The Great Italian takes us back to the era of heroic cycling
In three weeks I will celebrate my 49th birthday (please don't send any gifts) which makes at least two things true; firstly, my best riding form is almost certainly behind me and secondly, I am easily old enough to remember an era when cycling was both a minority sport (Tour de bloody what?) and gloriously unpredictable.
Last night I reluctantly left the comfort of my pillow top mattress to flick on the TV for another night of sleep deprivation and hot Milo. Almost 24 hours later I am still buzzing at the spectacle of stage 5 in this years Tour de France and here's why:
My first experiences of watching the Tour were in the mid eighties and despite the grainy images, ignorant sports-show hosts and 2 week delay, I was transfixed by the heroic riding from names like Bernard Hinault, Laurent Fignon (RIP great man) and our own Phil Anderson. Cycling is and always has been a team sport but in those halcyon days a rider like Hinault would attack (alone) anywhere and everywhere. Any time he spotted the slightest opportunity, the badger would rip the race apart. Crowds loved him and his brash manner of riding a bike, he was (and probably still is) my hero. Fignon, similarly raced in stomping style at the Tour de France, most notably attacking relentlessly in 1984, beating Hinault by almost 11 minutes and again in the epic battle with Greg LeMond in 1989. In fact the race widely lauded as one of the best tours ever is only so regarded because of the panache of Fignon.
Somewhere after the zenith of 1989, the sport of cycling begun an incremental slide into a more predictable, maybe sterile shadow of it's former self. Riders and team managers figured out that technology, calculated training regimes and carefully scripted race strategies produced results (I have intentionally left out the gorilla in the room). As a consequence the flair, once a defining feature of cycling, was smothered out of the sport. Each year I watched the Tour hoping for just a tiny look back at 1985, but I was swimming hopelessly against the current. Don't get me wrong I still love the tour, but I find myself gravitating towards the more dramatic racing at the Giro and the Vuelta (thank you SBS).
Vincenzo Nibali is my new hero and there were times last night where I felt like a 20 year old watching a Tour re-run from 30 years ago. The great Italian has "channeled the Badger" twice already this year (remember stage 2?) and has set the scene for one of the best tours in many years, others now have no choice but to rip in and I for one cannot wait. This is not Vincenzo's first "dash of panache", last year he battled freezing temperatures, snow and our own Cadel Evans to win a monumental stage to Tre Cime Di Lavaredo, attacking the race and everyone in it, even though (or perhaps because) he already held the Maglia Rosa.
I make my living these days from testing cyclists and writing training programs based on the numbers, so I may be part of my own problem? But I can't help but think that "riding to the numbers" belongs in the realm of training and that race day is a time to set the instincts free. So today I rode with no technology attached to my bike, thought of Vincenzo and went "freestyle".......what a liberating experience it turned out to be, just like ripping around Akuna Bay in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park when I was 22.
Thank you Vincenzo and thank you Bernard. And to the ASO (Tour de France race organisers), don't listen to all the pissing and moaning about how cobbled stages don't belong at the Tour. Last night, along with shorter punchy mountain stages, was part of the devolution of cycling and the buzz around the story is the ultimate validation of a brilliant decision. I have often heard it said that racing in the manner of Hinault was not possible anymore without drugs, well I disagree and if we are to believe that our sport has exited the dark era of EPO, then last night was exhibit A.
The Tour is "BACK" and I am so happy......now where is my Milo?
Nutrition for Cyclists, Five Keys for Successful Refueling
There is no doubt that nutrition is important for all athletes and given that many cycling events (and training rides) can be anywhere from one to six hours in duration, getting the fuel intake right can make as much as 25% difference in power output. That's correct, a critical drop in blood sugar can lead to power loss of more than 25% and many reading this blog will know exactly what that feels like.
This of course is not the forum for a full tutorial on high performance sports nutrition, but here are five very important tips that will help you avoid sabotaging your next long training ride or important race.
ONE: Research shows that the maximum rate of carbohydrate absorption during exercise is around one gram per minute or 60 grams per hour in mid-range weather conditions. This is about 250 calories or two and half gels (depending on your brand choice). Any more than this and your gels will accumulate in the gut and cause gastric upset.
TWO: Consume slightly more food in cold conditions and slightly less when it is hot / humid. This is because the body's temperature regulation processes significantly affect carbohydrate absorption rate. So around 90 grams (almost 4 gels or 360 calories) per hour is advisable in cold conditions and approx 50 grams (2 gels / 200 calories) when it's hot.
THREE: Don't mix your electrolyte drinks with your food intake. High levels of electrolyte can slow carbohydrate absorption and increased ingestion of carbohydrate will interfere with the absorption of your electrolytes. Bottom line, try to allow at least 10 minutes between intakes of your hydration fluid (other than water which will not adversely affect CHO absorption) and your carbohydrates. Avoid supplements that "mix" the electrolytes in with the carbohydrate as these generally don't work well.
FOUR: Eat well before you ride. A meal rich in carbohydrates, preferably low to medium GI, around 90 minutes - 2 hours before you ride/race will help to preserve some of your stored glycogen and increase the time to fatigue during longer rides or races.
FIVE: Use quality nutrition to assist post-ride recovery. You have a fairly small window after your workout or race in which to re-fuel. Miss this window (30-90 minutes post-ride) and your absorption of nutrients will be significantly impaired. Your post-ride meal should be rich in both carbohydrates and protein to assist both the replenishment of your stored glycogen and any necessary muscle repair. In this instance higher GI foods are fine and pasta with a protein-enriched topping is an excellent choice (rice is OK if you prefer). Of course don't forget to re-hydrate as well as you will most certainly be dehydrated, even after riding in colder temperatures.
Hope that helps you get a slightly better grasp on some of the important elements of cycling nutrition. Look out for my Cycling Nutrition eBook, coming soon to the site.
Train Smart, Race Hard
Brian Bubba Cooke
Exercise Physiologist, coach & cycling tragic for 30 years. Love the freedom, reward and sense of achievement that one can only experience in our amazing sport.