Getting off the Pot

Now that I’m good and fully registered for Haute Route Pyrenees next year I thought I’d start frightening myself into shape. The first thing I did was step onto the scales for the first time in months:

73.3 kg. This is not my top weight of 77 kg before starting this cycling journey in 2010, but also not my lowest in HRA2013 – 65 kg. Those in the know say it gets harder and harder to lose weight as you age. I’ll let you if that’s true or if it just becomes easier and easier to drink a pint a day as you age.

The next inevitable step was to dust off the fat calipers and pinch myself:


A reasonable facsimile

24% fat. This one was not really a surprise either, as I’ve been noticing it getting more and more of a challenge to hide the Molson Muscle (Abdos Kronenbourg here in France), even with the aide of the girdle effect of bibs. This one could very well be age related – I haven’t seen this type of ‘roll’ there before – but it could also be the hours I spend behind the computer these days. Whatever it is, I have to get this shocking percentage down to 10%-12% by next August.


I then looked in the mirror and found that my hair is thinning. This doesn’t bother me since Alejandro Valverde just won the Worlds and he’s far more gone than I am.

But I can’t just rely on being bald to make me go faster; I need ‘a plan’. Luckily I’ve already got two Haute Routes under my (tight, oh so tight..) belt, but I also know I could have been better prepared for those two. I thought I’d start with the fundamentals – MILES (or as we call them in Europe – kilometers):

In 2013 I rode 10,000 km in the run-up to Haute Route.

In 2015 I rode 8400 km in the run-up to Haute Route.

I know a few guys who have finished HR in the top 30 and I’ve just taken a look at their Strava stats to get an idea of what to shoot for. They are surprisingly evenly matched and yearly mileage tends to be between 15,000 km and 18,000 km. A pro who does nothing but ride all year for a living will do 25,000 km or more, so this is no small undertaking for someone who needs to work, keep a marriage together, etc.

From a quick calculation on Strava it seems like the above friends do around 13,000 km ‘in training’, i.e. from December till Haute Route. In reality I can’t see much of an ‘off season’ for any of them, but I’ve got to start somewhere.

In 2013 I placed top 23% in my age category and in 2015 it was top 34%. I’m sure there were a few factors involved in this difference (I started late in 2015 because I was given a place in the race in early spring), but I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that there could be a correlation between miles and results.

Where does this leave me and my overhanging gut? I’d like to keep some semblance of respect and stay in the upper end of my age category, so I suppose I should at least start with a program that has me on the bike for a minimum of 10,000 km (about 400 hrs) before the end of August.

Next up, what to do with those 10,000 km and where to put them in the program. This one could take some time…

If you are an Haute Route finisher, don’t hesitate to give me your tips. If you are not an Haute Finisher, finish one then give me your tips.

29 thoughts on “Getting off the Pot

    • I did read that blog article, thanks. Maybe that’s even why I started thinking about it…again. I think the key to all of this is considering what the ‘race’ is. Much of what he addresses is directed towards people who do crits and races with different characteristics than HR, i.e. stage racing. For me,anyway, I always need to dig deep in his writing to find what I’m looking for.

      Fast After 50…yes, I suppose I should get that now 😉

  1. Ok, at least I finished once, right in the middle of the ranking, way below you. (And still proud: top of those 4 guys coming from north of germany) My only tip: Do something diffrent than normal road training inbetween. Gym for Torso and sheer leg power. Ride at night, ride MTB/offroad, etc. otherwise it gets too boring. Or do the jacket transport for your clients in a backpack, instead of car..

    • I shall listen to your opinion with great interest, Carsten! It’s a good one, and timely, too. I’m just now looking at cheap gyms in Nimes to go and hit some weights. MTB would cost too much but I’d love to buy a gravel bike. Any recommendations?

  2. Nice read G. Was i one you spied on?!? I suggest you worry about fitness and strength before you try to loose weight. If you start training consistently and look after your diet, the weight will come off.

    In HR, I’ve learnt that it’s not always the skinniest that win – and I’ve learnt that the hard way. A lotto the guys that do best look about 68-70kg.

    Listen to the fascat podcasts about nutrition BTW. they’re great.

    Out of interest, do you rate the use of body fat callipers? i know scales don’t tell the whole story.

    • You were indeed! It’s really funny how all you guys have similar mileage!

      I hear you re weight after fitness and strength. It does usually just peel off naturally if I’m doing the right stuff.

      Thanks for the tip on Fascat. I’ll check it out.

      I’ve been use the calipers since 2013 and I ‘think’ they are pretty precise. You have to just make sure you are consistently pinching yourself throughout the season. There are some good videos on YT to teach you how. Consistency is the key.

      • I’ll probably dodge the callipers as it will open up bad habits that i’m trying to shake. i imagine all those you spied on have similar milages as we’re probably on about the max you can do whilst holding down some semblance of a job! Or should i say, ‘job’…

        • Yeah, and for at least a couple of you guys, I think ‘job’ might be more appropriate (I can say this because I’m in the same boat).

