Haute Route. The evolution of my physical capacities.

In collaboration with Jean-Baptiste Wiroth (Coach Founder of network WTS – The Coaching Company), we wished to share with you an analysis of my 3 weeks on the Haute-Route. Jean-Baptiste analyzed the evolution of certain physical and physiological criteria on the cols of the Haute Route and correlate them with how I felt on the bike.

The Haute Route concept.

The Haute Route is regarded as one of the most difficult cyclosportive stage races in the world. In 7 stages you will cover more than 800 km and cumulate more than 20,000 meters of climbing. In 2016 there were three Haute Route events: The Pyrenees, the Alps and the Dolomites. Each Haute Route is a single event. On top of this you can take on the challenge of riding the 3 events consecutively with just 1 rest day between each.

Having finished third in the 2015 Triple Crown, I managed to win the 2016 Triple Crown and can tell you it was no mean feat. The 3 weeks of cycling were sun-soaked, except for an Haute Route Dolomites event where the rain and the cold hardened the stages. I also came of the bike in the Pyrenees and a caught a cold at the beginning of Dolomites. Read more Haute Route.

road passo di giau Italy during haute route

The objective of the article.

The objective is to answer the question: How does my body adapt to 3 weeks on the Haute Route?

The segments on Strava and Movescount made it possible to collect the average data: the heart rate, the vertical climbing speed and the maximum heart rate. The data were recorded with my Suunto Ambit watch.

It’s possible to identify the cardiac drift induced by the accumulation of tiredness and an improvement of my physiological efficiency. Knowing my heart rate zones and correlating it with tiredness and the vertical climbing speed are two measurements that helped with the management of my racing.

Analysis of Jean-Baptiste Wiroth

Evolution of vertical climbing speed

The graph shows the reality of the effort with the evolution Average vertical climbing speed (m/h). It’s a direct reflection of the power to weight ratio.

graphic climbing speed during haute routeThe average vertical climbing speed decreased from one Haute Route to another.

  • The Pyrenees, Nicolas climbed at 1150m/h on average.
  • The Alps, Nicolas climbed at 1133m/h on average.
  • Dolomites, Nicolas climbed at 1077m/h on average.

This decrease can be explained by various factors:

  • The progressive onset of muscular and metabolic tiredness
  • The progressive exhaustion of the glycogen reserves (muscular ‘high-grade petrol’ which makes it possible to go up quickly)
  • Longer cols in the Alps and Dolomites

This same graph also shows that Nicolas set his record for vertical climbing speed on the HR Dolomites. It peaked at 1339m/h during the Col de Cou on the first stage of the HR Dolomites. This record is probably explained by the particular circumstances of race:

  • A very fresh peloton ready and raring to go.
  • The stage followed one day of rest and active recovery.

Cardiac drift

The graph highlights that the heart rate decreases over the course of the event. The max HR drops from 189bpm on the first stage of the HR in the Pyrenees to 163bpm during the ascent of the passo Giau last large col of the HR Dolomites.

graph derives cardiac during haute route

This drop in HR is mostly a result of the progressive onset of tiredness. Nicolas gradually loses his ability to take his HR higher This phenomenon aims at protecting the organism, and in particular the cardiovascular system. It is the illustration of the theory of tiredness and of the “central governortheory by Tim Noakes, a celebrated South-African physiologist.

The average HR decreases in a way that is very comparable to max HR

  • A record of 183bpm on average for the 31min ascent of Ahusquy (1st stage of HRPyrénées).
  • Minimum with 136 bpm on the passo Bernina (3rd stage HR Dolomites).

Nicolas raybaud specialized in the rise of the passo di giau during haute route

Efficiency.

The cross-analysis of vertical climbing speed and average HR makes it possible to obtain an index of efficiency. It is expressed in meters gained per cardiac beat. This index illustrates a slight improvement over time. Nicolas achieved his 2 best values at the beginning of the HR Dolomites.

graphic index of efficiency expressed in meter of made uneven by cardiac beat during haute route

Conclusion

By cross-analysing the data recorded (VAM, HR) with Nicolas feel on the bike, it is possible to learn a certain number of lessons from this single experiment.

  1. The cardiac drift, especially in terms of max HR indicates the progressive exhaustion of his energy levels. In order to increase your heart rate the suprarenal glands must produce sufficient adrenalin and the nervous system has to remain reactive to the signals. When tired it is not unsurprising that he was unable to reach the same level of beats per minute as when he was fresh, This indicates that after a few days on the HR you are better off managing your effort by Watts or by feel than by Heart Rate as it will no longer be as representative of your effort.  
  2. Both his HR and VAM decreased progressively and translated into a reduction in power/ However, Nicolas was able to compensate for the relative fall of his performances through a higher cardiac efficiency: for the same number of heartbeats, he was able to climb more vertical meters. This phenomenon represents the appearance of physiological adaptations, in particular on the cardiovascular level. Adaptations which become very significant after a few days of recovery: over-compensation post-Haute Route is spectacular according to Nicolas. [To read the file on Over-compensation]

To ride the 3 Haute Route events back to back is an incredible challenge that many professional cyclists would have difficulty doing. Nicolas knew how to ride it, and did so with brilliance. With the victory in his grasp (victory of the general of Triple crown), he was able to push back his physical and mental limits, and knew how to manage his energy in an optimal way the achieve the best results.

What I retain from my experiment.

Strong moments

During the Haute Route, I noticed a pattern.

  • The second stage of the Haute Route always left me with great legs.
  • After the days of active recovery riding in a Peloton makes you stronger.
  • Riding to 100% on the time-trial leads to better legs the following days.

Tough moments

The tiredness is undeniable, and my body reacts as a consequence.

  • The third stage is always difficult. Having alreadt dug deep it is vital to eat and drink all day.
  • At the end of the 6th  and 7th stage real tiredness sets in. Its important to remain lucid.
  • It is impossible to escape bad weather – adapt your riding to the conditions.

Conclusions

You have to adapt your life-style during the event to reap the most benefits possible. It is vital to get enough sleep and eat healthy. I placed huge emphasis on recovery after each stage (cryotherapy and massage) and foam-rolled during the rest days. It is important to make the most of it when your legs feel good and just persevere when they feel less fresh. Living the event from the inside with my friends and the organisers of the Haute Route really provided great motivation.

To achieve a goal, it is not enough to just train your physical gifts. Your morale and motivation are vital. Training is not only for increasing your physical capacities, it also allows you to train your mind to push past your limits and achieve what you set out to do.


Questions?

If you have questions about the article, an opinion, leave your comment. Jean-Baptiste and myself we will make a pleasure of answering it.

  • JBW

    Good job !

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