Home / News / Behind the scenes at high-altitude training camp in Sierra Nevada
In the run-up to this year's main objectives, the riders usually take part in training camps to improve their physical condition in preparation for the races. As part of their preparation for the Critérium du Dauphiné and the Tour de France, seven riders from the team gathered in Sierra Nevada (Spain) at the CAR (Centro de Alto Rendimiento) high-performance center, located at an altitude of over 2300 meters, to train in the best possible conditions for three weeks. Here's what such a camp entails.
The objectives of a high-altitude training camp are numerous, and its organization is meticulously prepared by the team's coaches. Jean-Baptiste Quiclet, our Performance Director, explains what we're looking for here in southern Spain during this month of May: "Being at altitude, the barometric pressure is lower, which means the body has to fight harder to capture oxygen and transport it to the muscles and organs. This creates stress, which leads to additional physiological developments to solve the problem."
Adaptation to such conditions doesn't happen in three days, and riders must spend a minimum of two weeks at altitude to see positive effects. " There are two phases: an acute acclimatization phase, followed by a chronic acclimatization phase," explains Jean-Baptiste. "The lasting effects only appear after chronic acclimatization, which is why we need to stay long enough."
Team cohesion is also very important in preparation for a three-week race like the Tour de France. The riders spend 24 hours a day together, getting to know each other and communicating "without even needing to speak", as Felix Gall puts it.
Why Sierra Nevada?
Up until May, most of the riders riders taking part in the Tour de France have not had the opportunity to climb long, high-altitude climbs, which is why the Sierra Nevada is an ideal location. Each day's outings include climbs lasting between 1h10 and 1h30 to prepare for the difficulty of the Tour de France route.
And then there's the weather factor, which is essential for a training camp to be carried out in the best possible conditions. There are few places in Europe where all these elements can be combined. "There are three well-known sites in Western Europe, which is why all the athletes end up in more or less the same place. The physiological effects of exposure to altitude start at 2000 metres, so when we look at the map of Europe and identify places to live above 2000 metres, there are very few: Sierra Nevada, Teide in the Canaries and Etna in Sicily."
The date chosen for this training camp is crucial in order to retain its benefits right up to the Tour de France. As with most teams, it takes place in May. Jean-Baptiste Quiclet explains why: "For the Tour de France, we're a bit constrained because we have to do the altitude before the Dauphiné, as there isn't enough time for prolonged exposure afterwards. That's why, like 99% of athletes, we usually go to altitude in May after the first part of the season, which ends with Liège-Bastogne-Liège or the Tour de Romandie."
The difficulties of altitude
When they arrive in Sierra Nevada, riders riders prepare for three very demanding weeks, with many hours of training in an environment where the body recovers less well. It's ideal to arrive in good shape and well rested, in order to get the most out of the training camp. Dorian Godon was only able to complete a few outings before falling ill and having to return home, unable to continue training in these conditions. " If you're already a bit sick or tired and you go to altitude, I don't think you'll recover," says Felix Gall. "The biggest difference is that you don't recover as well, especially in the first few days. You can wake up more often in the first two or three nights. You can also get headaches."
So it's important to keep a close eye on riders to make sure they're assimilating the training and the conditions they'll be working in during the month of May. "We carry out physiological monitoring every morning, measuring hydration, oxygen saturation, heart rate variability (HRV) analysis and weight, as you can quickly suffer from dehydration at such an altitude," explains Jean-Baptiste. "We all coordinate together, whether with sports directors, trainers, nutritionists, and the whole team, in order to set up the training sessions and daily program according to riders 's adaptation to altitude."
The role of Julien Louis, the team's nutritionist, is therefore essential. Every day, he draws up a personalized nutritional plan for each rider, depending on the training session they are due to perform. If they manage to follow these recommendations to the letter, riders should have no shortage of energy!
A typical day
Everything is in place to provide riders with an ideal training environment, starting in the morning with a breakfast prepared according to Julien's instructions. Felix Gall describes his day: "After breakfast, we get ready for training at around 10am. Most of our rides are between 4 and 6 hours long, with the longest of the training camp at 7 hours. Then we come back in the early afternoon, eat and have our massages. The rest of the evening we relax and even play a bit of ping-pong!"
Massages are also a good time to discuss any minor adjustments or treatments that need to be put in place. Gregory Mallevre, one of the team's physiotherapists, explains: "After their ride, as well as massaging riders, we also take the opportunity to do some mobilization or stretching, to focus a little more on any minor discomfort or pain they may be experiencing. It's interesting because we can follow their progress over several days, or even weeks. It's also much easier to talk to riders because they're not under the pressure of the race and are more relaxed."
It's also an opportunity to carry out some mobility exercises with riders and check their routine. "This morning, we set up a muscle mobilization and warm-up session, and for some riders, this enabled us, thanks to some very simple exercises, to see that there might be a few points to work on. Nothing catastrophic, but these are details that could enable them to perform a little better."
Normally, the Sierra Nevada enjoys a very warm climate from May onwards, with temperatures of around 20°C at the ski resort where the riders are staying, and reaching 35°C in the valley. However, winter decided to make one last appearance this season, and snow invaded the slopes of the Sierra Nevada for much of the training camp. As heat is a key factor in summer races, particularly the Tour de France, acclimatization is essential.
Although it's impossible to replace the natural heat of southern Spain, one tool is used to reproduce this type of climate after training: the sauna. Jean-Baptiste Quiclet explains its use: "Just as with altitude, athletes need to acclimatize to the heat before they can make intense efforts. It's extremely difficult for riders to adapt to heat overnight. If, unfortunately, it's very hot during the Dauphiné, it will be very difficult without acclimatization. We therefore implement a sauna protocol immediately after training sessions. These techniques have been validated, especially in preparation for the Rio or Tokyo Olympics.
The last small percentage
"This training camp is a little extra for the important races, where you can get everything out of the body, up to the last percentage. We're here for 3 weeks, with nothing to do but think about performance and train. The team takes care of everything else. I can't wait for July, excitement is building up.", says Felix Gall. And so are we!
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