Euro stage race season is upon us, with events like the Alpentour Trophy at Schladming, TransGermany and the Beskidy Trophy providing the entree. These events are akin in timing to the Giro d’Italia, while TransAlp runs in a parallel timeslot to the Tour de France. This means that there is still 5-6 weeks to go until TransAlp, the focus of this article, and racers should be finalising their preparations. Now is not the time to slack off, but also not the time to overtrain. But just what will TransAlp expect of you as an athlete ?
Ideally, having been training with your team mate in the lead up to the event, you will both have a good idea of your team mates strengths and weaknesses, and arrived at a set of reasonable expectations from the event. For some a GC position as high as possible is the goal, where as for others simply enjoying the experience of crossing the Alps on bike and having an memorable time is more appropriate. But whatever way you look at it, TransAlp is a race! If you’re not racing at the front, or with teams nearby, you may be racing the clock to come in before the cut off.
This brings us to the dreaded start box. Take particular note, this is where the Euros comprehensively out play us more relaxed and polite Anglos! If aiming for a high position, you simply must do as well as possible on day 1. Your seeding for the start box the following day is based on your overall category position the previous night. As I mentioned in part 2 of this series, holding a UCI license has in the past helped out getting into the first start box on day 1.
Mixed teams and female teams have a generally easier time with the start box. The composition of Group A or Start 1 is typically the first 20 Mens Teams, first 10 Mixed, first 5 Female, first 10 Masters and first 5 Super Masters. As you can see, as a Male Pairs in Group B, you could already have 50 teams ahead of you on the startline, even though you may be running 30th on GC. It gets worse, as the start box order within Group B isn’t determined on merit, it is first come first served. As a consequence, the line up for the start box starts up to an hour before the stage start. A popular tactic is for the team mates to stake their claim to a start position within the box by leaning both bikes against each other allowing you to attend to last minute hydration, eating and constitutional issues. But rest assured, as the start time nears, the box will get congested, people will appear over fences, and space will suddenly be found for compatriots and colleagues in places you wouldn’t imagine possible! HOLD YOUR GROUND!
Obviously, further back in Group C and beyond, the possibility of a good stage result is very much limited due to the sheer number of teams already ahead of you at the start.
So with limited training time left, what lessons can we learn from the demands of the event ? Fortunately some people have ridden TransAlp with a power meter and published the data on the web.
Figure: Stage 2 data from TA 2009. 2095 vertical meters, 55 km, power is green trace. Energy 2245 kJ.
Studying Transalp 2009, the first stage was cancelled due to too much snow, so stage 2 represented the first competitive stage. Right after the blaring “Highway to Hell” finished, the race hit an immediate climb and saw a high 30 minute power required to position well within the field. Think 280W average for the first 35 mins, with an average of 258W. In a shortened 3 hr stage 2245 kj of energy was used.
Stage 3 (4 hrs, 88 km, 2773 kJ) saw the realisation that one rider of the team was stronger than the other, and was run with an average power of 238 Watts. This often happens, a team must be able to cope with a mutually compatible pacing strategy. The balance of strength can change over the event too, with one team mate coping with the repeated days better than another who may have started stronger.
Big climbs at TransAlp allow for a rhythm. Rhythmic suffering! © CRAFT BIKE TRANSALP powered by NISSAN/Peter Musch
Stage 4 was the Queen stage featuring 3600 vertical metres over 4 distinct climbs, 86 km, and was run in 5hr 20 mins by the study’s racer. A massive 3786 kJ was used and the average power was 234 Watts. During this stage they sustained 270 Watts for the first 1 hr 15 mins which was their highest 1 hour power output of the entire race. However they paid for their efforts and had to back off for the rest of the stage.
The following stages saw sustained high energy consumption of approximately 3000 kJ per day. You will notice as the stages wore on the average heartrate and power drops continuously as the effects of fatigue and high sustained energy consumption take their toll. This stresses the importance of a good recovery each day through the immediate consumption of quality carbohydrates and some protein with adequate rehydration. If warm (35 deg C is possible) water loss due to sweat can be suprisingly high due to the low humidity air.
There are several conclusions to draw from this valuable data. Zone 4, the “Threshold” zone, is the most important training zone for the long sustained climbs. You need to tailor your training to hard sustained efforts around your FTP power. Think “hard tempo” efforts over several hours. Data suggests that amongst the best Masters teams around 320W is required on the climbs, with the elite Men sustaining around 350W (assuming an average weight somewhere near 70kg).
Secondly, energy consumption is rather higher during Marathon stages than for equivalent road races. Make sure to practice eating on the bike and be prepared to eat more than you may imagine. This is not difficult with the excellent feed zones and also the post stage feast. The nightly pasta party also allows the chance to savour some of your favourite cheesy Euro anthems along with some local fare.
Lastly, as a matter of pacing, be sure to save some energy in reserve. The race is 8 days long, and you will tire substantially, but the well known rule of thumb is you can definitely go backwards from day 5 until day 8 if you have prematurely spent too much energy on the first stages. Don’t go VOLLGAS (as the Germans say, meaning full power) until day 5 perhaps ?
If you are racing TransAlp this year, best of luck! Savour the experience