Colconquerors - Cycling Holidays French Alps

Performance Development vs High Altitude trips, Sportives & Tours.

Rob Hawkins

Performance Development vs High Altitude trips, Sportives & Tours.

Before we dive into the detail it’s important to understand the different focuses of each type of activity.

1) Tours, High Altitude trips & Sportives

Our cycling tours and high altitude camps are designed to provide people with a real challenge, experience the mountains and provide a real focus for training stimulus and of course just getting away from it all on the bike and having a ton of fun because after all that’s what riding is all about. We try to remain flexible and always look to understand peoples experience and fitness levels in advance of a trip to ensure we can plan accordingly. There is always coaching advice and guidance on hand but it’s less of an integral part of the trip than a PD Week.

2) Performance Development Weeks

I prefer to call Training Camps “Performance Development Weeks” because I feel that this reflects what we actually do more accurately. The training camp has become known certainly in some circles as a week where you go away and flog yourself for a period of time not always with the emphasis being on the future development of the individual. There is of course nothing wrong with hard training hours but it’s essential that these weeks actually provide people with the tools they need to go on and become a better, stronger and more knowledgeable rider than they were when they arrived.

Typically in a Performance Development Week we will focus not only on physical fitness but also look at developing and refining techniques on the bike whilst understanding how to supplement your riding with other supporting activities that will have knock on benefits when riding (core stablity/bike position etc), there are dedicated sessions to work on core stability during the week. We don’t stop there either, the mind plays an important role in riding especially in challenging situations so we aim to equip people with strategies that will help them cope with the most demanding of situations both now and in the future.

We target these weeks to really allow people to understand what it takes to become a stronger rider and reap the long term benefits. It really is a week away on your bike, focused totally on getting the most from your time and setting you up for future success.

Performance Development

How many Miles are Ridden during Tours, High Altitude and Performance Development Weeks?

Great question. To be totally honest this varies depending upon the ability of the group and also their riding aspirations. During one of our High Altitude weeks we will ride between 400 and 650km over the course of the week with the latter number being the amount of riding covered during our Galibier to Ventoux tours.

The performance development weeks will see distances of up to 700km per week but the days will be more structured and the rides tailored to work specific aspects of performance development in addition to of course enjoying the riding. In PD weeks distance covered and intensity levels also depend on the time of year (Start of winter or beginning of spring).

How many Meters are climbed?

Now this is a much better indicator of the level of intensity during a stay with us. On a daily basis we’d climb between 2000 and 3600 meters on a high altitude week and if you pushed me for an average daily climb over summer I’d go for 2,500 meters a day.

To differentiate, during a Performance development week we may climb a similar amount but there would be a performance focus to the rides for example we may be working on developing bike specific strength or helping people to work on their threshold level whilst climbing or developing the aspects of fitness required to ride at higher intensity for a period of time during a climb. It’s important that when people leave they are armed with knowledge that allows them to train specific aspects of their performance out on the road as well as the turbo time in winter and then engage with a coach if they choose.

How many hours would you typically spend in the Saddle?

On a Cycling Tour such as the Galibier to Ventoux depending on ability you’d be spending 5 to 7 hours in the saddle and there would normally be a break for lunch to reconvene and also a coffee stop on route on some days as well.

During a performance development week you’d be spending 4 - 6 hours in the saddle and although there would be a break at some stage riding is more continuous. Breaks during these weeks are used not only to refuel but also to review progress and determine how the specific session goals are progressing, this can even extend to on the road video analysis - seeing yourself riding during a training session can really help people understand what they can work on to further their performance later that day or the following morning. Why wait when improvements can be made on the spot? It’s also important to allow for suitable recovery between riding days so we aim to be back a little earlier to provide additional recovery time ahead of the following days ride and also to discuss the days training.

What effect does altitude have?

This is a big one to be honest. Over the years I’ve seen people react to staying and riding at altitude in many different ways. The impact of altitude on performance is the one thing that people don’t take into account when preparing for a tough event or trip to the alps. When you watch the Tour or Giro on TV you can’t physically see the difference it makes and in my mind this seems to push it to the back of peoples minds.

Certainly hydration is critical both on and off the bike to minimise the basic effects of altitude and I recommend always drinking plenty pre and post rides regardless of the type of trip.

When riding reduced availability of oxygen being transported to the working muscles leads to people feeling more fatigued than normal and there’s a definite perception that riders are working harder than they normally would do for a give performance output. In a high percentage of people that I’ve ridden with during the first 48 hours of a trip Heart Rates are 10 - 15% higher than people are used to for a given effort. This comes as a surprise to riders of all levels but is often a cause of much discussion especially when Heart Rate miraculously drops 48 hours later and performance seems to increase.

It can take several weeks to realise the full benefits of training at altitude and (increase in red blood cell volume, capillary density that allows more blood and oxygen to be delivered to the muscles used during cycling and finally for the kidneys to produce EPO (legally!) and it’s this increased ability to transport oxygen that us endurance athletes look for to counter balance the effect of having reduced oxygen available in the air that we breathe when at altitude.

It’s a common misconception that you can only train for altitude at altitude but integrating high intensity intervals into your training regimen will typically enhance your performance when in the mountains for a holiday or tour. I’ve had this discussion many times especially from people that live in very flat areas of the UK!

Is a Performance Development Week harder than a High Altitude Week or tour?

High Altitude trips, tours and sportives can be very challenging depending on peoples physical conditioning leading up to the trip where as a Performance Development week will require more focus on specific aspects of riding so there can be quite a lot to think about in addition to just riding each day.

The answer is actually NO, they are just different - the one thing for sure is that after a Performance Development week you will undoubtedly improve your performance the next time you tackle a major riding challenge.

Alps training camps with Colconquerors

To finish

I think it’s very important to state that regardless of the type of trip riding a bike is about individuals and no one approach fits all, some things work for a certain person and others do not. Riding in any type of challenging environment is about discovering your strengths and weaknesses and then working on both to move forward.

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