If you are heading overseas to tackle some of the iconic European climbs you are not alone. As spring defrosts the northern hemisphere thousands of passionate cyclists will head over to test their endurance for distance and intensity.
To make the most of your trip you’ll need to prepare. Up your training gradually to have maximum fitness when you arrive. Climbs are high and roads are long and you want to be able to go the full distance, so set the bar high so you can handle the intensity. You need to prepare for more difficult days than coasting ones and plan to slug it out for six to seven hours on some routes.
In addition to increasing your endurance through training rides you’ll want to partake in careful preparation in the week leading up to your big ride. To get this right, you may need to get what you need and have everything ready well before you pack your bike.
This last-minute prep work includes changing your gears, upgrading your breaks and packing the right clothing.
To be able to tackle the steep gradient climbs of Switzerland, France and Italy you’ll need a lower gear range. The usual ride combination is a compact set on the front (50/30) coupled with the largest tooth sprocket you have available on the back, which might be 29, 32 all the way up to 36, depending on the maximum sprocket your derailleur can handle.
For safety and confidence you’ll need to look at your breaks and possibly upgrade either your breaks or break pads or both to be able to handle the long descents and sharp hairpin bends. You may be facing descents as long as 30km on more than one occasion so you’ll need the gear that will last through the heat and pressure.
Different airlines treat bikes as baggage differently. Check with your airline to see what their policies are and what you need to do ahead of time to get your bike sent with you, there is normally a baggage excess fee. Be sure to have the carrier you need delivered well ahead of time, i.e. a bike box or bag if you don’t already own one and have your bike cleaned and packed well before you check in.
If you don’t feel confident doing the service yourself ask a bike shop to do the clean and pack your bike for you (with new cassette) while they are at it.
Be prepared to arrive at the airport earlier than you would when travelling bikeless to get your oversized luggage checked and secured. Some airports ask you to x-ray your bike box in a checking room before you can check in.
While summer months can get searing hot on a climb it can be icy cold on the decent. Pack a lightweight jacket or gilet as well as a base layer vest or two.
It’s also handy to learn a few key phrases in other languages where you will be riding. This is helpful not only if you get stuck and need a lift or repairs (or the toilet), but also when you encounter local cyclists, you can say hi. A big part of the adventure is connecting with other riders and taking a side tour of their favourite routes.
Of course you don’t plan on anything happening and the odds are most certainly in your favour, insurance for travelling is for those rare instances when things go wrong. Be sure to get coverage that allows you to cycle (some companies will tag that as extreme sports) and get coverage for your bike and equipment as well. The little bit extra is worth the peace of mind.
The day before an epic international ride loosen up and clear out lactate acids with a gentle ride with some intermittent sprints. Over the course of a gentle one-hour ride incorporate two increasing level sprints. So ride easy for 30 minutes, then take it up to a hard pace for ten minutes and finish with a one-minute flat out dash, then repeat.
This will loosen your muscles and shake out any lactic acid build up from training or that stagnant flight over.
Carb load in the lead up to your ride to tap into a sustainable energy source and remember to keep the carbs flowing when you’re in motion. When carb loading, eat the kinds of foods you would normally eat, it’s not a good idea to try a local dish just before your ride or you might have uncomfortable side effects on the road.
Before you go to bed prepare your bike and lay out your clothes. Now is the time to check everything over and make sure it’s 100 per cent ready to go.
You will need a lot of energy to successfully complete your ride so that means a lot of fuel. Skimping here will cost you big, possibly leaving you stranded on a quiet road someplace.
Every hour make sure you are taking on 500ml of water and 60g of carbohydrates. It’s a lot and it will feel like it but it’s what your body needs to pump out all those watts. See about substituting food for energy drinks here.
Finally, pace yourself. The multiple mountain climbs ahead are significantly different to the hills you tackle at home, that’s why you are there after all! Find a pace that will last and save some energy for that final finishing push to the line.Seeing a new country and taking in the sights and sounds on your bike? That’s freedom!