Editor’s note: Travis Woodruff is a Tucson-based cycling coach (USA Cycling certified Level I Elite Coach) and founder of Momentum Endurance, a coaching business. Travis provides training columns to help you take your cycling to the next level. If you would like more personalized service, contact Travis. Read more about Travis and his coaching in Tucson Velo’s Q&A.
El Tour is just four weeks away. Whether you’ve ridden diligently throughout the summer months or especially if your preparations are a little behind, now is the time to focus your efforts and get yourself ready for the big day. While four weeks isn’t enough for a full build up, you can certainly make some big gains by doing workouts that will prepare you for the specific challenges you’ll be up against while racing around the El Tour de Tucson course. Let’s take a look at three of the biggest challenges you’ll need to be ready for.
Your body understands time and intensity quite well, but not distance. Your longest ride between now and El Tour doesn’t have to equal your full race distance, but it should be close to the time that you expect to finish in. However, going out and smashing yourself by doing one huge ride isn’t going to help too much… The longer rides this month should help to gradually bridge the gap between what you’re currently trained to do and what you’ll have to do on race day.
With consistent rides and at least one longer ride per week, your body will learn to supply power to the pedals more efficiently. Instead of quickly burning through your limited carbohydrate stores, your body will learn to burn a richer fuel blend which includes a greater percentage of fat in the fuel mixture. You may struggle with some of the longer rides during the first two weeks as your body learns to use its energy stores more efficiently. However, with consistent training your endurance will improve (since you’ll be able to keep your carbohydrate stores intact longer into ride). On your longest ride of the week be sure to practice the hydration and nutrition strategy that you might use on race day. Adjust as necessary so that by race day you’ll be confident in your plan.
Yes, there are some tough hills along the El Tour route, but for the most part it’s a very fast race course and much of the time you’ll really be cruising along. 111 miles of fast group riding is very different than a 111-mile solo ride. The speeds will be significantly higher and your efforts won’t be as steady. Instead you’ll be doing intermittent hard efforts along with brief moments of easy spinning – over and over again. Training for this increased variability in intensity will certainly help you out on race day, so be ready to accelerate! Also, choosing flatter and faster training routes for your longer rides will be to your advantage so that you can specifically adapt to the higher speeds and the challenges associated.
Pack riding skill is highly valuable at El Tour. Given the high speeds, considerable energy savings are to be had with the benefit of a good draft. Not only can you conserve energy, but you can go faster while doing it! Having the confidence to negotiate within the peleton will allow you to keep safe, protected from the wind, and in a good position to maintain your status with the group or ready to move up to the next fastest group. While on group training rides, or even when you’re riding with a few buddies, practice making a paceline and rotating at the front. With practice you’ll get more comfortable riding within close quarters and also more proficient. Someone who is comfortable riding only a couple inches from the rider in front will save far more energy than another who is sitting two or three feet away from the rider in front and who is always a little more exposed to the wind. Draft only as closely as you’re comfortable with and be willing to learn from more experienced riders. Given the big endurance challenge of El Tour, it’s vitally important to be pack savvy and conserve all that is possible!
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
A number of factors go into having a great race at El Tour. What is most important is that you start specifically planning for and thinking about the race. If you haven’t already, start today! Train consistently to boost your endurance, include some speed work into your rides, and make sure that you’re comfortable riding amongst a group. These are basics, but also the most important factors for El Tour. If you’d like to see some sample workouts, you can preview the first week of the Momentum Endurance 2011 El Tour de Tucson training plan here.
Thanks and best of luck with your training for this year’s El Tour! Prepare now and be ready to go for it on race day. Have fun with it and ride safe.