How to approach a week of big rides in the mountains
A week of riding big days in the mountains can make even very fit riders question whether or not they can manage it. There are three simple strategies which make a huge difference. We help all our guests apply them. They are:
These are part of every ride, but they take on extra importance with four or six big rides in the Pyrenees back-to-back. Here's a breakdown of each one:
Mountain days are not grand fondos, when you would give everything, finish empty, then have a few days or more to recover. Nor are they even like a weekend big ride with a rest day to follow. If your previous experience of comparable rides comes from single day events, it's likely that you're imagining trying to do four of those in a row, which is a frightening thought for anyone.
Instead, you should manage your pace throughout the day to keep it sustainable. We encourage efficient group riding at a comfortable, conversational pace on the flatter parts, usually with our guide on the front setting a smooth tempo and eating wind for the group. On the climbs, we help everyone find their own sustainable rhythm, especially early on when it can be tempting to smash into the first kilometres too hard if you're used to short 5-10-minute hills like most Brits. We also take breaks at various points, which makes a big difference.
Gearing is another element of good pacing. The rental bikes out here all have appropriate gearing (eg 34x32 bottom gear). If you're planning to bring your own bike, check out our guide to gearing and get confident that you're well-equipped.
As with pacing, nutrition changes for four big rides in a row versus one at the weekend. Similarly, you should avoid finishing the ride empty because you can’t afford to be depleted the next day, whereas at home a big Sunday ride would usually be followed by a rest day.
Have a big breakfast, eat regularly throughout the ride, top up immediately back at the house, then enjoy a big dinner. We will help with all of this: we provide a big breakfast with lots of choice (and advice if you would like it), homemade ride snacks, protein smoothies and cake when you return to the house, and big dinners that are designed to be healthy and appropriately nutritious, as well as tailored to any dietary requirements you may have.
A full set of good recovery practices makes a massive difference. Few people do this for weekend rides, partly because it can seem onerous, partly because they have several days to recover, and often because they're simply unaware of the benefits on which they're missing out.
Here's an overview:
• Hydration - drink plenty on the bike and keep drinking through the evening. Keep a bottle with you to sip
• Carbs - it's really important to replenish your glycogen stores. Get some carbs in immediately post-ride and have lots at dinner
• Protein - this is often presented as the silver bullet for recovery but it's third most important here. Get a bit post-ride and have a balanced dinner
• Compression leggings - I swear by these and wear them after every ride. They squeeze the toxins out of the muscles post-exercise
• Massage - we have an excellent local sports therapist who comes to the house; we also have a massage gun and foam rollers which really help
• Stretching - a five-minute routine is enough to really help. I can guide you through it
• Rest - simply stay off your feet and relax; maybe have a nap in your room before dinner
• Sleep - get to bed early
• Alcohol - avoid it! It’s the absolute enemy of recovery. Go without for a few nights and then after your last ride you can toast an epic week.
Do these things and I promise that you will be utterly amazed at your ability to keep going through the week.
// THE MISSING PIECE
The element we haven't mentioned here is training. A bit of extra fitness goes a very long way in the mountains. You don't need to turn your life upside down and train like a pro to make significant gains ahead of a trip, nor take the fun out of your riding by doing 'specific stuff'. We can suggest some sessions and you will find lots of training advice in the Journal section of our website. Two months or more is enough for a big improvement, but under a month is what's called 'panic training' and won't be effective, it will just make you tired.
If you have any questions about this article, or anything about staying with us and riding in this beautiful area, please contact us. We would love to hear from you.