Training for the Tour De France & Raising Money For Cancer
Back in December (2011) a gentleman called me up and said he wanted to meet with me about doing some training because he wanted to ride in the Tour De France. We met at my facility to discuss what he had in mind and immediately I was intrigued as I knew it was going to be an interesting program.
Doug, a 52yr old masters cyclist, was looking to go to France in July and ride some of the Tour De France (not the actual race part that the pro guys are competing in, but an exhibition ride that takes place on the same stages the pro guys ride about one day before the pro guys role through – other pro’s and semi-pro’s ride this exhibition so there can be some heavy hitters here too). Doug has a left knee that will need to be totally replaced and was told by someone that strength training would be the best thing for him to help strengthen the muscles around the knee – so he figured having a strength coach work with him would be a good compliment to his riding program.
We began that day with some assessment and discussion of my ideas on training and preparation for the event and Doug informed me about who he was thinking about using for his cycling program. I told him this wouldn’t be a problem as long as the cycling coach could give him the program for me to look at so that I could make sure what we are doing at the gym does not conflict. We decided that this would work out just fine and we would begin in January as he was going to be traveling through Christmas and the New Year.
Two days after our initial meeting Doug called me up to say that he thought my ideas of preparation were interesting and was wondering if I could write the cycling program as well that way he didn’t have to bounce back and forth between two different coaches. I told him I wasn’t sure because I never wrote a cycling program but if he gave me a few days to do some reading I would let him know. Off to the library and Barnes and Noble I went for the next week! Reading. Thinking. Taking notes. Reading some more. Thinking Some more. Taking mote notes.
After a few days I let Doug know, “Yes, I can do it!”. After all, writing a program for cycling is not that much different than writing a program for other sports as long as you understand the physiological demands, you understand the energy systems you are attempting to focus on, and you understand how to sequence the training so that it makes sense in the big picture.
Tour De Roni
Before I get into talking about the training I would also like to bring awareness to the Tour De Roni fund that Doug was dedicating his Tour De France ride for. Doug is raising money for Roni, a young woman who is battling with appendiceal cancer. If you are able to donate anything or willing to spread the word about Doug’s fund and post this to your facebook or twitter pages we would greatly appreciate it. Here is the website for more information on donating – http://www.giveforward.com/teamroni – and here is Doug explaining the Tour De Roni cause (he did videos along the way through his entire Tour De France):
This was one of the most exciting experiences I have had as a strength coach because controlling all aspects of a program is really the best way to get what you want – this doesn’t always happen in the team environment where the sport coach can take the athletes and put them through grueling practices causing you to have to alter your program to balance things out a bit.
We began with some physiological testing to get an idea of where Doug’s max HR was as well as his anaerobic threshold. We also discussed all of his training over the past year to get an idea about where he was at and what he was doing. Like many endurance athletes I have worked with his training was a bit “scattered” – intervals one day, a hard spin class the next day, hills a following day, a long ride the next, a day of weights, maybe another long ride with lots of climbing – it was all over the map and lacked focus! Additionally, from our testing I could tell that Doug was leaving a lot of performance on the table because most of the training he did concentrated on extremely intense rides at high heart rates, basically trying to ride himself into the ground, not allowing for optimal recovery and a balance between quality hard work and quality restoration.
With all of this information I created a chart of training methods that we would draw from in our first two phases of preparatory training blocks. My initial goal was to back Doug off the high volume of intense rides through the week and build some volume using more cardiac output rides so that we could improve the function of his aerobic system and get him to rely less on his anaerobic system so that he could sustain higher power outputs with a lower percentage of his max HR. The program worked perfectly and within 5 weeks we rested his time trial ride and found that his power was through the roof in comparison to his first test and he was also riding at a faster pace at the same relative work rate. For lifting in this first phase we performed 2 workouts per week of just general strength training (3-4 exercises per session, 2-3 work sets x 8-10 repetitions).
Through the next phases of the program we hammered the aerobic system with a variety of rides and methods – hill repeats, cardiac power intervals, and high resistance spin bike rides – additionally lifting was increased to 3x/week with the intensity on two of the days being higher (3 exercises, 2-3 sets x 6-8 reps per set) and one of the days performing oxidative squats.
As we began to get closer to the event Doug’s fitness was really taking off. He was crushing hard rides, his power output was still increasing, and the speed he was riding at had improved nicely. He was hanging with some bigger riders on the road and was feeling very confident in his riding ability. Our last phase of training was the most intense and cycled through weeks of lactate power and lactate capacity using various climbs to prepare Doug for the climbs he would face in France. This phase was brutal but Doug hung in there, busted his butt, and reaped the benefits. One of the main benefits we saw in this phase was that during testing Doug’s max HR was now 10 beats higher then what it was at the start of training in January. The strength training program in this phase dropped to 1x/week with only moderate loads to maintain strength and we also used soft tissue therapy in this phase to help buffer stress resistance and allow him to be prepared for his harder rides.
This last phase of training was true overreaching. We trained Doug into a bit of a rut and saw a little bit of performance decrement before I backed off training with about 10 days until he needed to be in France. Doug was pretty beat up from this phase but we used some recovery modalities and easy rides to get him comfortable and back to normal and it worked extremely well. By the time he was ready to leave Doug was killing rides again – he even went up to Colorado to do some climbs.
The entire program was monitored using a recovery index profile that I use as well as the Bioforce HRV to help us understand how Doug was tolerating the stress of training.
Doug’s goal was to do well at the Tourmalet stage (one of the brutal climbs out in the Pyrenees). Doug did this event two years ago and felt that he wasn’t as fit, riding with the class C riders, and he even opted not to ride the Tourmalet that year. But this year would prove to be different for Doug. Doug, riding with the class A riders and being the oldest athlete out there, crushed the Tourmalet being the second rider in his group to cross the summit (the first rider was a pro cyclist who finished in the top 20 in the big race in Australia a few months prior). Doug did not miss a day of riding the entire time he was in France – over 300 miles of riding and over 28,000 ft of climbing. A successful Tour De France indeed!
I know it is common for strength coaches to just say “endurance athletes are weak and we need to just make the stronger”; however, I find this statement to be a bit limiting. Endurance athletes need specific physiological adaptations to excel at their sport and just training guys to be stronger and lift more weights, while important, should not be the main goal of training. The goal of training should be to improve them in their sport and this comes down to understanding their physiological and individual needs and then Tweaking Their Physiology to help get them there.
Once again, if you can spread the word about the Tour De Roni fund it would be greatly appreciated. As Doug says in the video above, “Cancer Sucks”.