Tapering for a big event: here's how to ace your lead-up to a important ride or race

We talk you through how to best balance your training load for peak performance on race day

Image shows a rider who is tapering for an event
(Image credit: Future)

The art of tapering is underestimated, especially when you’re targeting a long ride or an event such as a sportive this summer. Essentially, it involves spending a period of time before your event that allows you to maintain your fitness but lose fatigue. As Colin Batchelor of Total Cycle Coach (totalcyclecoach.com) explains: “The goal of any taper can be described with a simple equation: freshness, plus fitness, equals fun.

“You can complete a century ride based on training that comprises a regular long weekend ride — no more than 80-85 miles — and a couple of midweek rides of around 60-90 minutes.”

But how best to work up to the serious mileage? Batchelor explains: “For a steady build-up, increase your weekend total by 10-15 miles a week, adding in some higher-intensity rides in the week.”

Asked what these rides should look like, he advises: “The midweek rides can be part of your commute even, and that weekend ride shouldn’t be an all-at-one-pace plod — incorporate higher-intensity elements.”

Image shows lone cyclist on a training ride in Wales

(Image credit: Future)

The essentials

  • Taper your training to lose fatigue
  • Build your mileage up gradually 
  • Drop your shorter rides first 
  • Start a taper two weeks out

So assuming you’ve built up to 80-mile rides gradually, what should the nature of your taper be?

“If you’ve been riding most days, adding in longer weekend rides as you go, then you could possibly be carrying a lot of fatigue,” says Batchelor. “Depending on your athletic history I suggest starting a taper two weeks out, and gradually reducing your midweek and weekend riding volume.

“It’s OK to keep some intensity in there to help support your development. But then as you are a week out, lose several of your midweek rides and drop your final weekend ride down to a couple of easy hours, if not less.”

Image shows cyclist training in Wales

(Image credit: Future)

Of course, what you’re naturally doing during this tapering period is aiding your recovery. Batchelor continues: “As you reduce your riding volume you gain more recovery time. That extra recovery time will help you shed fatigue.

“But if you have too much recovery, for example a couple of weeks off before your century, then you will lose fitness and may struggle.”

It’s simple stuff, but vital all the same. Get the balance of your training and recovery right and you’ll finish the event with a smile on your face and start scouring the internet for the next one.

Image shows cyclist having a rest mid way through a training ride in Wales

(Image credit: Future)

Key points

Use your shorter training rides to put in some high-intensity efforts — these will help to develop your fitness more quickly.

Start to taper your training when your 100-mile ride is about two weeks away. That way you won’t be too relaxed by the time you line up for the ride.

Just as when you’re beginning your training, it’s important to make gradual changes to your training volume during a taper.

The key to your tapering period is to arrive at the event fresh enough to enjoy it, but without it feeling like an easy spin.

Your final weekend ride should be no longer than two hours in duration, to ensure you’re adequately recovered in time for the big one.

Even if you’re incredibly time-poor, you can train for a century and incorporate an adequate taper with just one long weekend ride and a few others in the week.

This article was first published in the print edition of Cycling WeeklySubscribe online and get the magazine delivered direct to your door every week. 

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