will want to do what is called motor pacing or still log longer rides. Motor pacing is when you ride behind a vehicle (typically a scooter or motor bike) to simulate riding at race pace without the normal exertion of that effort otherwise necessary. During my training I loved motor pacing as a final tune up for a race. Drills and intervals vary but most common in a pre-race week would be steady state speed pieces of 15-30 minutes repeated a couple times. Speeds for these workouts will be around 50-60km/hr and with good trust in the driver (staying within an inch of the motors rear wheel) will not be overly taxing on the riders. Besides motor pacing, activation is the last structured training athletes will do. I always liken this to waking up the body. I like to touch on every zone (from easy riding to sprinting) just enough to have the body react and have a physiological response (the waking up part) but without fatiguing myself. These rides will be done as a team with each riding dropping off the back or going off the front to do their “openers” and then returning to the group. These rides usually have a bit of structure but that structure can have a variety of forms.
A lot of the time I like to structure my pre race prep rides on route to a local coffee shop. It is no secret that bikers love coffee and during the days prior to a race the local java hut will be bombarded by spandex. However, the work side of it means in addition to coffee shop hunting usually these rides are organized to do course recon as well. The openers are best done on critical sections of the course and any potentially dangerous or technical sections should be visited prior to the race if possible. Granted this is usually quite difficult, as riders are not keen to get into a car and drive around a 200+km stage. A Time Trial is an exception as one or two riders may drive the courses but a Team Time Trial is a must. When pacing, maximal effort, and the stopwatch all come into play there is a lot of prep work that is put into a race. Team directors will first drive the TTT course and devise a basic strategy and roles for their riders. In the days before the athletes will ride the course and build a trust in each other railing corners full gas with only inches separating them in the line up.
The last part of pre race is two-fold: Relax and Eat. Coming off a race it is important to mentally recharge just as much as physically. Skyping with family and friends is a big one here. Communication with people back home can always be tough when time zones and work schedules don’t quite overlap but nothing can help reboot the motivation better than chatting with people close to you when you have the time. Next on the relax list would be sleeping; cyclists thrive off naps. It wouldn’t be uncommon for a rider to be logging close to 12 hours of log sawing per day! Lastly, it’s all about refueling for another race. Eating the right amount between races is key. You want to avoid over eating so you can maintain race weight but you also want to refuel and load up adequately. More important than quantity of food is quality. Getting a nice mix of fruits and vegetables will reset the electrolyte and mineral balance as well as help the immune system rebuild. Some good fats, lean proteins, and complex carb sources will help refuel the macro nutrients. The Tour of Alberta always has great food for the riders (I can speak firsthand that it’s always good at Pomeroy Inn and Suites) and I expect much the same for the 2015 edition. The guys will be fuelled, relaxed and ready to put on a magnificent show.
This will be my last piece before the race. I hope you have enjoyed hearing some of the behind the scenes stories. I encourage you to come down to the races an hour or so before the start to try and snag some of the worlds best riders’ autographs and swag. Look for the expo for fun events for the kids and definitely visit my favorite team, Jelly Belly presented by Maxxis, for some free samples there! Enjoy the show!