Episode #46 – Tapering and Peaking for Optimal Cycling Performance

Episode #46 – Tapering and Peaking for Optimal Cycling Performance

It’s a critical time for athletes. There are physical and mental elements to get it right like maintaining fitness, while gradually reducing fatigue. But also getting your mind right and making the call to stop chasing fitness, are extremely determining factors covered in this episode.

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My advice is get your head right before you move into this period. A shift in mindset is just as important as the physical aspect of tapering. For me it’s summed up in one word: Confidence.

“If you don’t believe in what you’re doing, you won’t make progress even if you physically could”

This could be used throughout training, but I see the role of creating confidence very important when we are talking moving into the tapering block.

There are two parts here that are important takeaways for the mental side of a taper.

Remember this when you are moving into your final block. Make it count, make it quality. This is when your race winning fitness is built.

Once you enter taper- it’s not time to get fit. there is no room to have a sneaky full session workout. Be prepared for this.

“What will help you believe that you’re ready?”

 Here’s Joe Friel’s take:

“The basis of the training structure for the Peak period is to simulate the intensity of a portion of the targeted race every 72 to 96 hours until seven days before the event. To do a simulation workout you select a segment of the event that is critical to your success and practice exactly how you will gauge output (power or pace) and input (effort and heart rate) for that segment. For example, there may be a hill on the course that is critical to how well you perform on the day. Find a similar hill, warm up and then simulate the intensity you plan to use in the race.  Or it may be that the course is flat and you need to maintain a specific intensity to reach your goal. Rehearse that intensity in each of the simulation workouts. That intensity could be based on heart rate or on pace, power or perceived exertion as compared with heart rate.

So if you do a race simulation every 72 to 96 hours in the Peak period what is done in the two or three days between these workouts? You do short, easy, recovery workouts or take a day off. The idea is to be fully recovered and ready to go again for the next simulation.”

I know that doing this gives me the confidence to race because when it comes down to crunch time, I have done the work to go deep where it counts.

Is this something that will help you? For me a big part of confidence, is the ability to be realistic, to truly know within yourself what you are capable of. Whether from past performances, performance potential, natural ability or motivation.

Let’s talk Taper Length:  The length of the taper depends on how fit you are coming into the Peak period….The more unfit you are the more important it is to continuing training and creating higher levels of fitness until perhaps as little as seven to ten days before the big race.

This is going to a judgement call. Like I have repeated I do believe it’s more important to build confidence, and if riding harder a little longer is going to give you a mental boost then do it. Understanding the trade off could also help you make the call when enough is enough. If you can recover in time, stopping 7 days out would be the absolute minimum I’d be aiming for.

This all comes down to the art of coaching though. The especially difficult part for semi-pros is managing all of your life in the lead up to the event, not just the riding and sleeping. Other factors will creep in, and this is where keeping an eye on the numbers and how you feel plays a big part.

While there are conflicting results on taper length: here are some general rules: (long races mean long tapers), (high fitness means long tapers), (injury prone athletes should taper longer), and (older often athletes need longer tapers).

Being fresh, is only one part of the equation.

There are three elements of physical preparation that you are trying to balance in the last three weeks before your A race – fatigue, fitness and form.

Leading up to n event you want to maintain fitness, and gradually reduce fatigue so your form increases. Then you are peaked and ready to race. So how do you do that?

I’m going to run through an example by Joe Friel, this is by no means the be all and end, it’s all about listening to your body. If you’re experienced and trust your instincts then it will be easier than someone that is unsure what to do, so is a guideline for you if you’re not sure where to start.

Start with two to three weeks before your A race. This is where the race-intensity workouts which simulate the conditions start. Do these every third or fourth day. For most athletes doing these every third day is better. These workouts gradually get shorter as you progress through the first week or two of the Peak period.

With the workouts getting shorter the weekly volume is also dropping. That’s good. It should drop rather rapidly. Something such as a 30% to 50% drop each week is about right. The intensity for these intense workouts should be at least heart rate zone 3 or tempo power or “moderately hard.” Such intensity is the key to maintaining fitness.

The two or three days between these race simulations are the key to reducing fatigue and elevating form. They should be low intensity, low duration workouts that also get shorter as the Peak period progresses. So what you are doing is mixing the two key elements – intensity and rest – to produce race readiness at the right time.

The Week of the Race: Now you want to emphasise rest even more but still need to do just a bit of intensity to maintain fitness . Three or four workouts this week in which you completed several 90-second intervals at race intensity (for short races) or at least zone 3 (for long races), with three-minute recoveries. Five days before the race do five of these 90-second efforts. Four days before do four times 90 seconds. The pattern continues throughout the week. I believe the easiest day of this week should be two days before the race. This is usually a day off or at the most a very short and low-intensity session. The day before should also have some race like intensity within a very brief session.

Make sure you document all of these workouts and how you felt during the race. Chris McCormack offers another way to plan your taper.

And just quickly another factor to consider is strength work. In a perfect build up I like doing strength work up until 3 or 4 weeks before the event. The recommendation for cutting strength work is the last 10–15 days before an event to allow for adequate time for the muscle to rebuild and regenerate before the beginning of the competition. It is also advisable to avoid eccentric muscle contractions (applying tension while lengthening the muscle) during taper as this type of muscle stress can cause micro-tears that take time to repair.

So to conclude: The ingredients for a successful taper are—reduced weekly volume (freshness) and an emphasis on intensity (fitness). So the key to tapering is keeping workout intensity at high levels while resting more.

Tech, Hacks & Products

An oldie but a goodie. Road tire wiping.

Do you wipe your tires after you go over glass or other similar debris?

I’ve used my fingers, gloved palm and even a bidon to wipe tyres during riding. FAIL!

There are some technical arguments for and against tyre wiping, but i must say I believe it’s just a habit passed down through riders. I’m not exactly sure when it started but it would have to be something about saving your tubulars. Although, relevant to some people today. Indeed I started after seeing other in the bunch doing it.

My vote is to not do it. I don’t see the point, and I cringe to think of every time I did it with my ungloved fingers. If you’re concerned just check out your tires over carefully next time you stop. 




Photo Credit: photobyaaron on Flickr


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