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  • Writer's picturedirtyheart

As the race nears, the training changes: The Perfect Taper Before You Tackle the 2019 Wines 2 Whales

The 2019 Wines 2 Whales is almost upon us. If you are taking part this year, you have entered the final 3/ 4 weeks of training before the race begins on the 25 October 2019. These final weeks of a 8,12 or more weekly program you have been following are critical for the perfect round up towards your event. The final 1-2 weeks before your event are considered a taper phase. This essentially means a reduction in volume, but not necessarily intensity. The interval sessions will simply be spaced out differently to give the body more time to recover. The focus here changes from building, to recovery or sharpening. The last 2 weeks will see little to no major gains in your overall training so the focus shifts to allow your body to be in peak form as the event approaches. It is important to get physically, mentally and physiologically ready to tackle your stage race in your best form. It is a time to sleep, eat well, take your vitamins, prime your body and enjoy the hard work you have put into your training to tackle this event.

The Wines 2 Whales sees riders taking on 3 days of over 50km each day and over 1000m of climbing each day. For more on the route click HERE. Longer races, or stage races need a longer taper. Although this is highly individualised, it is important to structure your taper according to the event you are participating in. Also, things like age and fitness can also affect the taper. Older riders take longer to recover from efforts so this must be considered. Your fitness level also plays a part in how you taper as the rate of recovery may differ.

We did some research and found some great words of wisdom that made the most sense on how you should go about getting the best from the last 2 weeks before your event.

The Art of Peaking for a Cycling Event


Peaking for a single day race means you are arriving on race day as mentally and physically prepared as possible, with potential for your strongest performance of the season. The art of peaking requires smart, creative scheduling for a proper taper.

The most common mistakes with peaking are often related to:

  • Too much or too little intensity

  • Too much volume

  • Not enough recovery

Other factors leading into the race that can negatively affect performance include the quality of rest, levels of life stress, travel logistics and diet. There is no perfect plan—only proper adjustments with training and rest to get to race day with everything needed to succeed.

To be in peak form, a reduction in training volume is needed to reduce fatigue and increase freshness. A focus on intensity is also needed to maintain fitness. Reducing volume can start as early as three to four weeks from the race and, at the latest, two weeks from race day. Elites who can recover quickly from higher volumes of training, for example, may wait until two weeks out to taper to maximize training time.

Race-specific intensity is important during this time, but interval days need to be spaced to every two to three days to prevent building unwanted fatigue. There is little to gain two weeks out from the race, so it is more important to focus on recovery than hard back-to-back training days.

The final two weeks hold your window of opportunity to make adjustments with training volume and intensity. One of the main goals is to arrive one week from your peak event in good form and with the ability to log a strong, intense training session. You want to experience strong power and speed, with good heart rate response, or in other words, less aerobic decoupling. A strong workout the week prior not only adds to your physical preparation, it adds mental confidence, which is priceless going into a race week.

Using a two week taper, with the first week being a “peak” week leading into the week of the race, let’s look at a few general training guidelines along with potential adjustments.

Peak Week


Around 75 percent of your average weekly training volume will work well for this week. If you average around 12 to 13 hour weeks for training, your peak week should be in the 9 to 10 hour range. It’s important to trust this reduction and not try to do more.


Two days of moderate to longer intervals can be done with one day focused on leg speed, cadence and sprints. For example, five to 10 minute Zone 3 and 4 intervals can be worked early in the week, with a race simulation day, working three to seven minute Zone 4 and 5 efforts over the weekend. Races are often used for this weekend workout, but that is not always a wise decision, depending on how hard the race is and how well you can fully recover from it. All other days this week should be focused on easier Zone 1 and 2 spins to further recovery.


If you enter this week coming off a few higher volume weeks, you may need a few recovery days to start the week. So instead of working a hard day on Monday or Tuesday, work it on Wednesday and then space the next hard workout for over the weekend. If you enter this week off a hard race the weekend prior, you may not need long intervals during the week. Instead work a few days focused on cadence and technical skills and save the legs for the hard efforts over the weekend. Lastly, if you are not able to achieve the longer intervals due to fitness or fatigue, work shorter three to five minute intervals for the week.

Race Week


Race weeks should be of lower volume, around 50 percent of your average weekly training volume. So if you normally log 12 to 13 hour weeks, around five to six hours of total riding leading into the race will work well.


