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What's the deal with cyclists using rollers before 100 mile races?
March 3, 2008 3:28 PM   Subscribe

Why do cycling racers always warm up on a trainer/rollers thing before events, even ridiculously long ones? Doesn't it burn up energy they'll need during the race?

I'm a big fan of cycling and follow bike racing pretty closely and I've attended a couple dozen events in the past few years but I've never known an elite-level racer personally so I've always wondered about the ubiquitous use of trainers at race events.

I totally understand it on time trail events, where from the moment you leave the start line, you need to be fully prepared to go full speed for a set amount of time. I understand that you'd want to warm up as close as possible to your start time so you could come out of the gate swinging full blast. Time trails are typically just 30 minutes or so long, and I suspect elite racers are prepared to ride for 6-8 hours a day, so 30 minutes on rollers would be no big deal.

What I don't understand are dudes doing the roller thing before a 100+ mile stage of a race, especially during a multi-day event where you need to expend incredible amounts of energy day in and day out. I've seen the starts of such long days and the field will often ride the first 10-15 miles at a recreational (for them, 18-20mph) pace.

So my question is, why the need to warm up at all on long days? Aren't you burning up the energy you'll need that day or the next, just wasting it on a quick warm up? Why not simply use the first ten miles of an event to warm up?
posted by mathowie to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
The energy expended on a trainer is minuscule compared to the length of the ride. The benefits of warming up, loosening up, and watching for problems is worth the small amount of effort.
posted by wfrgms at 3:31 PM on March 3, 2008


Yeah, I understand that, but I swear I've been to events where I saw the same guys on rollers for an hour or so. At some point it seems like a lot of effort wasted in a parking lot going nowhere before a real race.
posted by mathowie at 3:33 PM on March 3, 2008


"So my question is, why the need to warm up at all on long days?"
-- You need to warm up before all bouts of exercise, to warm up tissues, to increase blood flow, to raise core temperature, to work out any injuries, to reinforce the appropriate motor pathways, and to prepare you mind for the bout ahead. (Thanks to Greg Glassman for that.)

"Aren't you burning up the energy you'll need that day or the next, just wasting it on a quick warm up?"
--Not really. You can take in KCal (energy) during the race.

"Why not simply use the first ten miles of an event to warm up?"
--Because you'll be in last place at the 10 mile mark.
posted by tiburon at 3:39 PM on March 3, 2008


The first 5 miles of any ride are harder than the last 50, as far as I'm concerned. That excludes double century rides with 10k' of climbing, of course, but you get the point. What they said.
posted by kcm at 3:49 PM on March 3, 2008


They're warming up their muscles at a slower pace than their race pace. If they used that pace to for the first 10 miles, as tiburon said, they'd lose time.
posted by Airhen at 3:50 PM on March 3, 2008


They're not going all out on the trainers. Part of being at that level is that the little stuff doesn't wear you out anymore -- if it did, you'd have more serious problems. As tiburon said, cyclsits love slurping down goo before, during & after, and some 'light' movement isn't going to wear their muscles out enough beforehand to really make a difference. Not cramping up 20 minutes in because you did a nice long warmup, though? Priceless.
posted by devilsbrigade at 3:58 PM on March 3, 2008


Most pro cyclists won't be eating (exclusively) Gu or extruded sugar products during a multi-stage race - it really turns your stomach to hell not having any real food in it. Watch for anything from focaccia to tarts to bread to whatever solid easy-to-grab food with a ton of carbs you can think of in those musettes.
posted by kcm at 4:03 PM on March 3, 2008


Here's a decent summary here on the physical and mental rationales.

In stage races or classics, the warmup gives racers a chance to calibrate themselves, see what's in the tank, check their recovery and state of mind, zone out from the circus. A directeur sportif can use it as a way to gauge who can be sent out on attacks, or how much protection his team leaders need.

