cycling ask an expert fitness coach
How do I prepare for a cycling tour? (Vaclav Volrab via Shutterstock)

How Do I Prepare For a Cycling Tour?

I'm signed up for a weeklong bicycle tour this summer. I’m talking like you have to ride 60-100 miles a day with lots of climbing. How do I prepare with limited training time during the week?

cycling ask an expert fitness coach

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We posed your question to Rob Lockey, owner of Optimize Endurance coaching, and the go-to trainer for participants in Ride the Rockies, a prestigious weeklong tour held in Colorado every June. Just like you, Lockey says, most tour riders don’t have time to train like pros, but they still manage complete multi-day treks and live to brag about them. Follow Lockey’s advice below to ensure your week of pedaling is more pleasure than pain. 

Be consistent
“You don’t have to ride the Rockies before you ride the Rockies,” Lockey says. “You don’t have to go out and ride 60 or 70 miles every day, you just need to have consistent workouts during the week, with bigger workouts during the weekend.”

In other words, try to saddle up just about every day, even if it’s only for 20 minutes at a time.

Build up your training
Lockey believes in shooting for time in the saddle rather than a certain weekly mileage. Two to three weeks before your event, Lockey recommends getting in 14 to 15 hours of riding. That could be four hours during the week, then 10 hours during the weekend, split up however you’d like. An example tour build up might look like this:

Week 1-2: ride 7-8 hours
Week 3: ride 8-9 hours
Week 4: ride 5-6 hours (rest week)
Week 5-6: ride 9-10 hours
Week 7: ride 10-11 hours
Week 8: ride 5-6 hours (rest week)
Week 9-10: ride 11-12 hours
Week 11: ride 12-13 hours
Week 12: ride 5-6 hours (rest week)
Week 13: ride 14-15 hours
Week 14: ride 7-9 hours
Week 15: ride 5-6 hours
Week 16: TOUR

During those few weeks before your tour (weeks 14 and 15 above), make sure you’re still riding consistently. “The biggest mistake people make is they take numerous days off prior to the tour, and that is a bad idea, because you kind of lose your skills,” Lockey says. “So ride a good number of hours right up into the event so it’s old hat—you’re doing the same thing you’ve been doing.”

Simulate hills
“It’s harder for people to keep their heart rates low on climbs,” Lockey says. “So higher intensity training should be implemented throughout the whole plan.” He recommends working in some tougher rides during the week and leaving the long, slower miles for weekend rides. So if you have a climb near you, do it. If you don’t,  do hill repeats, or try riding straight into the wind to get your heart rate up.

Practice fueling
“Most people screw up on nutrition,” Lockey says. “And that’s not just on-the-bike feeding, it’s all-the-time feeding.” The most common issue? Cyclists prepping for tours don’t eat enough. Athletes frequently pursue weight-loss goals in conjunction with training, and often sacrifice performance in the process, Lockey says. So make sure you’re taking in enough calories to fuel both your training and your tour. “If you don’t take into account what you truly expend, and you fall behind, the longer you’re out there, the harder it is to catch back up,” Lockey says.

Need help figuring out your caloric needs? Check in with a sports dietitian. This website will help you search for one by zip code.

Pace yourself
In the beginning of the tour, riders will get caught up in the atmosphere. “They’ll size other cyclists up, they try to stick with them and burn too many matches, then they’ll struggle,” Lockey says. Stay out of the SAG wagon with this mantra: Slow and steady finishes the tour.

For more, check out Yes You Can: Ride the Rockies and our complete Rockies Training Plane.

From Outside Magazine, April/May 2021 Lead Photo: Vaclav Volrab via Shutterstock