Race week intervals should be short, such as 30 to 60 second threshold pace efforts or sprints and spaced well within the workout to allow some recovery from each effort or round of efforts. If the race is on a Sunday, you could work short efforts on Tuesday and Thursday of the race week but if the race is on a Saturday, work efforts on Wednesday only and make Thursday an easy spin or a day off. The day prior to the race is reserved for openers, or very short fast sprints, 10 to 30 seconds in length, focused on fast cadence. These efforts should also be spaced to allow for full recovery from each effort. All other days this week should be easy, Zone 1 and 2 spins for recovery.


There are few if any adjustments that can be made during a race week that will make a difference on race day. If you are too fatigued coming into this week and skip race prep workouts, you can end up on race day with poor form and feeling flat.

Reaching peak form requires a focus on the details, including riding on the bike you will race on as often as possible in the last few weeks leading up to the race. No two bikes fit the same, so training adaptations on one bike may not transfer immediately to another bike, leaving you with poor form on race day. Also, working race simulated efforts on terrain similar to the race. This means a mountain biker needs to focus on technical skills on trails while working fast intervals. An often overlooked detail is having your bike mechanically dialed at least a week prior to the race. Confidence in your bike leads to confidence in the race. And lastly, arrive early, a few days prior to the race to unload life stress, relax and focus on the task at hand.



By Mike Blewitt

As you near your goal race or races for the season it is important to think about the taper period. This phase of training is crucial to performance but is often over-looked. Here's how to get it right.
I find that planning the taper period can be one of the most difficult aspects of coaching to get right, as it can be highly individual and a number of factors need to be taken into consideration. What works for one person may not necessarily work for another. The length and type of taper will depend on factors such as the level of importance of the race, the duration and/or distance of the race, previous chronic training load peak (fitness level) and the age of the athlete. Peaking at the right time and coming into form on race day is dependent on getting the best balance of fitness and freshness. As you train harder your fitness increases but so too do your fatigue levels. Then, when you rest, fatigue levels drop but unfortunately fitness does too. Luckily, fatigue drops at a faster rate than fitness. The plan on race day is to have the highest fitness level possible with as little fatigue as possible. Easier said than done.
- The fitter you are and the longer you have been training and building fitness, the longer your taper can be. If you have been building fitness steadily for a few months or more it will take longer for fitness levels to drop. This is the beauty of building a base in the off-season; you will be able to hold form for a longer period of time. If, however, you only started your training 2 months prior to racing, your fitness levels will drop quickly so you need to be wary of starting your taper too soon and losing too much fitness.- A longer race will require a longer taper period. This is particularly the case for ultra-marathons, 24hr events or stage races. As the race progresses your levels of fatigue are increasing and therefore it is important to start the event with super-fresh legs. A good example of this is in the long road Tours. The GC riders in events such as the Tour De France, will intentionally start the Tour with super fresh legs so that they will be at an ideal training stress balance (relative level of fatigue), once they hit the mountains which is where they will actually hit their peak. Fatigue levels in shorter events such as XCO distance, won’t rise quite so much so the athlete can afford to start the event with a little more fatigue and higher levels of fitness.- As we age, recovery takes a little longer. Physical changes to the body such as lowering levels of testosterone, weakened bones, reduced muscle mass and reduced enzyme activity, all contribute to increased likelihood of injury or over-training if adequate recovery is not included. It is therefore important for master’s riders to freshen up that little bit more and reduce their training load more than a younger athlete would in the lead up to a big event.

Once you have determined your current level of fitness, the type of race you are tapering for and taken into consideration your age, it is time to sit down and devise your Taper plan. There are a few general rules to follow, that have proven to work for most athletes.

The majority of people will race best when they have had 4-6 days of recovery approx. 2 weeks out from racing. This is followed by a short build period in the week leading into the race, where some small “hit-out” sessions are completed. Two days out from the race is a good day to have completely off or just a short recovery-based session. Then the day before racing, complete a short session with some short hard efforts of race intensity with complete recovery in between each. 3 x 2-3min hard efforts with 5-6min easy in between each, works well for most people. This session is designed to “blow the cobwebs out” for the next day’s race. The short intense intervals will be enough to get the heart and lungs working without being too taxing on the legs. The primary aim in the Taper phase of training should be on recovery and just doing small amounts of intensity to keep the body from going sluggish but not enough to produce too much fatigue. There are of course many other factors leading into a race that can alter the way we feel on race day, such as diet, work/family stresses, travel etc. Sometimes an athlete can go through the perfect taper and on paper they should be in their best form; however there are so many other variables that can come into play in the week leading in that affect performance. Practice a few different taper methods for some of your less important / ‘training races’ throughout the year and keep good record on how you felt on race day. By doing this, you will be able to work out the type of the taper that suits you best so that you start your goal race with best possible form!


