Preparing for Haute Route – a Discussion: Recovery

sitelogo2Our old friend Dr. Wiroth is back with us to explain this crucial, and probably often neglected, aspect of stage racing – Recovery.

Article #4 – How to improve recovery between stages ?

Jean-Baptiste WIROTH – PhD
Founder of WTS – The Coaching Company® –

During a stage race like Haute Route, the recovery process is of most importance.

During each stage, cyclists are exposed to maximal stress, both physically and mentally. This stress causes disturbances of the physiological functions and stage after stage it is often difficult to recover correctly…After exercise, the body sets up number of processes to compensate for the disturbances and to restore normal physiological functions. Even if complete recovery is hard to achieve after a mountain stage, several methods will help to accelerate recovery process.

Sleep, Hydration and Nutrition are the main factors to accelerate recovery. In addition to these main factors, there are other ways to accelerate recovery, in particular by draining the toxin produced by the muscles during exertion, and by lowering activation of the neuro-muscular system. Among the most effective techniques for this are:

Massage: this technique has the favor of professional cyclists. The massage will be more effective before dinner and digestion.
Stretching: we shall attempt to stretch, in a passive way, all the muscular groups requested during the ride (quads, hamstrings, calves, glutes, back and arms).
Active recovery: few hours after the end of the stage, a 10 to 15 minutes very light intensity exercise (50-60 % of the maximal cardiac frequency) will help a lot for draining toxins produced during exercise. A light walk or run after dinner is perfect for this.
Hot and cold shower : alternating hot and cold water on the legs is perfect to stimulate blood return. For each leg you should do 5 cycles : 20 seconds hot water / 20 seconds cold water.

We suggest you should try a combination of these techniques. Although taking an individual approach to recovery is essential, we suggest to stretch one hour after the end of each stage, then to have hot and cold shower before massage, finishing with dinner and a light walk after.


I’ve got little to say on the subject of recovery, other than that I’m pretty pathetic at it. Then again, I’ve never done what will essentially be 7 Etapes du Tour in a row. I need to learn this recovery business fast. Therefore, I humbly step back from the blog bully pulpit and let those who know better tell you what we should be doing.

For those of you who don’t read the comments section of this blog (shame on you!), there have already been some excellent and very helpful hints from guys who know a thing or two about recovery.

First, Coach Rob:

Knowing how to recover after each stage will be critical to our overall performance. If we do the right training, and understand how to maximize our recovery time, we shouldn’t have any bad days, just some might be better than others. After weeks of searching, I just ordered a recovery drink product that I will be testing over the next few months. I have my own concoction I make as a recovery drink today, but I won’t have access to the natural ingredients, or my VitaMix blender. In addition to what we eat and drink after each day of racing, we have to be mindful of how we treat our bodies. I found leg elevation while lying down and wearing compression socks for at least 3 hours, while staying out of the in a cool environment definitely accelerates the recovery process. So bring a good book or iPad and catch up on some reading while relaxing and letting the body heal itself from the day’s exertion.

Next, Bryan Hill, who rode Haute Route in 2012:

Recovery was a well rehearsed routine – which is a tip in itself. As well as training the cycling side, train the fuelling and recovery. For me this meant:

– I took my own energy products out. Powder for on bike drinking, recovery drinks, gels and bars. I used their feed stations for the “real food” aspects. I know that I can tolerate these products over a week of riding (from a few training camps I’ve done). I also knew the rate of consumption I could handle in terms of grammes of carbs per hour.

– For recovery: You get a “day bag” which is available at the end of the stage. I had a portion of recovery drink powder in this. On finishing (and after the initial 5 minute collapse) I’d pick this up and mix up the recovery drink and consume – so that’s in the first 10 minutes after finishing. Then I’d have a stretch – to a set routine – and then have the post-stage meal that’s provided. Lots of water to rehydrate. Then it was back to the hotel, shower and on with the compression tights. Most people used compression socks/tights for the afternoon/evening/night. I had one pair for the afternoon evening and one pair for sleeping in. Again, this is something I’d do at home after a hard ride. Snacking while lazing around – energy bars, Haribo, dried fruit, whatever. Ice cream towards the end of the week. Lots more water. An easy walk before the evening meal – which was generally quite carby but not too heavy – then in bed by about 10pm for the 6am wake-up!

I didn’t have any massages but lots of people did. The challenge was having to wait a while – they gave out tickets with estimated times on them, and often that was a few hours after you’d finished. Out of our team of 5 people, one got massages most day, two had them a couple of times and two of us just stretched. It’s very personal though!

I can’t stress enough how important pacing over the week is. If you want to really attack something, do it on the time trial (though lots of people took it easier) or wait til the last day. It’s the fatigue that builds up over the week that gets you.

So, my fuelling was well rehearsed, and I did the same for recovery as I do after my hard rides at home.

Finally Rich Velo, two-time Haute Route participant, and 5th overall in 2012.

Like Bryan, my recovery was also a daily routine. I would first immediately pick up my day pack, and park my bike in the bike park. Inside the day pack I would store an water bottle with whey protein and a home made sports drink mix with sugars and electrolytes – then I’d fill the bottle up with fresh water and shake to mix… After this, I’d pick up a massage ticket, grab a shower, then either massage or eat, depending on the estimated massage time. After the shower, I’d put compression socks on for the remainder of the afternoon. Once in the hotel room, I’d usually lie on the bed with my feet up against the wall for a while as well. I also own a compex which I would use each evening before the rider briefing.

For me, the massages were definitely helpful. You could also pick your favorite therapist after trying a few the first stages. It is true though that middle to back of the pack finishers had quite a wait, but you definitely don’t have to sit in line, you just return at your estimated time.

Eating dinner is a key point often overlooked by people initially. Make a plan to get to a restaurant early (ahead of the other 600 riders) – even scope them out during the afternoon and reserve a table if possible. Most of the finishing towns are limited in the number of restaurants and servers, so if you are not careful, you may end up eating a 10pm – not good for the 6am wakeup the next day… Even ordering quickly once you are there can mean 30 mins to an hours earlier receiving your food. The problem is simply that everyone arrives at the same time, and the kitchen only has a certain throughput if you know what I mean. The rider’s briefing is important but often dragged on too long, so we would sometimes leave a bit early to get to the restaurant when it opened (usually 7 or 7:30pm).

I don’t know about you, but this kind of first-hand knowledge is gold for me. It goes without saying, but if anyone else out there has something to add, we, the few who read my comments section, will be very appreciative.

5 thoughts on “Preparing for Haute Route – a Discussion: Recovery

  1. I don’t know much about recovery from high stress activity but here is a tip from an old nurse—-while lying in bed. resting your legs (or even while sitting) DO NOT I repeat DO NOT cross your legs, not even your ankles. This is very important for the free flow of blood. Your ever loving Mom

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