Over the spring and summer months, thousands of cyclists will head abroad to mainland Europe and further afield to test themselves over iconic climbs and monumental distances.
In addition to the months of training required to ride and complete these events, it is crucial to prepare properly in the week leading up to the big day.
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Tim Marsh of VeloNomad.com emphasises the importance of tweaking your bike set-up to adapt to the surroundings: “For most cyclists, their at-home gearing won’t offer sufficient ratios for the truly massive climbs of France, Switzerland and Italy.
“Most cyclists will need a compact [50-34] chainset on the front, and a 29, 32 or even 36 [-tooth largest sprocket] on the back.”
It is not only about tweaking your bike for climbing, as after those climbs come long descents: “Pay special attention to the brakes. With long descents of 30km not unusual, you may wish to upgrade your brakes, particularly the brake pads.”
The training required to ride these long-distance events is naturally intensive — several high-volume weeks including a ride of six or seven hours is the minimum.
- Ensure your bike is in working order before leaving the UK
- Reawaken the legs with a lactate-clearing ride the day before
- Eating and drinking are crucial to maintaining energy and hydration levels during a long day in the saddle
Blow away the cobwebs
Training done, once at your destination, it’s important to loosen up the legs. Anthony Walsh from A1 Coaching explains that going for a ride the day before is the perfect remedy: “The day before the ride, I typically have riders ride an easy hour at Zone 1 or 2 with two 10-minute Zone 3 efforts and two one-minute efforts ‘full gas’.
“This session should blow the cobwebs away and stimulate the lactate-clearance system for the next day.”
When it comes to the big day itself, it is critical to get your nutrition and drinking right, paying attention to the climatic and energy demands you are going to place on your body.
“You may get through a local club ride with poor nutrition but you’ll pay the price in a longer event,” Walsh says.
“Aim to drink 500ml of fluid and consume 60g of carbohydrate per hour. It should feel like you are constantly eating and drinking.”
Make the most of your training camp
Do: prepare your bike the day before and lay out clothing the night before, giving you the peace of mind of knowing that everything is ready to go in the morning.
Do: take a lightweight gilet or jacket to wear at the start. If you have to descend down a mountain early in the day, it is highly likely to be cold.
Do: try and learn a few useful foreign phrases that could help you out when in mechanical and nutritional need. Asking in the native tongue where the nearest toilet is is a lot easier than resorting to a game of charades.
Do: pace yourself for the ride ahead. Climbing multiple mountains is different to a hill repeat session back home. Ensuring you still have enough left in the tank for the finishing push is crucial.
Don’t: change your pre-race or race day nutrition just because you are riding overseas. Stick to the same meal you would have at home the night before — no nasty surprises.
Don’t: rely on airlines to automatically accept your bicycle as standard hold luggage — most charge extra. Check before you travel so you don’t have to pay more at the airport.