Last updated on March 28th, 2018
The Tour de France, also known as La Grande Boucle (The Big Loop) in its home country, is a yearly bicycle race that usually spreads over 21 stages. Although the routes change each year and they can sometimes even cross into neighboring countries, the Tour de France generally spreads over an average distance of 3,500 km.
If it sounds like one of the most difficult challenges that a cyclist undertakes in their lifetime, that’s because it truly is. Completing the Tour de France is a physically and mentally demanding task that takes a lot of training and dedication. Hence, participants undergo strict training routines beforehand.
Physical Fitness Levels
It’s no secret that all Tour de France participants need to be in top shape to last the entire three weeks in the race. But just how fit do you have to be? Studies conducted on various Tour de France champions along the years have unveiled some interesting facts about what physical characteristics are the most optimal for succeeding in such a grueling race.
Seven-time champion Lance Armstrong, a.k.a. the most famous American man in France underwent several tests at the Human Performance Laboratory of the University of Texas. The tests were conducted between 1998 and 2005, which is the exact period of his winning streak.
The results were astounding. Not only was Armstrong the most powerful cyclist ever tested, but his body had adapted to Tour de France conditions over the years. What is even more surprising is that Armstrong had gone through and won a difficult battle with cancer in the years prior to his entering the race.
Tips for Amateur Cyclists
This goes to show that an intense and organized training routine can make a winner out of anyone. On top of that, the intense training routines of the race’s winners can teach some valuable lessons on what the proper cycling workout is. Here are three things that all amateur cyclists should learn from Tour de France winners and their training routines.
1) Outdoor Cycling in Varying Terrain
As previously mentioned, the Tour de France spreads along 3,500 km of France and sometimes neighboring countries. This means that participants must cycle through an array of difficult terrains. This can prove to be a big challenge, which means that anyone that wishes to achieve the necessary skills needs to be prepared for any situation.
According to Chris Carmichael, Lance Armstrong’s personal trainer, the most important thing to build up Tour de France-worthy skills and endurance is to train in varying forms of terrain to mimic the conditions of the actual race.
Carmichael suggests a routine called “hill attacks” in order to master this skill. The secret behind cycling uphill is to vary your pace accordingly. To start this routine, you need to perform a 30-minute long warm-up. Warming up is always important before undergoing intense physical activity because it gets your body ready for what is to come.
The best environment for this exercise is a hill that requires a 3-minute bike climb. Spend the first-minute cycling at your most rapid pace, then push your boundaries a little before jumping out of the saddle and sprinting for 20 seconds straight. Resume the rest of the climb at your naturally fast pace. Allow yourself to relax for six minutes afterward.
Ideally, this should be done in one set that contains four three-minute intervals. As you progress, you will be able to complete even two or three whole sets of hill attacks with great ease. But as an amateur, make sure to take it slow and pace yourself.
2) Indoor Cycling for Endurance
The Tour de France is made up of 21 day-long stages that spread over 23 days in total. This means that you need to have an amazing level of physical endurance to pull through. Naturally, cycling outdoors will also help with this, but you need to do it way more often than before if you want to master this skill.
Cycling indoors, which also known as spinning, can help build endurance easier. This happens because spinning feels harder than outdoor cycling due to a difference in the way effort is perceived by the human body. A brief guide to spin workouts will get you started in the right direction.
Due to this difference in perceived effort, the same amount of indoor cycling can build more endurance over time, even though at first it might tire you easier. So, if Tour de France-level endurance is what you’re after, spinning is a good addition to your training routine.
For added to convenience, you can even buy your own exercise bike and workout at home. Then, when you feel ready, you can build up difficulty levels yourself. The important thing is not to start off too strong and work your way slowly towards your desired physical capacity.
3) Working on Speed
During the Tour de France, speed is of the essence. While physical fitness, endurance, and other factors come into play quite heavily, at the end of the day the one with the best time overall wins. As detailed by The Telegraph, the cyclist with the best time in each stage gets to wear the famous yellow jersey, and at the end, the overall winner gets to keep it.
Although most of the stages of the race consist in long, tedious trials that span across difficult terrain, there are also two or even three shorter ones that are called time trials. Although at first you might be tempted to think of them as the easy ones because they’re so short, time trials can, in fact, be harder than a long race.
Therefore, Chris Carmichael stresses the importance of speed training for time trial intervals. An ideal set lasts 30 minutes, with another 30 minutes for a cooldown.
This type of workout can be beneficial for any cyclist, not just those planning to participate in the Tour de France. Time trial training can help you improve your lactate threshold, which in turn allows you to maintain a steady speed throughout any cycling session. For further reference, the lactate threshold is the level of intensity a workout has before lactic acid accumulates in your bloodstream faster than it is processed.
This causes an overflow of this substance and in turn, induces vomiting and fatigue in an athlete. By heightening the threshold more and more, you will be able to withstand the most intense physical exercises. Of course, this comes in handy primarily during a race, but it will make you a better overall rider as well.
Should You Go Pro?
The aforementioned cycling tips are valuable steps to add to anyone’s cycling routine. Whenever you engage in physical activity, it’s important not to stagnate and always work hard to achieve progress. The best way to do this is by always upping the difficulty levels in your exercise plan and trying new things constantly.
However, the three things that you can learn from Tour de France winners that were discussed before are also a good addition to your routine if you want to go pro. But should you go pro? Is it worth turning your exercise routine into a fulltime occupation?
The answer to this question is up to you. If you love cycling, there are quite a few advantages to becoming a professional cyclist that could one day partake in the Tour de France or other similarly engaging competitions in this field. For one, you will have the amazing occasion to do what you love at an elite level. The admiration and world recognition will also come as a bonus.
However, you need to consider that your life will be put under scrutiny. Furthermore, it can be terribly draining to have to maintain insane amounts of physical fitness for such extended periods of time. Thus, going pro has its disadvantages as well.
Tour de France winners are the pinnacle of the cycling world, and this is all for a good reason. Thanks to years of intense training and amazing progress, they managed to not only master cycling in any environment and under all circumstances, but they also made their bodies adapt better to their craft.
For this reason, most Tour de France winners are champions several years in a row. Amateur cyclists have a lot to learn from these seasoned pros. The tips they have to offer regarding training routines are of course useful if you’re planning to go pro yourself, but they can also help someone who just wants to enrich their exercise plan with more challenging steps.
All in all, when you’re looking for new ideas on what to add to your routine, learning from the masters is always a good place to start. This is why taking tips from Tour de France winners, and their personal trainers can be a great opportunity for any amateur cyclist.