Slow-twitch (i.e. endurance muscle) less susceptible to fatigue, as long as you don't go into fuel/oxygen debt and get lactic acid buildup, and an elite cyclist is basically a machine to turn carbohydrates, water and oxygen into kinetic energy. Most pro teams on stage races will take three or four hour rides on mountains during their 'rest days'.
posted by holgate at 4:12 PM on March 3, 2008


Watch for anything from focaccia to tarts to bread to whatever solid easy-to-grab food with a ton of carbs you can think of in those musettes.

A good friend of my family was one of the region's top amateur cyclists in the 60s, and he stuffed thick slices of my grandma's Christmas cake in his jersey for the winter rides. Nutrition is a bit more sophisticated these days, but his intuition (white flour, dried fruit, a bit of fat) was spot-on.
posted by holgate at 4:20 PM on March 3, 2008


What they are doing is removing lactate from their muscles. The theory is that mild exercise (or active recovery) at 30-50% of lactate threshold flushes more lactate than than passive recovery (sitting around getting a massage). Did you know that TDF riders actually go on rides during "rest" days? Nuts!

If you google "cycling active recovery" you'll find a bunch of journal articles about this. It's one of those issues where there is evidence for both sides of the argument, though and each team has it's own program and coaches who often take conflicting views.
posted by |n$eCur3 at 4:22 PM on March 3, 2008


The latest research shows that lactic acid being the cause of muscle fatigue is completely wrong, it is what fuels muscle. From the New York Times:

Lactic acid is actually a fuel, not a caustic waste product. Muscles make it deliberately, producing it from glucose, and they burn it to obtain energy. The reason trained athletes can perform so hard and so long is because their intense training causes their muscles to adapt so they more readily and efficiently absorb lactic acid.
posted by ShooBoo at 4:48 PM on March 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


I race pretty seriously, and, for me the best strategy actually sounds kind of counter-intuitive to most people. If I'm doing a short race, a crit or 'cross race, I often need an hour of warm-up. If it's a long race, there are times when I don't warm up at all and do really well.

For a 60 minute 'cross race, I'll usually spend some time on the trainer, then about 30 minutes on course, then another 30 minutes on the trainer, if there's time. In a short race, you need to be going at 105% right from the start, but it's simply impossible to perform at your best when you're not very, very well warmed up.

On the other hand, there are long races where, for whatever reason -- maybe the weather sucks and you're better off staying warm and dry than sitting on the trainer in the rain or it's a 90 mile race where the first 15 miles are downhill -- you really don't need to warm up. In fact, some of my best races ever have been ones where I didn't warm up at all and then sat quietly in the back for the first 30 minutes, then made a move later in the race. You can get away with this in a long race because people rarely attack right away, and even when the pace gets kind of hard, you can sit at the back of the peloton, out of the wind, and do very little work compared to the leaders.

There's also just the psychological benefit of a routine as well. Everybody I know likes things to be just-so before a race, so there are plenty of people who have to eat a certain way, or have to spend an hour on the trainer, or do some particular stretching routine before they feel ready to ride. They may not really physically need the 60 minutes of warm-up, but it makes them feel ready, so that's what they do.

|n$eCur3 is right about active recovery too, even if the whole lactic acid theory has been debunked. In a stage race, it helps enormously to spend time both before and after each stage spinning easily. If you're doing 100 mile stages, you very well might want 2 hours of recovery -- maybe 60 minutes before and after each stage -- just to help you work the soreness and fatigue out.
posted by dseaton at 8:05 PM on March 3, 2008


What they are doing is removing lactate from their muscles. The theory is that mild exercise (or active recovery) at 30-50% of lactate threshold flushes more lactate than than passive recovery (sitting around getting a massage). Did you know that TDF riders actually go on rides during "rest" days? Nuts!

COMPLETE MYTH.

"Lactate" or "Lactic acid" is cleared from your muscle tissue within a few minutes after you cease anaerobic activity. There is certainly no residual "lactate" from the previous day's racing.
posted by randomstriker at 8:37 AM on March 4, 2008


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