It’s the eve of the start of the 2010 Tour de France. It might seem like the best and most crucial portions of the Tour come in later weeks as we travel toward Paris–at least when it’s a tight race–where we wait in anticipation for the eventual winner, and we check the leaderboard daily to see who captured the yellow jersey and who shifted in the standings. But I like to remind people that the Prologue is just as important and its preparation can’t just be left by the wayside. In my latest article on Versus, I described the warm-up that occurs before the Prologue. It’s amazing how much time goes into preparing for the Tour’s shortest event. But it’s all about getting the muscles into peak racing form. Here’s the piece:
All Tour riders will tell you that the warmup for a Prologue time trial is the most important pre-race routine they will conduct. It is amazing that, as the shortest event in the entire Tour, it requires the most prep time. And I’m not even talking about the bike side – for the riders, it all starts when they get their start times and begin working backwards from there.
The riders usually arrive at the start in waves. This means the first three riders arrive together since their start times are all within the first hour, the second three arrive together since their start times are within the same hour, and so on. Most riders start the process about two hours before they race.
At 90 minutes before the start time, the mechanic usually has the bike ready on the trainer with a spare rear wheel in the same gearing combination as the race disc wheel (they do not want to burn off their good race wheel rubber on the trainers!). The first 30 minutes is usually just really easy riding to get the legs warm…picture the iPod going, a towel to dry himself, an ice vest if he starts to get hot.
Then, an hour before the start time, the rider begins to ramp up the intensity little by little until he hits race pace intensity. This process may take 40 minutes or so. A rider often spends between 5 and 10 minutes at race pace and may even go faster than that for a minute at the end of the effort. Then it’s time to ease back down to a recovery pace for at least 10 more minutes.
He then wipes down and pulls up his skinsuit while the mechanic puts on the race wheels and makes sure the tires are pumped up. The rider then takes a roll around, shifting the gears and testing the equipment to make sure it is perfect. It is now 10 minutes before start time and he heads to the Start ramp.
The rider does not want to finish his warm-up too early or he may start to cool down. He doesn’t want to finish too late because then he will be stressed about getting things done and will have no time to make modifications if the bike is not right. So the timing and the efforts have to be precise. The entire process may take more than 2 hours from beginning to end. If you add in the time the mechanic needs to get the TT bike dialed in, you are looking at 3-plus hours of prep for a 12-minute race.
Every athlete has his/her own specific warm-up routine that works. Some are longer and harder, some are shorter and easier. One thing is for sure: all have a very strict routine necessary to ensure they can go full gas from Start to Finish. Without a proper warmup, the muscles will not respond correctly and the best result will be lost.
*Note: italicized text reprinted from versus.com