If you’re planning a cycling tour in the high mountains, like the Pyrenees, the Alps, or the Dolomites, use our 6-step guide to prepare for your trip.
CYCLING IN THE HIGH MOUNTAINS: THE GUIDE
When you signed up for the tour you probably had an ambitious training plan which would get you to an optimum fitness level. Often, work, family and life in general all get in the way of this.
1. Rest is Best
First things first, do not worry. The most important step is acceptance of your state of fitness because it is possible to enjoy a tour in the high mountains with any fitness level.
You must travel to the tour well rested. Do not attempt to cram in last minute training because there will be no physiological benefit in this short time frame. Continue to spin the legs and do your normal social/weekend rides.
Any intense block training programs should end 1-2 weeks before the tour to allow you to recover and rest.
2. Bike set-up
The bike you use for the tour should be treated to a full race service. Although you will not be racing, conditions in the high mountains are harsh on your bike, equivalent to a race. Descending large descents wears out brake pads and heats up rims, rough roads and rain can result in punctures if your tyres and tubes are not serviced/replaced, bearings are very hard to replace remotely and you don’t want that creak for 2 hours climbing each mountain, do you?! It’s money well invested on your own bike, or go for a rental bike which will be set-up and serviced perfectly for the conditions.
3. Bike components
Gearing is the most common mistake in the high mountains. You will always want more gears, so go for the maximum: Compact crankset (50-34) and large cassette (11-32).
Carbon rims should be used only by experienced riders, who can give the rims adequate time to cool down. Disc brakes can be safer in wet conditions.
Think about your contact points: saddle and shoes. Use what has worked best for you in the past and don’t make any last minute changes or upgrades. If you rent a bike, bring your own saddle and pedals.
Related closely to training and recovery, your diet influences how you perform and your enjoyment of the tour. “You are what you eat” has never been a truer statement.
Try not to drink too much alcohol on the run-up to the tour and keep your diet consistent to what you know works well.
On the tour stick to nutrition that you have tried and tested. It’s fine to reach for a gel at a time of need but if you don’t normally use them, do not start the day with them. Eat as much normal food as possible and only reach for the sugary treats when you have to.
Straight after your ride try to take in a protein shake or snack straight away. This is when your body needs it most and is essential to effective recovery for the next day.
Our favorite saying is; “there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing”. Weather in the high mountains can change quickly and forecasts are not that reliable. Even if your tour takes place in the middle of summer, at the top of the Stelvio pass (2,800 m elevation) it is cold all year round.
Pack cycling kit for all conditions, including shoe covers, long fingered gloves, a buff and a very good waterproof jacket. Laundry is normally done every other night on tours so bring at least 2 of everything.
Your daily ride bag (for the support vehicle) should contain a full-set of kit which you will cherish after a downpour.
6. Know your ride & Pace Yourself
Effective pacing on a long hard ride can be the difference between finishing the day on the bike or ending it in the van. You will often see the key climbs written on the top of a professional riders crossbar so he/she knows when to get in the right position or just when the suffering will end!
If the ride involves 3 climbs then its best to leave the all-out effort to the last one. If you know your threshold power or heart-rate, you should be staying below this to ensure you do not burnout too quickly. Don´t let other riders tempt you into the red too early, know your limit and ride within it.
We hope these 6 points help you to enjoy your epic mountain cycling tour this summer! If this has got you excited about the possibilities of cycling in the mountains, why not take a look at our tours in Italy, the Pyrenees & the Alps?