For Trek-Segafredo Head of Performance Josu Larrazabal there are three important things to note ahead of the first races of the season: timing, feelings & facts
The Trek-Segafredo men and women made their season debuts almost 10 days ago in Australia, at the Tour Down Under. Since then, the Tour de San Juan, in Argentina, has kicked off (along with our first win!) and the European season is approaching fast. The men will race next week at the Volta Valenciana, and Etoile de Bessèges, while the women have the inaugural UAE Tour in sight followed by Setmana Valenciana in mid-February
A decade or so ago these first races of the year were called build-up races for the major events. Now, things have drastically changed. “In any race, of any category, the level of competition is very high. It’s a factor to take into account when we come approach them,” explains Josu Larrazabal.
“Trying to translate the concept into numbers, I would say that a rider should approach the start of the season with a range of 80 to 90% of their top condition, with reference to where they are supposed to peak for first time. Some still need to shave some weight, others train more on intensity. The races in January and February are exactly there to bridge this gap and show up at the first big events at the top. But we would be foolish to consider these like training races.”
So, in the run-up to the first race of the year, what must a rider remember to be fully prepared? Here are Josu’s three must-haves.
It's all about timing
You have to get things done on time so you don’t find yourself chasing condition in the weeks leading up to the debut. In November, the new season seems far away to the riders, but that doesn’t mean they can afford to lose focus on the preparation schedule. The risk is that in January, with racing just around the corner, a rider feels the need to do greater workloads than necessary. This is the first mistake to avoid, because the days leading up to races are about assimilation of fatigue, not overloads. Therefore, planning and timing are essential.
The second mistake to avoid is rushing, or the urge to be in top shape too early. This is a typical mistake of young riders, who want to prove their worth, or the ones who are coming off a sub-par season. They feel the need to send a signal. This is where a coach is needed to maintain balance and avoid the tendency to overdo it.
The balance between facts and feelings
The way to improve condition is, of course, based on training. This repeated process is based on managing the right amount of fatigue. The athlete works on their physique, they strain it, they make a series of efforts and the body will get used to it and raise the base level. Coaches monitors the process with different performance markers in order to make sure the trend is upwards. So, the coaches have the numbers, the facts, but the riders deal with fatigue, which is often uncomfortable. Fatigue does not allow riders to feel it the improvement that the coaches see. For them, it’s like seeing blurred.
That transitional phase is critical ahead of the first races. Riders should not make the mistake of overloading to search those feelings, turning around the process downwards into overreaching. This can happen (again) to young riders or those who lack confidence. The more experienced riders, on the other hand, know that fatigue is just another step in the growth process. With time and patience, their physique will achieve a natural balance that feels good for the athlete.
Testing their bodies and testing equipment
We call the physical tests that we carry out at training camps ‘litmus tests’. Riders will do either one or two rounds of these depending on their calendar. Testing doesn’t mean saying to a rider that they were good or bad, but it serves to understand what has been done and what is missing. So, we ask the riders not only to test their bodies, but we also ask that they test what can help improve their race performance. We are in the realm of marginal gains, the side components that take performance from 100% to 101%.
Riders are testing clothing, familiarizing themselves with the latest innovations provided by Santini: a rider needs to know everything they have at their disposal to be ready for any condition. Six hours of training, or a couple of hours in inclement weather, is a good benchmark for what they will find in the race. Looking to details such as the new padding on a helmet or a new Bontrager saddle. Last but not least, of course, all the new products we get from Trek and technical partners like Pirelli or SRAM.This is a step that may seem obvious, but it’s essential for riders to know their equipment inside out before they tackle the first races.