Fuel on the move
You need ensure you are taking on enough calories and staying hydrated when you’re in the saddle, and even more so whilst tackling the Alpine cols. Whilst it’s perfectly ok to enjoy a beer or two with dinner, a mix of water and electrolyte drinks are a better choice for during the ride!
I recommend carrying two bottles on your bike – one filled with plain water, and the other filled with an electrolyte drink or similar. You could even carry an additional electrolyte tab with you to add into the water later in the ride if needed. Don’t underestimate how quickly you can lose essential salts on a dry sunny day in the Alps. Staying hydrated and replacing salts will help stave off cramp.
The correct food and drink is very important. Take the energy bars, flapjacks and gels (find some you like!) And don’t forget that extra gel for the possible “bonk”.
Power to weight
Tackling steep gradients is all about your power to weight ratio.
For example, if a rider can put out 250w for an hour (FTP) but weighs 90kg then they have a W/Kg of 2.7. Whereas a rider with an FTP of 180 watts but who weighs 62kg has a W/Kg of 2.9. The lighter rider with only 72% of the heavier riders power will ride away up a mountain. Weight matters when riding uphill.
A lighter bike, or a new pair of lighter wheels, may make a small difference to your ride, but it’s not a cheap solution! Losing weight from the body before coming out to the Alps, even just 2kg, can make a huge difference to your efficiency when riding and perhaps more importantly your time on the climbs!
Fasted rides are a great way to lose weight. Just a 30 to 60-minute Zone1-2 spin on an indoor trainer first thing in the morning before breakfast will boost your metabolism throughout the day. Eating a healthy balanced diet with plenty of lean proteins and vegetables will also go a long way to helping you shed a few kg. However, don’t eat too little during high training volumes or you won’t recover as effectively.
Train, train and train some more
Try to ride as often as possible whenever you can. Whether you ride in a club, with friends, or in sportives. Time in the saddle is very important. As Merckx said, “ride as much, or as little, or as long, or as short as you feel; but ride!” Don’t neglect your core training either as this help with the climbs.
Prep that bike
Make sure your bike is totally road and mountain ready. This means checking it before you leave, and again after re-assembling once you have arrived; handlebars, cranks, brakes, wheels. My suggestion on gearing would be a compact 11.28, or possibly a 30 or 32 if you prefer. This gearing is much more suited to climbing and helps spin a little more. Extremely helpful for those tired legs at the end of the day and on the last Col!
Fine tune your climbing style
There are many styles of climbing when ascending a Col. The best method is simply the most comfortable for you; whether you are “Contador” and stand up frequently, or “Froome” who stays seated and spins. I personally stay seated for the majority of the climb and then stand up on the corners to stretch my legs and back. In terms of stance, you should be sitting upright with your hands on the tops as this opens up your chest and lungs. I recommend moving around in the saddle a little every so often to release tension and change avoid the same muscles being overused.
Make sure you don’t go off too fast at the start. Make sure you know how the length and gradient of the Col and pace yourself correctly. Get into a comfortable rhythm, and then slow down a gear or two. This allows you to hold something back for a strong finish over the last few Kms.
Dress the part
In the summer months, the weather in the Alps is very dry and hot, so dress accordingly but make sure you have enough clothing to put on at the top for the descent. Whether it is a gillet, arm warmers or gloves; be prepared. The weather can change dramatically and quickly in the Alps.
Control the descent
For many riders, this can be the fun part; but there are many rules to adhere to and absolute concentration is a must. It sounds ridiculous, but you must make sure you look immediately ahead of you, and beyond, so that your peripheral vision is picking up any possible hazard. Be aware of other riders, vehicles and road transformations; holes, cracks, unusual camber etc. Anything that could throw your wheel out.
My three main tips for descending:
- Always look where you’re going, not where your wheel is, or at the other riders around you. Whilst you absolutely need an awareness of those around you, you should be focusing on the entry and exit of the corner. Look in the direction you want the bike to go.
- Keep the outside leg at 6’o’clock and press down onto the pedal firmly. You don’t want to hit your pedal when your bike is leaning over, and keeping pressure on the outside of the bike will help to stabilise it.
- Go with the flow and have confidence! Descending is a skill, and even experienced riders can take 2-3 days to get into the flow of it when they return to a particularly mountainous region.
Now get out there and practice! We have several trips running in summer and autumn 2018 taking in some of the Alps most challenging cols. What better practice could there be?