As we are nearing the start of the Tour de France, there is plenty of chatter about Lance, his Tour chances, performance, the video where he says that France is only preparation for the Leadville 100 "no kidding", etc.
In the next few days the Active Network will publish the first of a two-part series on the details of Dave Wiens's training for the eight months leading into Leadville. The moment the column goes live, I'll let you loyal blog followers know. You'll get a bit of a lead on the actual newsletter release.
There is plenty of good information to read in the columns, so I won't get into too much detail here. One thing I will give is my opinion on the two different athletes and their approach to Leadville 100 preparation.
Before heading into giving my opinion, first some ground work information. As the world knows, Lance is about to start the Tour de France which lasts three weeks, 21 stages, 2,200 miles, lots of media, plenty of controversy and a fair amount of stress. The last day of the Tour is July 26th.
Wiens, on the other hand, is planning on racing the TransAlp Mountain bike race, that is eight stages beginning on July 18th to the 25th. The race website estimates the vertical gain at 65,000ft for the entire race.
For a moment, let's assume I have two elite athletes on my hands with matching physiology. One athlete wants to do a three-week road stage race that ends three weeks before the Leadville 100. The second athlete wants to do a one-week mountain bike stage race that ends three weeks before the Leadville 100. The athletes will take about 6:30 to complete the race. Exact time is somewhat unknown due to a new route this year, but the 6:30 mark is close.
Which training plan would I pick and why?
Hands down, I'd select the Wiens training plan and here's why:
1. Volume. Anyone that knows my training strategy knows I'm a big fan of a crash week of high training volume in the three to six weeks prior to a one day, ultra-distance race. While I do like one week, I believe three weeks of the Tour is overdoing it and it will take some of Lance's sustainable and high-end power away. It will take Lance at least three weeks to recover from the Tour and it is very difficult to recover and build the high-end power at the same time. I'm talking about the power to be competitive at short distance - not the ability to simply complete the event. (Ask any: 1) Tour racer that has tried to do an event requiring high-end power within three weeks of finishing the Tour, 2) Ironman racer that has tried to race Olympic or short course triathlon within 2-3 weeks of Ironman. 3) Ultra-marathoner that has tried to do a 10k within 2-3 weeks of an ultra run.)
2. Time away from altitude. No doubt the climbing in both European events is impressive, but the top altitude in both events is not high, compared to Aspen, Gunnison and Leadville standards. The Tour puts Lance away from high altitude for three weeks. Based on personal experience, it will take a full three weeks for him to feel good when he returns to Aspen (7,980ft) and longer to feel good at higher altitudes (Leadville is 10,200-12,600ft). Lance is a relative newbie to living in Aspen, so he doesn't have the time base at altitude that long-time resident Wiens has in Gunnison (7,700ft). Also, you will see in the upcoming columns that Wiens is training and racing at high altitudes year round. Another thing to consider is lifetime spent at altitude. Think the difference between Nepalese Sherpas and people that come to altitude to try to acclimatize. Lance returns to Aspen to try to do three things at the same time: 1) recover, 2) acclimatize, and 3) build the power and speed necessary to ride at Leadville intensity. Yes, I know he's Lance, but...
3. Specificity. Lance is road riding for three weeks. Dave is on his mountain bike for TransAlp as well as the time before and after the event. Ask any roadie that has tried to be competitive on a mountain bike, even a non-technical course, riding the mountain bike takes more muscular balance, skills and core strength than road riding does.
4. Stress. In all my years of coaching athletes, nothing undoes an athlete like emotional stress. Lance is constantly under the microscope, hounded by media and managing all of the drama of the Tour. Compared to Lance, Dave is in a relatively stress-free environment. He can establish a Zen-type approach to his training and racing leading into Leadville. He is surrounded by supportive people and few, if any, people that are trash-talking him. Again, I know Lance is tough in this regard, but it can wear a person down.
What do you think? You have a choice of the two training plans, which one would you choose and why?