  3. Good luck, Gerry! I agree with Carsten and Jim: 2013 for me was a burn-out year and I don’t think I ever really recovered from my (wrong?) training for HRA. It took something out of me and I lost any explosiveness since (which I now miss in CX races). I think you want to be careful and avoid boredom (hard to avoid here in Chicago if you must do many miles always on the same few routes—you don’t have such problem). Do cross train and mix it up. Do follow periodization (3 week blocks followed by a recovery week). Do real recovery. And do taper for at least 1 week before the start (I didn’t dare too—typical beginner mistake: my first HRA day was great, and then it was downhill from there on). Last, given that your objective is classification (time), it’s about pacing yourself in a stage race. So, don’t worry about day 1; use your power meter (or your instincts/HR if you know your body well and control it) and follow that without worrying about those others passing you. I recall in HRA at least one experienced guy who I passed on day 1 early on but he finished with me on day 1 and way ahead overall (around 50th): he just went his own (strong) pace everywhere and every day. Last: recall why you are doing this: we don’t get paid, in contrast, you pay to do this, so enjoy it? 🙂 [BTW, I also found Friel and those books not useful for a 7day event like HRA. I would even encourage a coach IF you can find one with 7day experience in coaching. (Hard to find in the US). GOOD LUCK!

    • Jan, excellent write-up. You should have a blog!

      All your points are well taken. I think you and I differ fundamentally, though. I NEVER have a problem with recovery and tapering. I’m built for recreation 😉 My trouble will be doing the miles, I think.

      Great recommendation on mixing it up – something I haven’t done yet. I don’t really get bored, however, but maybe that’s because I haven’t really done the miles I need to. My current program has lots of 7 hr rides on the weekends. I’ll need some company for that…

      And yes, my feeling that HR is a bit ‘niche’ when it comes to training. You probably need to look to the pros for proper guidance because really, how many stage-sportives are there out there?

      Finally, if you change your mind, you are welcome on the team, whatever that ends up looking like!

  4. But I also remember one thing on day 1: catching a good group in the valleys that pull you through is a joy and SO MUCH better than you drudging it alone, or pulling one or two others in your wheel. So that then makes for the eternal dilemma: you only get that experience with the top 50-or-so guys, but you don’t want to overlook it and pay for it later…

  5. Hi Gerry, I for one can definitely attest to this loss of fat reduction capability as the body passes 50. When I was 45 the kilos would just come off as May arrived, now there is no magic, I actually have to seriously ride a lot of kms, or actually focus on eating and yes, drinking (especially) less.

    So yeah, I see the same things you do, and yeah, I’ll be going through the same trials and tribulations you will the next few months. Right now I’m about 4 kilos higher than I was in HR pyrenees already (only 2 1/2 months!!!).

    As for HR training, I think that certainly varying your training is key, but focusing like a razor on tempo and threshold in the 2 months preceding is key. Also, it is helpful to have some “big” weeks before HR to adapt to 7 days in a row, and still taper enough to arrive fresh on stage 1.


    • I’m glad I’m not alone in the weight gain game, Rich. I noticed the same thing re ‘May’ till last year. I do think I’ve been a bit lax with the booze, though, and being a tour operator certainly doesn’t help. We are, obviously, obliged to drink with our clients at dinner…

      Excellent advice on the last two months. Do you generally try to time those ‘big weeks’, by the way? A month before? Closer?

      • For a big overload week, I’d personally go for about 3-4 weeks prior, to ensure you have plenty of time to recover and freshen. any closer to the race and you risk going in tired.

  6. Hello Gerry , I’ve never done a HR so I don’t really know what you have to go though just to finish , but in terms of getting into shape to start I think hill repeats are the most honest way to train its impossible to cheat if you stop pedalling you stop moving , and you also become very aware of all those expensive kilos you’re carrying

    • Andrew, thanks for the note. Hill repeats are the bread and butter of any mountain training program, I’m sure. Luckily I’ve got a nice hill or two right behind my place to suffer on. And Ventoux…

  7. Hi Gerry, I’m sure you don’t tips from a novice but this maybe some help to your followers , I think it’s worth spending a week at altitude about a week or so before the event , if you can spare the time! Somewhere like Valliore with the Galibier at your feet and not to busy . On my one and only etape I was a lot better at climbing after a few days there than when I arrived .

  8. Hi Gerry!

    no HR for me but 2 CCC. What I found hard for no2 (took place in September) was to train enough to get there in good condition but not too much to still be “hungry” on the bike. Mental and envy are two major factors for success for me. I nearly over trained at some point and wasn’t eager to get on the bike. It is a hard balance to find, at least for me.

    Good luck!!!

    • Anne, you may comment. You definitely have the ‘credentials’ 😉

      Too much of a good thing is not good in the end, I hear you. I hope that the fact that I get to ride with clients for much of the year helps me with the mental part, but that could be tricky, too, because that definitely is NOT training, for the most part. It might be a morning guided ride and then another one in the pm to train.

      Will cross that bridge when I get to it. Thanks for the comment and see you soon.

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