The taper is a crucial, but often underestimated aspect of the entire training programme.
If you’re doing the Alpe d’Huez you should now be starting the Taper, if you’re doing the Issoire stage, you have another few weeks hard training ahead of you before commencing it.
Heading towards this final stage, those of you on the Alpe d’Huez course will have hopefully just completed your final Sportive, while the Issoire riders will have one pencilled in this weekend ahead of your own taper.
The Taper signals the end of your training. For shorter events, this can last for up to 7 days, but for longer ones it can be anything from 10 to 21 days, depending on your primary goal for the season and the race distance.
As the Etape is most likely to be your number one target this year and a very lengthy race, I’m recommending a generous 2-3 week taper.
By definition, tapering is a reduction in the training load for a period of time proceeding a competition, The purpose of tapering is to promote full recovery from and adaptation to the proceeding training, thereby optimising your performance on the day of the Etape.
Training load can be condensed by reducing the volume, frequency and / or intensity of the training programmes, however the way you reduce this and the way you respond will be dictated by your previous experience.
That said, if you have little or no experience don’t worry, follow these guidelines and I’m sure we will get you there in the best possible shape.
What to do
We are going to structure the taper over a three week period, all commencing with the final Sportive. So if let’s look back to June’s training and the Tuesday / Thursday sets in particular:
The previous Tuesday rides from the June training were very very intense, 8 8 2’s done three times over the 90 minute period.
These Tuesday rides now become a fairly easy 90 min ride on the first and second week, throwing in 2 x 5, 3, 1’s at some point during the ride – the old faithfuls. Thus we are having an easier ride on the Tuesday but maintaining our intensity with just 2 sets of hard intervals.
Thursdays however bring in a slightly different concept.
With the Tuesdays we are going to promote our leg speed and our general lung blow outs.
So Thursdays which were a very tough day consisting of 2 to 3 4,4,4,4’s now become an easy 60-90 minute ride depending on how much you have been doing and how you are feeling after the Tuesday ride.
We are going to bring in 3 x 1 minute downhill high cadence sprints into this ride. These sprints can be done on a gradual downhill or with a tail wind, an easy gear, go for maximum cadence over the period of 1 minute. So this cadence might vary between 110 and 160 rpm’s, it’s a maximum that you can maintain for 1 minute. These will seem very very hard, particularly on the cardiovascular system but they leave the legs very fresh.
Interspersed with this we are going to do 3 x 20 second sprints, these are about 200–250metres in a fairly big gear, just marking a lamppost, for example 200-300 metres in front of you, checking that the road around you is clear and sprinting as hard as you can for the 20 second period.
It doesn’t matter if it’s slightly less than this if you run out of steam, the point is to give your legs and lungs a good blow out. This can be done as the 3 cadence sprints first and the 3 full sprints second or alternated but often the way these are performed is dictated by the terrain and where the clear roads or the down hills come into this training ride.
These could be done on the trainer, however at this stage of your preparation with the evenings long, the good weather and the Etape just around the corner, try to get out on the bike at every available opportunity.
Do rides little and often with a few of these ‘blow outs’ are the best.
These can drop down for the first weekend of the taper, to 100-120 km of just fairly solid riding, there are no efforts anymore, the 20 minute efforts are done now, these long rides now are just designed to keep your mileage base up without leading to increased fatigue, remember this is all about adaption now.
So the first week is a solid 100 – 120 km depending on how you are feeling, the second week of the taper, i.e. the weekend 10 days before the race you are looking at a 80-100km ride thus cutting it down again. If (and you know your body and how well it has trained better than me) you feel you need a bit more mileage just to stay ‘topped up’ just increase it up to around the higher end of that spectrum, anything above this starts to tax the body and leaves you drained and prevents the adaptation. These rides and principles behind these rides now are all straight forward.
The week proceeding the Etape, again try and get out for 90 minutes on the Tuesday, at this point just do 2 x 10 minute intervals at what you perceive to be race pace, so an easy 90 minutes but with 2 x 10 minute race pace intervals, again on the Thursday prior to the race doing the 3 sprints and the 3 leg speed sets is absolutely ideal.
As you move in towards the race, on the day of travelling, when you get there, if you are getting there in the morning or afternoon, try and assemble your bike and get out for an easy 1 hour spin as quick as you can if light and weather are permitting.
The travelling will tighten your legs up a little bit, particularly with the pressurisation of the plane cabin so getting out as soon as you get there services several needs:
One it flushes the swelling out of the legs created by the pressurisation of the aircraft cabin;
Two, it is your first taste of riding around France which is a lovely feeling, you know you are there and you feel a part of the whole environment and getting used to the road surfaces and air temperatures.
Three – and most importantly – you can check to see that your bike has made it in one piece, that your assembly is correct so very quickly you can get that booked in at a bike shop if you need to.
Try and have the day off two days prior to the race, often having the day off immediately before the race leaves people lethargic so a day off two days prior to the race is a great day to recce the course in the car, something we will talk about in our next article. If after this recce in the car you are feeling a bit tight don’t be afraid to go out for another 20-30minutes to loosen the legs up again, it is not going to do you any harm and not going to leave you drained for the race.
The day before the race, I always go out for an easy hour, but again I do my 3 x 1minute cadence sets, chopping down to 15 second sprints in a slightly easier gear that I have done the previous ones in. Again, don’t be afraid to get the heart rate up and to get a bit of zip and zing in your legs just so that they are fresh and ready to go the next day, the one thing you don’t want to be is lethargic following this taper.
A quick check list from June for you:
The group riding should all be sorted and should you feel confident now.
You should have formulated your travel plans and researched the course,
Your bike should have been booked in for a service
You should have ordered your new tyres and new tubes and had the bike shop have put these on for you during the service
You should have ordered your nutritional supplies and hopefully they will have already arrived
One thing I would like you to do in preparation for the next article is order a large roll of industrial bubble wrap and some masking tape if you are taking a bike bag, a cardboard bike box. Even if you are taking a plastic bike box, the bubble wrap can be useful.
I will go through how to pack the bike, things to take, final preparation, course presentation and what to expect in the next article, which will be online in the next 10 days. In the meantime try and hone all that fitness you have been building in the last six months into precision for the final push in training.
Enjoy the taper, it is always good but reduce your volume and your training load, but make sure to maintain a high frequency of training. Training less often than you used to may leave you feeling flat and lethargic, keep your confidence high and your stress levels low, intensity-wise err on the side of doing too little, this is the biggest mistake people make in the taper, they lack the confidence to back off their training miles, they continue on and this leaves you worse on race day than doing too little.
As I say, if you have a fear of doing too little, get out more often but for less because the only thing that can go wrong on the taper is being too lethargic. Pay attention to sleep nutrition and hydration during the taper and as I say no more long racing 3 weeks prior to the Etape.
I hope all this makes sense, enjoy the taper, you have earned it and make sure on all your rides you visualise riding through the mountains of the Central Massif or the Alpes of France.