How to prepare for the mountains
Our routes will included some of the greatest climbs in the French Alps, climbs that will test you, reward you and sometimes even hurt you. Preparation will not only help you to conquer them, but more importantly enjoy them.
Cycling in the High Mountains
The French Alps is home to some of the Tour de France’s most iconic climbs, with Alpe d’Huez, Col du Galibier, Col d’Izoard, Cormet de Roselend and the Col de la Madeleine featuring regularly within it’s mountain stages. These climbs are long, often around 20km with average gradients of 6% – 8% and steep sections where the gradients are 10% -12%, some have switch-back after switch back others have long sections of what appear to be never ending road.
If you haven’t rode in the mountain before it can be an intimidating prospect, but you can make it a memorable experience by preparing yourself before hand. To help you get the most out of your cycling holiday we have put together some tips.
Top Tips For Riding In The Alps
If you are planning a cycling holiday in the French Alps, here a few hints and tips to help you prepare for your trip
The sooner you begin your preparation the better you will feel in the mountains. So, if you are thinking about joining us on one of our cycling holidays start by selecting a date that will provide you with plenty of time to prepare.
Let’s start by clearing something up, you can spend lots of money on a very light bike. You could probably spend even more money on super light upgrades, but of all the equipment on your bike you and your legs are the most critical components. Without you, your bike is just a stationary object, so by losing a little body weight you will not only save yourself lots of money but you will feel a lot better on climbs.
The good news is, you don’t need to train like a professional cyclist to ride in the mountains. When it comes to climbing you just need to have the ability to hold a constant effort. A great place to start is doing 2 x 20 minute efforts at a hard pace, separated by 5 or 10 minutes recovery. If you are new to cycling you can split this session into 4 x 10 minute efforts with 5 or 10 minutes recovery. If you have access to some long hills, doing this session on a gradient will making them even more beneficial.
To prepare for the steep sections on a climb, try doing some short sharp hill reps. These will work your anaerobic system and help fire up the muscles you’ll need to get over any steep ramps.
These two sessions can take a bit out of you, so make sure they a separated by an easy recovery day.
You should also include some long steady rides, your aim should be to gradually build up the distance of this ride until it equals the distance of the longest ride on your holiday.
With any training program rest days are equally if not more important than the training days. A rest day allows your body to consolidate the hard work you’ve been doing. Muscles recover, adapt and become stronger and you nervous system has a chance to regenerate. Including appropriate rest in you training program can also prevent injuries.
After months of training and dreaming about the mountains day one of your cycling holiday as arrived. Start the week by slowly working your way into climbs, ride within your limits and don’t be tempted to ride at a faster pace which puts you into the red. Effective pacing on long climbs can be the difference between finishing each day on your bike or in the support vehicle.
Get out of the saddle
You are going to spend most of your time seated during a long climb, but it’s good to get out of the saddle every now and then. Standing will take advantage of you body weight, there are no set rule’s to now often or now long you should stand, many riders select to stand for around 20 – 30 seconds.
Standing is also a great way to use your bodyweight to help maintain momentum when faced with steeper gradients.
Cycling up a mountains is just as much a mental battle as it is a physical one.
If you are riding within a group, remember that the person next to you, in front of you and behind you is probably hurting as much as you. When things get a bit tough try to control your breathing, keep a steady rhythm, relax your upper body and stay within your limits.
If it’s simply a case of reach the summit, then think positive thoughts, focus on how far you have done and what you have already achieved rather than how far there is to go. Keep spinning your legs and take the time to look around you, it’s more than likely you are surrounded by stunning views.
Eat & Drink Plenty
When you are working at less than 70% of your maximum heart rate your body will naturally access fat as a fuel source. On a climb, the chances are you will be working above this zone so you will need to keep topping up with carbs, this is because your body now needs glycogen. Therefore, it’s best to eat little but often during your ride.
Hydration is another key area to success when riding in the mountains, it’s very important especially if the sun is beating down on you, so don’t forget to keep drinking throughout your ride.
Service Your Bike
I always tell people “look after your bike and your bike will look after you”
Let’s be honest there is nothing worst than something going wrong with your bike, so treat it to a full service before you go on holiday. Get your bike shop to check things like your chain, that your gears are adjusted properly, that your brakes are fitted with new brake blocks and that your tyres are not over worn. If you use Di2, make sure your battery is full charged and always bring your charger.
It’s also worth bringing a spare rear derailleur hanger, these seem to get damaged during transportation even if you are using a bike box.
Choosing the right gear ratio is one of the most important things to get right when it comes to riding long climbs. Your gears will have a serious impact on how how quickly your muscles will fatigue during a climb, day and the week. Therefore, having the correct gearing will maximise your enjoyment and minimise your suffering.
We recommend using a compact chainset (50-34) and a rear cassette of either 11-30 or 11-32, these options will allow you to spin your legs on the climbs.
The weather in the mountains can change very quickly and unfortunately weather forecast’s are not that reliable. So we recommend packing for the worst conditions and hoping for the best. Therefore, pack arm and leg warmers, waterproof jacket, long fingered gloves and over-shoes in addition to your summer cycling gear. There is nothing better than having a warm jacket waiting for you in the support vehicle at the summit of a climb.