9 Proven Tips to Triumph in Your Pre-Race Week

Cycling Taper Week

Getting the pre-race week wrong can let your goal race performance fall through.

It happened to me in the past. But racing against pro cycling’s big names like Mark Cavendish and with the best balance of evidence, I found better ways. Because if you put in all the hard work like long-enduring rides, interval workouts, and strength work, you don’t want to give it away just a week away from the event you prepped for, for a long time.

So, here are 9 proven tips to make your pre-race week a success.

1. Do a taper

If done right a taper can give your race performance a good boost. Studies have shown that an increase in performance of 3-5% is in sight. That’s a lot. As a result, a taper should be a part of a training plan for any serious cyclist.

For successful tapering, you need to reduce your usual volume around halfway for rides down to 2 hours. 90-minute rides go to 60 minutes, and an hour of training down to 45 minutes. 

Secondly, the high-intensity training remains even though reduced. So, if you do 4×4 minute VO2max interval sets, in taper do 2 or 3 sets. You can apply a similar tapering strategy for stage races or criteriums. However, if you taper for an ultra-endurance cycling event like a 100-mile race you should include one longer ride in your tapering. Thereby, you are ready to peak for your goal race. 

But a taper week is only as effective as your nutrition plan.

2. Keep your nutrition in check

Your nutrition as a bike rider is the base for all power you have. Without proper food prolonged endurance performance at a high level is impossible.

And consume foods you cope bad with and you find yourself on the roadside as Tom Dumoulin did in the Giro. But you likely don’t have a week to make up for your loss. And talking of my own experience I have to admit a roadside toilet isn’t that nice.

So, in a one-day race, this can cost you all the investments you made. Work out a nutrition plan with foods you like and perform best with. For example, if oatmeal isn’t your favorite option choose toast instead.

Furthermore, don’t test any gels or bars during race week. Get the job done before! Try out what works well for you in training. Choose the right products. For energy gels and drinks all you want is salt and carbs in a 2:1 maltodextrin to fructose ratio. Nothing else. You want to be able to consume at least 90 grams of carbs per hour. This is even more important for an ultra-endurance bike race. Training to eat is part of the workout!

And not only will a great nutrition strategy improve race performance. It will also improve recovery.

3. Recover hard!

Recovery is likely the most crucial part of the training process. The part where adaptations occur and progress appear. The part that gets you ready to fight at the start of the race.

To improve recovery you should make sure to get in enough sleep. And doing so consistently! Optimal sleep hours are somewhat individual but stay anywhere between 7-9 hours and adjust. In addition, make sure you eat enough carbohydrates and proteins to assure optimal supply. Lastly, make use of a black roll or massage bar to release muscle tension and increase tissue quality.

4. Stay confident

Confidence has all to do with the perception of ourselves. Because the contradiction is that confidence is not linked to any external achievement. Even successful pro riders can lack confidence in their riding.

Confidence works the other way around: being comfortable with failure and uncertainty. I mean how could you build confidence in bike racing, when you never raced before? Right because you act even though lacking the experience. You act even though having fears. You act to face the fear to become fearless.

And this is what true confidence is all about. Being comfortable with failure. Facing the uncertainty: Showing up at the start of the race even though we possibly fail ourselves.

5. Resist the tamptation of quick weight loss

It sounds like a great deal to lose weight during race week quickly. I mean you train less and therefore need less food. Just see the numbers on the scale dropping and you’ll get up that difficult climb faster.

The problem is that in a caloric deficit it’s tough to get good training adaptations. In addition, your glycogen stores will be low and we’ll get to why it’s important in a bit. Moreover, recovery will worsen and you will feel weaker, instead of being in peak shape.

Remember what confidence is about? Comfort in failure. So, save the weight loss for the transition phase after the race and go full focus on your goal.

6. Load up on carbohydrates

If you want to race the race of your life, you should eat lots of carbohydrates. Because you always burn carbohydrates. Just the amount differs for a given intensity. And carbs are stored in glycogen in our muscles and the liver. And these stores are limited.

We can store up to 500 grams of carbs in our muscles and around 100 grams of carbs in the liver.

From analyzing lab test data I saw individuals burning more than 300 grams of carbs per hour at FTP. So, these stores can empty quickly. Thus, start at least 3 days out from your event to do a proper carbo-loading. Don’t overeat and exclude other important nutrients, just eat more carbs on the rides and after your rides.

And always believe.

7. Believe in your preparation

Too often we focus heavily on our suffering and less on our effort. You work hard for your goal race. Sure no preparation is perfect and you need to adjust due to sickness or day-to-day life. But think about all rides you did and the workouts and intervals that worked well.

When tracking the training process by heart rate and power you have reliable data you can base yourself on.

Shift away from things that don’t go to plan and move towards the achievements of good preparation.

8. Arrange yourself mentally

Prepare yourself mentally for what’s to come in your race and you’ll have a big advantage. Visualize the course you will ride on and see yourself conquering the bumpy road.

Building mental toughness in cycling is all about controlling what you can control. And one thing you can control for sure is your thoughts. This is far more important than other factors. You cannot control the weather or the pain in your legs, but you can control how you think about it.

Control your thoughts the week before the race and make the right decisions.

9. Prepare a Good Ride the Day Before the Race

In your pre-race spin, you want to make sure to do an easy ride to “open” the legs. Don’t make the mistake of going too hard just to prove yourself.

Find comfort with the stress in the lead-up to the event. Make use of the ride to check the course. As you ride zone 2 it’s a good option to analyze at least some critical parts of the course.

Here’s a sample pre-race spin with a leg opener:

1-1.5 hours of zone 2 riding + 2×3 minutes at FTP + 1×6 second all-out sprint.

This way you won’t overdo it. But you will feel fresh and ready for your big race day. Now, use the time before your next big race to get familiar with these tips and build a broad strategy. Because racing is tough and you need to dig deep. So, next time you race the last thing you want is to crash before the event has even started.



Footnotes

See: Effects of Tapering on Perfomance: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17762369/

See: Developing and training mental toughness in sport: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7299040/

See: Mark Manson – The only way to be truly confident in yourself

See: Mark Manson – 5 ways to build resilience and conquer adversity