Demanding activities, such as the major stage races, require an effort that is repeated for many consecutive days. To deal with this competitors need to develop special characteristics, in particular the ability to recover overnight (including restoration of glycogen stores). They also need to be able to deliver good performances on demand, for instance during specific periods of the race, such as mountainous and time trial stages or during breaks.
The old cliché, "they make it look so easy" is often used by us recreational athletes when watching the elite perform, but when the years of training and racing (around 35,000 km per year for the Pro cyclist) and the nutritional strategies are taken into consideration, it becomes clearer as to how these riders can cope with the gruelling challenge day after day.
For us mere mortals however, completing a 2 or 3-day tour comprising of 60-70 miles each day will be our biggest challenge, so the correct preparation and techniques will ensure that we can achieve our optimum performance throughout. For the novice considering a multiday cycling challenge it is important to look at the typical distances involved. Target the average stage distance and use it to form the base of your training. Take careful account of the climate and terrain that will be encountered and try to mimic in your training similar circumstances to those which will be tackled. It is often argued that those preparing for the marathon do not actually need to train over the same distance, and in agreement with this, construct your training so as to incorporate multiday activities but not over the full event distance.
To ensure successful recovery following the day's riding, there are several quick steps that can be taken. Firstly, start the preparation for the next day's cycling whilst still on the bike. Encourage yourself to drink fluids and consume adequate food. Fluid and electrolyte replenishment is crucial in maintaining cardiac output and regulating body temperature during exercise. Elevations in body temperature can sharply impair performance. Studies have shown fluid replacement must occur both during and after exercise. Electrolytes usually found in sports hydration drinks can accelerate re-hydration by speeding intestinal re-absorption of fluids and improving fluid retention. The key electrolytes are sodium, potassium and magnesium.
Often you will find that your thirst mechanism is insufficient in motivating you in your quest to restore your fluid and electrolyte balance. You must be aggressive in drinking fluids containing electrolytes throughout and after the ride. Set your heart rate monitor alarm to go off every 15 minutes to remind you to take a sip. Never find yourself feeling thirsty!
Secondly begin to replenish depleted muscle glycogen stores with high glycemic carbohydrates within 30 minutes after the ride to optimise recovery. Sports drinks are ideal for this as they are easy to drink and are convenient. Early research studies have demonstrated the success of carbohydrate supplementation both during and after exercise on the replenishment of glycogen stores. The regulator of glycogen replenishment is the hormone insulin, which increases the transport of glucose from the blood into the muscle and stimulates the enzyme responsible for the conversion of glucose into glycogen. Insulin is so important in recovery from exercise that it should be termed the "master recovery hormone". Recent studies have further shown that combining a carbohydrate supplement with protein can stimulate insulin levels and glycogen replenishment in a synergistic fashion. It is not uncommon nowadays to find popular sports recovery drinks containing a combination of both carbohydrate and protein to enhance recovery.
Thirdly: plan your recovery. For the more competitive cyclist heading into the summer, it is not uncommon for your racing schedule to look something like this: Saturday and Sunday races, and the inclusion of a mid-week training race. If you intend to fit in a recovery ride between back-toback races, make sure your recovery rides are only long enough to stimulate the active recovery process. Keep your riding intensity below 65 per cent of your maximum heart rate during active recovery rides. This will help the recovery process by increasing blood flow and reducing muscle soreness.
Also try to take a power nap after the ride. A nap is great for recovery and rejuvenating the spirit. Sleep is your body's natural daily recovery cycle. Encourage this by trying to build in an afternoon nap as part of your training program. Nightly sleep should range between and 8-10 hours. If you are dropping below 8 hours of sleep per night, you could be eating into your body's natural recovery cycle.
Finally, following a hard day's effort in the saddle, each Tour rider will receive a well-earned massage. An effective massage will, among other benefits, increase your blood and nutrient supply to the musculature, re-establish proper muscle tone and stretch connective tissue; all allowing for more rapid recovery for the next day on the bike.