I've just finished a week of watching the USA Pro Challenge as it wound its way through the mountains of southwest Colorado, to the front range, and down to Denver for the conclusion on Sunday. While one day was spent in a team car, most of my time involved watching from the sidelines and in the hotels we shared with the athletes between stages. Whenever I do this there are two things that always stand out for me.
The first is the patience of the peloton. Once the break is formed to nearly every team's satisfaction early in every road stage, there is a time of peace and patience within the peloton. With a group of riders up the road there is no need for heroics, and the markers of intensity - power and heart rate - reflect this. If you followed the daily tour data posting here at TrainingPeaks you've probably seen this "settling" that occurs early in the race. The peloton is pacing itself. That's a wise move.
Several hours of constant attacks with spiking heart rates and sky-high wattage would be more than pointless; it would be a complete waste of energy and threaten not only the well-being of the riders but also that of the race itself. There would be many more "abandons" were that to happen. Better to use the group's limited energy reserves conservatively. There will be time in the last hour or so to pull them back. Patience. Pacing. That's hard to do but necessary for success regardless of your sport.
The second thing that always stands out for me is the riders' concern for rest and recovery. Following a stage I seldom saw riders milling around in hotel lobbies. They were already preparing for the coming day's stage by making sure they were recovered from the current day's. That meant, first of all, staying off of their legs. I've always told athletes that at this time in the day they should not stand if they can sit, and they shouldn't sit if they can lay down. The best way to recover is with sleep. Take a nap. Veg-out.
The next most important element of post-race recovery is food, especially carbs (primarily) and protein (secondarily). It was apparent that the riders were good at this. In fact, there was an exercise physiologist there who is an old friend and works with several of the riders. He told me of a new device he was using to actually measure nutritional recovery. Amazing technology! This isn't on the market yet, but expect to hear more about it soon. It's a scanner that gives a visual impression of the riders' leg-muscle, glycogen (carb) stores.
What he was finding was that some of the riders replenished their glycogen within two hours of finishing a stage. Others needed six hours to accomplish this important task. The differences are probably mostly genetic, but may also be a result of how much is eaten, what is eaten, and how soon it is eaten. And as the week progressed he said that the same riders required more time to restock glycogen.
To go hard and long the next day you must focus on refueling. Sports drinks, bars, gels or whatever it is one eats while on the bike in a race is not nearly as effective and efficient as the glycogen that is already stored in the muscles at the start of the race.
Whenever around truly elite athletes I always see this same rock-like patience and an unwavering, daily dedication to recovery. This accounts, in part, for their success and serves as a good lesson for each of us.
For more action from the USA Pro Challenge, view daily race files and stage analysis on our USAPC homepage.
Joe Friel, M.S. is the author of ten books on training for endurance athletes including the popular and best-selling Training Bible book series. He holds a masters degree in exercise science, is a USA Triathlon and USA Cycling certified Elite-level coach, and is a founder and past Chairman of the USA Triathlon National Coaching Commission. For more information visit his website at www.joefrielsblog.com. You can also view and purchase Joe's training plans on TrainingPeaks.