Tapering for a long distance cycle event
Why a taper should be included in your plan
The taper, whereby you reduce the volume and intensity of your training before an event, should be incorporated into your plan. Find out why.
Written by Matt Stephens
Matt is a former British Road Race champion who represented GB in the Olympics, World Championships and Commonwealth Games. He is now a regular commentator for EuroSport and a presenter on Global Cycling Network.
You’ve spent your precious time stacking in the long miles, pushed yourself to the limit in the hills come rain or shine, not to mention the numerous turbo interval sessions in the garage after work to hone your sharpness. You’ve even managed to shed a few pounds by your attention to detail and sacrifice in your diet. It’s not long now until the big event...
The importance of ‘the taper’ (or pre-event taper) in training in any sport cannot be underestimated. In short the taper is the period of time on the run in to an event where you gradually reduce the volume and intensity of the training so you hit the event in the best possible condition. By that I mean physically and mentally fresh, recovered, rested and in a position to make the most of the training that preceded the taper.
I started incorporating the taper into my training during the mid 1990’s and from that point onwards dramatically improved my ability to be in peak condition for specific events. It really works.
The lead up
The taper is specifically the final one or two week (depending on how long the training block has been) period leading to the day of your event. Ideally, at this point in your training phase you should have worked up to the point that you are riding close to the distance and intensity of the event that is now just hovering on the horizon.
Your last significant long ride should be completed with between 7 and 10 days to go. From that point onwards the aim is to allow your body to rest and recover fully to allow the optimal training effect. As a guide look to reduce your training volume by around half and ensure you include at least one complete day off from riding too, ideally place this with two days to go. (This will depend of any travel or logistic issues, especially if your planned event is abroad.)
The intensity of your training should also be reduced to. Avoid long threshold sessions but still incorporate a few hard very short efforts throughout the taper period, just to remind your body of what’s it’s like working at that level. I like to call it ‘blowing away the cobwebs.’ For example, on an easy ride of an hour and a half do a couple of 200 metre sprints or short 20 second efforts on a hill. Don’t do anything too onerous or depleting, just the odd effort to briefly fire things up from a muscular and cardiovascular perspective.
A taper is as much about balance as recovery. You should never drastically stop training altogether as there is a danger that you’ll actually start to lose fitness.
Typical taper plan.
Saturday. 2 hours easy. Café Run.
Sunday. 3-4 hours steady.
Monday. Rest day.
Tuesday. 1 hour steady pace. 2 x short sprint efforts.
Wednesday. 2 hours easy pace. 1 short hill effort.
Thursday. 1 hour easy riding
Friday. Rest day.
Saturday. 90 mins very easy ride with 2 x 2 min sessions of high cadence spinning a low gear.
Sunday. EVENT DAY
You may feel tempted to push on and go harder and longer towards the end of the taper. This is a good sign, as it suggests you are in the right place mentally and physically. However, don’t push yourself, resist the temptation! Go with the taper and build those energy reserves and recover fully, saving yourself until the big day. You won’t regret it.
If your event is abroad or a long distance away ensure you consider the travel day within the taper. Travelling can be stressful and leave you feeling flat so try to get a ride in after your journey so you can spin the lethargy away. If you’re travelling the day before the event do the ride when you arrive, plan and leave earlier to allow for a 45 minute spin in the afternoon before your event.
Ensure you eat well during the taper period. Just because it’s called a taper doesn’t mean you can go off the rails food wise..
As you know, cycling is a remarkably tough sport but also one of the most enjoyable. The taper period should be in stark contrast to the hard training that has come before it so ENJOY IT! Spin the legs and enjoy the countryside, visit your local café! Have fun riding.. then arrive at your event in the best physical and psychological condition possible… Good luck!!!