By Jean Baptiste QUICLET, Pro cyclist coach
Over the last few weeks, youve been piling up kilometres and stringing together training sessions, some long, others intensive. The goal youve been preparing diligently and rigourously for is getting seriously closer. In only a few days, youll be on the start line, ready to go. These last moments of preparation must be approached carefully, with one goal in mind: to sharpen up!
In a training environment, sharpening-up means two things: it can be used to define losing weight (I get slimmer in order to climb more easily) or to refer to the pre-competition preparation phase. Its this second meaning that this article will concentrate on.
The event youve been preparing for for so many weeks will be, without a doubt, demanding: the effort will be long and intensive, will take place high up, in the heat or in heavy rain, in the cold, etc. Youll therefore have to be in full control, physically as well as mentally, and youll have to arrive with an optimal level of fitness and fatigue. Your physical condition is fine, as youve prepared seriously, and so you can be confident. However, in terms of fatigue, youre very doubtful, worn out by all the effort put in over the last weeks. This weariness is starting to seriously worry you. This is where sharpening-up comes in.
A duration, an objective
The sharpening-up phase replies to a double issue: to maintain (or even improve) your physical condition whilst reducing the fatigue resulting from the last weeks of preparation. The sharpening-up phase mustnt be too long or too short: your level of fitness mustnt be lost, but at the same time you have to recover enough in the hope of performing well at the end of this sharpening-up phase. With these conditions in place, one week or ten days of sharpening-up will suffice. Over a longer period, you run the risk of losing your fitness level (and confidence). Obviously, the length must be modified according to how tired you feel, training carried out, if your competition is a one-off or if youll participate in several competitions in a row, etc. Only a one week sharpening-up phase? Seven days is enough but only on the condition that youve lightened your training load for ten or so days, around a month before your goal. In that way, even if you add volume after that, even if its close to the competition youve been preparing for, your level of fatigue will be reasonable enough so that one week of sharpening up will allow you to reduce the tiredness generated, and not lose your level of fitness.
During this sharpening-up phase, your global training load must be significantly reduced. For example, if you normally ride 400 km per week, 200 are enough during the sharpening-up phase. At the same time as this drastic drop in volume, you should continue to train intensively so as not too lose your fitness level (and stay confident), which should be carried out in an intermittent form, with intensities above 92 % max HR (zone 5). Your wont do this intensive training each time you go out but only during one in two sessions.
Your sharpening-up phase must obviously be adapted to the context, which is never the same. Theres clearly no typical preparation week, lets say ideal and to be repeated, in order to be efficient. Its up to you, every day, to evaluate your level of fitness and fatigue, your constraints (professional, personal)..., weather conditions, etc.
Recover without feeling guilty
A lot of cyclists find this recovery period before their goal difficult, very difficult in some cases. They feel ill at ease generally, guilty for not training intensively, they feel anxious, especially about the possibility of losing what theyve acquired after a long period of training and about gaining weight. In short, they see this period as stressful and negative. On the contrary, these last days of preparation should be considered a good moment to decompress in order to be at their best for the forthcoming goal. Over the long weeks, youve been in serious training, in difficult weather conditions, juggling various constraints (professional, personal...). These few days of recovery should therefore allow you to recharge your batteries and so be ready to go.
Take time during these few days to sharpen up but dont destroy all the work youve done in a few days out of negligence! Your must stay concentrated on your training, your diet, your sleep, etc.
OVERSTIM.s advice: in order to recharge your batteries with energy, dont forget MALTO in the 3 days before your event. MALTO ensures an increase in your energy stores without have to eat a lot.
Recovery, yes, but for how much progress?
Your performance obviously wont just take off at the end of these few days. Successful sharpening-up allows you to gain in performance by around 5 %.
Only 5 %? This progress is far from negligable: in one hours exercise, climbing a long mountain pass for example, how many minutes will you gain with 5 % progress?!
Many cyclists radically change certain of their habits in the last few days of preparation because on Sunday, its the competition: they do more stretches, go to bed earlier, drink large quantities of water, etc. Dont make these mistakes: the body hates sudden changes! Sharpening-up is a personal matter. There isnt one, unavoidable session or ideal length. Wanting to recreate the training of such and such a champion is a mistake. You should adapt your training to your own context.