How to taper for big races


It’s one of the great mysteries of training and racing: how to turn up on race day with the perfect blend of enough of the right kind of training in the legs, but also enough freshness to be absolutely pinging?

Disclaimer first – I’m not going to attempt too much sports science. My history degree won’t get me far down that road. And very importantly, YMMV – your mileage may vary, or to put it another way, everyone’s different. But I’ve found that after eight or nine years of racing, I think I’m just starting to work out some answers to that mystery that I started with – I’ve managed to turn up to the last few big events I’ve done and been really pleased with how I’ve felt. And that’s a big contrast with some past races; I’m sure we’ve all had those ones where we know we’ve done a lot of training, but as soon as the start gun goes, we know something’s just not working. So I thought it worth musing a little on how to strike that balance of training and freshness.

What can go wrong?

First, what happens when it doesn’t work? I’m certain it’s possible to be “too fresh”. A couple of seasons ago, I went through a building period with some decent rides, but without having really rested brilliantly; I told myself that it was OK, because I was going to rest properly for a big road crit, and then all that riding would kick in and I’d be flying. So what happened? Well, I rested up nicely. The only problem was that when the race started, my legs had utterly forgotten what it was like to go hard, and I felt like a bag of spanners all race.

And of course the converse is possible – it’s definitely possible to turn up to a race insufficiently well rested. It’s not great when you’ve got sore legs from the start. I use my commute to tell me when I’ve done enough backing off. I never ride to work and back quickly – I find London traffic requires a calm demeanour and stopping distances which are as short as possible while keeping up decent forward motion. But while cruising to work and back, I can keep pretty good tabs on how the legs feel. When they’re sore just pulling away from the traffic lights, I know there’s still some recovering to do.

Simple stuff

It’s important to keep in mind the simple stuff, or at least the stuff which should be simple. Like sleeping. Getting eight hours plus a night in the lead-up to a race can only help. As can eating right; but I’m increasingly against any notion of “carb-loading”, even if it’s just sub-conscious – “I’m racing tomorrow, so I’d better have a second helping”. I’ve had a couple of races where eating too much the night before a race, or eating different stuff to what I would normally eat, has led to digestive rebellion mid-race – never comfortable. Much better just to keep the body doing what it’s used to; a normal supper the night before, then a sensible breakfast with plenty of time before race start.

And it probably does help not to spend the day before a race standing up. The maxim of “don’t stand when you can sit, don’t sit when you can lie down” is worth keeping in mind.

Priming the engine

Some people abide by rules of thumb – I always quite like the approach of having a relatively easy week, probably by reducing the quantity rather than the intensity, then an easy day two days before a race. The day before a race I try for a proper hit out, in order to get things moving. And that means going pretty hard. I used to think an easy spin with a few 1-2 minute blasts would do it; but now I’d rather do two hours, with a few decent efforts, ideally up a hill or three. Enough to hurt, but not enough to leave lots of fatigue in the legs.

I suspect single-day events might be different again from stage races though – in stage races where I’ve felt good, I’ve done about 2-3 hours or more on the bike on each of the days in the week leading up to it (except for maybe two days before – see above). I can only assume it’s just helping get the legs used to the day-in, day-out effort. To be able to do this, however, I’d want to have the week before the week before the race pretty easy, so that you come into that last run feeling fresh.

Or just go with the flow?

Having said all that, sometimes it’s just unpredictable, and as an amateur, you just have to go with the flow of normal life if you don’t want to turn into a cycling hermit. My only road race win came the day after I’d been to a wedding, stood up chatting most of the afternoon while drinking copious quantities of champagne, then danced until the early hours, before sleeping six hours in an unfamiliar B&B bed. And lo and behold, in the race I felt a million dollars. Which just goes to show that some of this will remain a mystery…


Image by Jeff Ayliffe

Remember , it is about getting your mind, body and soul aligned to tackle the event you have been training for. So focus on allowing your body to recover and your mind to be sharp before the start line at Lourensford on 25 October 2019.

For more info on Wines2Whales:

All Images courtesy of taken by Greg Beadle and Dwayne Senior

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