Cycling, like any endurance event, presents a challenge when it comes to tapering. The idea is to train adequately while getting sufficient rest before the big event. There’s a natural tendency among endurance athletes to overtrain, racking up too much mileage and high-intensity training in the weeks and days leading up to a race or longer distance event. As a result, they underperform at a time when they’re looking to peak.
The key, says performance specialist Darcy Norman of Athletes’ Performance, is to strike a balance between necessary training and rest. “You want to keep your car revved up, spinning the tires to keep things working well,” Norman says. “But not so much that you’re going to need a new set of tires.”
Here are four things to consider when plotting your taper prior to your big next cycling event:
Have a plan.
Athletes usually do a great job mapping out training rides and non-cycling training in the weeks and months prior to an event. But a tapering strategy often goes overlooked. The key is to consider the days and weeks prior to the big event just as carefully as you do the high-volume work earlier in your training. View your taper not as extra rest before a big event but as a gradual reduction in training load. That reduction can take the form of less volume (mileage), frequency (training sessions), or intensity (how hard you’re training). The key is to reduce quantity but not quality. Such a formula also applies to swimming, running, and other endurance events.
Factor in experience.
A less experienced athlete will need a longer taper than an elite-level racer. That, along with the length of the race, will dictate the length of the taper. “A beginner who is doing a race for the first time will need a longer taper period since they don’t have the training history,” Norman says. “A more advanced cyclist won’t need nearly as much. They can tolerate back-to-back races, hence the Tour de France.” Depending on your experience level, the taper could range from two to three weeks (for novices) to five to seven days (for more experienced riders) where you gradually unload volume.
With tapering, it’s better to sacrifice some aerobic conditioning while maintaining your anaerobic fitness. So dial down the mileage and frequency of training sessions, focusing on shorter bursts of high-quality work. That can be a challenge if you’re accustomed to group training rides, where there can be both huge volume and periods of high intensity.
A group cycling or spin class can be a simple solution since you have a lot more control over your efforts on a stationary bike. “It takes more effort to find rides that meet goals of your taper,” Norman says. “If you live in a hilly area and your goal is to spin easy, that’s hard because inevitably you have to climb. Cycling classes and spin bikes can be used to control what you’re trying to accomplish. But the downside is that it’s not as exciting. You’re not outside and don’t have the scenery to keep things interesting.”
Don’t reduce volume completely.
Much like active recovery days are a part of any part of your training calendar, they should be included in a taper. “A one-hour, low-volume, low-intensity ride where you just go out and spin can be very valuable,” Norman says. “Just spin the legs to keep the blood moving, but nothing too hard. It’s almost like what you’d do with a warm-up for race, spinning the legs and getting the blood moving in anticipation of your big event.”
For more racing tips, visit www.CorePerformance.com/race.