How do Cyclists Train for the Tour de France

Tour de France 2022

This year’s Tour will span 3328 km inside the classic 21 days of racing. There will be 6 mountain stages, 2 individual time-trials, and plenty of flat stages for breakaways and exciting sprint finishes. Stage 7 will be the longest with 220 km while stage 11 will take riders to the highest point at the top of Col du Galibier, a breath taking 2607 meters above sea level. If last year is anything to go by, then the winner will be expected to maintain an average speed of 41,17 kilometers per hour over nearly 83 hours of racing. It’s clear that every competitor will have to be in the shape of their life.

It takes the whole season

Competing at the Tour de France is the highlight of every cyclist’s season, if not their whole career. That’s why most pros plan their season with the main goal to peak just as the Tour kicks off. The preparation often starts around 7 months before the Tour and includes several training macro-cycles. They will be building an aerobic base, adding high-intensity, doing race-specific training, and tapering. Let’s take a closer look at each of these training stages.

Building a base

The Tour is set to start on the 1st of July which means that most rider initiated their base-building phase late November or early December of last year. Their main focus is on long, low-intensity rides to build up the basic aerobic endurance required. It also includes some flexibility and strength training on top of that. The riders typically do something like 20-30 hours of training each week.

Adding intensity

Come February, or about 5 months before the start of the Tour, cyclists start adding more tempo, sub-threshold, and threshold rides. Threshold tempo is the hardest effort that you can sustain for an hour which means they will be spending more and more time at high intensity. This training phase is also where they start working on their nutrition on and off the bike. They need to get used to consuming a lot of food on the bike. Their digestion needs to be conditioned to handle up to 90 g of carbs per hour while cycling.

This is also the time when the pros start to peak with their body weight. They start early because steady weight loss is the best way to avoid sacrificing performance. There is a general rule of thumb that they shouldn’t lose more than 0.5% of their bodyweight per week.

Race-specific training

Right around the beginning of April, Tour competitors will refocus on race-specific training. They will reduce their strength work and use actual races as some of their training. There is no substitute to racing. Certain skills can only be gained while amidst a race. The Ardennes Classics or the Giro D’Italia are often used for this purpose.

This is also the time when cyclists include training camps. These are typically 10-day training blocks of structured cycling where every day is planned out. Training camps often include altitude training and adapting to riding in the heat. The specific schedule depends on the type of rider. Climbers will spend more time in the mountains doing lots of long, steady climbs while others might work on high-intensity speedwork elsewhere.

Tapering

Tapering means reducing training load to be fresh at the starting line. During this process riders will go from riding 5-6 hours a day to riding about 1 hour or not at all. About 2 weeks before the Tour, riders will start shortening their training blocks and adding ample rest in between. They would do their last long ride the weekend before the Tour. There might be a short speed workout mid-week to practice bursts of power and picking up pedalling cadence. They will also have a session on the time trial bikes during the last week.

They take recovery as seriously as training

A crucial part of getting ready for the Tour de France is recovery. It’s present in every phase of training and riders know that they can’t cut any corners there. Recovery is a continuous process that includes post-ride shakes, massages, stretches, and quality sleep. Especially sleep is what most professionals focus on as the bedrock of recovery. They go to bed and wake up at the same time, sleep in a cool and dark room, and avoid blue light an hour before sleep.

The riders give it a better part of a year to get ready for the Tour, let’s cheer them on as they compete for glory on this 21-stage Grand Tour!

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