Getting ready for the Tour with Richard Carapaz
Performance manager Nate Wilson outlines Richie’s Tour de France prep
Richard Carapaz’s victory at the Mercan Tour Classic Alpes-Maritime was a first prize for the work that he and his teammates have been doing to get ready for the Tour de France.
Before heading to the Alps to kick off their pre-Tour racing block, they spent a couple of weeks together high in the Pyreneés at a camp in Font-Romeu, France. The efforts they put in there are already starting to pay off.
“This victory is the result of the hard work we’ve done in those 15 days,” Richard said after winning the Mercan Tour Classic Alpes-Maritimes. “We did a great camp in Font-Romeu with the team. When you do things right, you have the power to show off what you’ve trained for.”
In Font-Romeu, Richie and his teammates trained very hard indeed.
Font-Romeu is a Pyrenean ski resort nestled just over the French-Spanish border, about two hours drive from our service course in Girona. It is stationed at about 1800 meters: the ideal elevation for a bike racer to be in May. Go any higher, and the roads are still likely to be covered in snow. It’s also a good middle ground for both altitude natives and riders from sea level to benefit from the thin air without overtaxing their bodies and hurting their ability to recover. The primary aim of any training camp is to get in good work on the bike.
“For this camp, the big objective was to set the stage, so the riders’ fitness will be good enough that they will get better when they start doing the harder races that we are going to do in June,” says EF Education-EasyPost performance manager Nate Wilson. “The guys who are clearly building towards the Tour want to be good enough that when they do the Daupiné or the Tour de Suisse, they are going to get better, because those races are so hard now that if you are at 96%, they might take you to 100%, but if you are at 90%, they might take you to 86%, because they have just put you in so much of a hole in terms of the recovery. The hope is that you come out of this camp quite fit, fit enough to race at the front of races like Dauphiné, and, because you are racing at the front, you get a bit better from it, and then you come out of Dauphiné needing to basically take the last step.”
Our team’s first week in Font-Romeu was focused on allowing the riders’ bodies to adjust to the altitude. Because there is less oxygen available to fuel their efforts in the thinner air, riders’ bodies begin to produce more oxygen-carrying red blood cells. Those cells will remain in their systems for several weeks to power more intense efforts, especially over the 2000-meter-plus cols that our riders will face in races like the Dauphiné, Tour de Suisse, and Tour de France.
When riders first go to altitude, they have to moderate their efforts, however.
“When the guys come in with a good shape and a good base, we can get into doing relatively high volumes of work pretty quickly, but we have to be really careful with the intensity,” Nate says. “That is super important. Everything will start with low threshold for at least seven to ten days. For the first part, we were doing pretty general aerobic base work, basically long hours on the bike with a lot of vertical climbing meters and just getting time riding at altitude.”
Nate always reminds his riders that they won’t be able to push the same numbers at altitude as they are used to doing at sea level. Instead of focusing on their power output, he encourages them to train according to their heart rate on their Wahoo.
“The heart rate is the best feedback for what the internal stress is,” Nate says. “The powermeter is the measure of what the mechanical output is, what you are producing for the effort, but really we want to be training effort, so heart rate lets us focus towards that. The only thing with heart rate is that the range gets a bit compressed at altitude, so at easy paces, your heart rate might be elevated, but your max heart rate comes down a little bit as well. You have to have that understanding. With all of the data that we use, it is important for the riders to understand that the best way is to combine those data with their own sensations and how they feel, and I try to coach them towards that.”
Once riders had adapted to the thinner air, the really hard work began. Richie and his teammates did interval after interval on the long, steep climbs near Font-Romeu. The effort you saw Richie do to win the Classic Alpes-Maritime, where he accelerated again and again on the steepest slopes of the Col de Valberg to crack his chasers, he practiced dozens of times at camp.
“The second part of that camp was race preparation,” Nate says. “We started to do a little more intensity over threshold, some intensity right on threshold and some days that were kind of a mix of intensity, bringing it all together closer to what we would face in a race.”
Although those efforts were very intense, it was important that our riders could also relax in Font-Romeu. The coming months are going to be the most stressful of the season. The pressure will only mount as the Tour de France approaches. The Tour is always the highest-stakes race of them all. Before embarking on that adventure, it was important that the riders could decompress while getting in the work they needed to do on their bikes and that they could really get to know each other away from the races and television cameras’ glare. In Font-Romeu, everything was taken care of for them. They had a chef to cook healthy meals, a mechanic to make sure their bikes were in order, soigneurs and a chiropractor and nutritionist to consult, and coaches to follow them in training.
“We want the rest of the camp to be the other side of the coin to what the training stress is,” Nate says. “We train hard but in order to benefit from the hard training we want the recovery to be as good as possible, so we just make it simple with not too much on the schedule and a good process around recovery. Nutrition, massage, having some down time, and getting into bed at a good time – that’s the most important stuff. A lot of these guys are going to do races together in the coming weeks, so just being able to spend time together and get to know each other and be re-familiarised with each other off the bike as well as on the bike is really helpful.”
Camp was also an excellent opportunity to dial in our equipment for the Tour de France. Richie and his teammates tested the Vision wheels and Vittoria tires that they will race for each stage of the Tour de France. Richie also spent time getting comfortable in his time trial position on his Cannondale SuperSlice. Every ride was fueled using the Neversecond system that our team will use in the race. The riders also slept on their new Eight Sleep temperature-controlled mattresses, so they are all set for the Tour.
First up is the Dauphiné. There, Richie and his teammates will aim to make the most of the form they built in Font-Romeu and fine tune their fitness for the Tour de France. With several big mountain stages on the schedule, the Dauphiné is going to be a big test. Afterwards, Richie will head to Andorra for a higher altitude camp with some of his teammates.
“The first step there is going to be recovery and sleep and good food,” Nate says. “And then we will start doing the last little bit of work before the Tour, which will still be big climbing days, but at that point we will also get behind the scooter and do a bit of motorpacing to make sure that that race rhythm that got introduced at Dauphiné doesn’t go away.”
The Tour de France starts in one month. After Richie’s victory at the Mercan Tour Classic Alpes-Maritime, the whole team is confident. We’ve got a plan. There is still a long way to go.
“Things are good. Everyone is healthy. Everyone’s form is improving,” Nate says.
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