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Stage Race Recovery Observations


Maximum Pace
Oct 11, 2009
Since I just did the Haute Route (7 stages over 7 days), I experienced alot regarding inter stage recovery. Especially 'then' vs 'now'. My 'then' was more than 20yrs ago (and that much younger) , btw. Fitness science and on-bike nutrition has advanced ALOT! But a few things remain the same.

What I got from this event is just my own observations and direct experience. Any other rider might be completely different - or not .

When riding hard, competitive events on a daily basis you gotta make sure you are as 'topped up' as possible at each start. This means mentally, physically and mechanically ready. Every stage you are riding at 'tempo' well into your max cardio and physical level as much as possible. And exceeding it into anerobic many times in the ride. So, you deplete alot of glycogen, tire the muscles and build up alot of lactic acid.

Most Key Points:

1) Drink alot of water. Probably nothing is more important. The more water I drank, as a rule, the better I felt (and recovered). What this means is that I probably came only within 80% or so my actual water intake needs! And I was drinking at least 500ml / 30min average on the stage! Watching the pros on the course was like watching a piss fountain works in Vienna. Many riders were lined up prior to the timing mats pissing away like fountains. In fact, my main memory of the hardcore pros was that 'wow, those guys sure piss alot'.

2) You need less 'on bike' food than you think. The modern gels and stuff pack a pretty good wallop. The best stuff I had was High 5 and SIS, by the way. Following the directions, and it took just 3 High 5 Energy Gel and 1 Isogel per stage. Before the stage I'd load up 1 bottle with High5 Extreme. That was the overall best combo. At the climb finishes there was a smorgasboard of stuff. I tried all of it at one time or another. I puked a few times, too. At the latter stages, I mainly used the refreshment table to only get my water topped up, grab some dried apricots and a banana. High 5 did the rest.

3) You need alot more salt than you think. I was really craving salt. Luckily I brought my own umeboshi (dried) and sports salts tablets. I ended up just popping a sports salt tablet in mouth and drinking water. Then repeating. When the tablet was dissolved, start again. This way I was continually hydrating with a more or less isotonic mixture. I never got a cramp. Not even 1 time. BTW - I got those tabs at Victoria Sports in Shinjuku. The 'salt candies' work, too. Umeboshi and opther 'treats' are nice just to mix up your diet. it gets very boring and distasteful eating the same sludge for 4hrs straight every day.

4) Off the bike. You come to a screeching halt and the only thing on your mind is what part to 'fix' first. You're hungry, tired, exhausted, exhilrated, etc. The organizers let us pack a small rucksack that we could pickup immediately at the finishline. here's what mine had:

- 500ml Pasterurized Chocolate Milk box.
- Some figs or other dried fruits.
- Washing up soap (Dr. Bronners)
- Jinbei and clean shorts
- Flipflops
- Cache battery and charge adapter
- Towel
- Passport pouch with some money as well.
- Japanese wet towlettes.

I grabbed my rucksack, sat down and used the wet towlettes to wipe off the facial road grime, wash my hands and then get out of my kit asap. Then I drank the chocolate milk, ate a couple dried fruits and drank some water. After that gave myself a short massage and tried to get my feet cooled down (generally there was some fountain or something around). Then, within an hour - I hit the shower. We had to take numbers for massage or Compex, so it wasn't likely you'd get called for it within the 1st 30min or so - so you had time to chill out. What I did above was until my turn at the massage table or Compex.

Massage vs Compex. Both are very good. Massage is more interactive and you can direct the masseuse to specific trouble spots. Compex is very deep acting and consistent. I like both of them. If I do this type of event again I'd probably bring my own Compex type unit so I could get it going within 15min of being off the bike.

Then - we hit the post-ride buffet. Haute Route did an amazing job of setting these up. There was plenty of food and very little wait time. I generally focused on the lean meats and lots of veggies and pasta. And more water. I tried not to over eat - just get a decent meal in my stomach.

After this - I began to go into the catatonic , 'I must Sleep' mode. I think every cyclist knows this feeling. This is where Haute Route was a bit hard - cause we often didn't know where our accomodations were, or had to ride back to find them. But, once I found the accomodation I just passed out.

I slept for a couple hours or so. Then, woke up and we found dinner. One night I ate everything the restaurant had on their menu. I posted a picture even. Seriously, I ate EVERYTHING they had! Steak, Pasta, Fries. Salad, Bread, Cheese, Ice Cream. etc etc. Very stupid. I felt like crap the next day. From then on I just focused on getting some lean meats and lots of pasta with minimal sauce. One time they had beets! FINALLY! Nothing is better than cold beet salad, in my opinion. That plus some calve's liver and simple pasta aglio olio would suit me fine every day.

Then back to bed. I slept with my legs up and generally used compression socks. I also took some aspirin. This really helped with the specific pains I get. I wish I had some cooling socks, too. Getting your core muscle temp down is important - and hard to do without some serious icing. My legs ALWAYS felt burning up. I used Chinese Red Flower Oil , too. This was very nice with the menthol and other mint oils to relieve the burning feeling. ICE ICE ICE. Top of Courchevel (I think) the outdoor fountain was fed from the glacier. Man, this was the CENTER of ATTRACTION for all the riders. Guys just splayed out fully in their kit and froze themselves here. We soaked until our legs were blue. Then you felt OK.

Sleep, for me, was no problem. I generally drank a glass or 2 of red wine mixed with Contreaux water. Then drank another 500ml or so of water and crashed out. If I didn't have to wak up one time to piss - I knew I didn't drink enough. Better to drink the full 500ml every time after taking a piss. This would give roughly 2-3hr uninterupted sleep anyway. So - 2 water bottles per night was my average.

Wake up and wonder if you're alive. Every muscle is stiff and you mentally just want the whole thing over. This is where coffee is the magic drug (at least for me). After 2 espressos then I felt like actually eating breakfast and beginning the pre-ride ritual. (Another topic).

At the end of the event i was pleasantly re-surprised just how the body CAN recover between these grulling events. And the performance does not decreae too much unless you do something stupid like get completely drunk the night before, not sleep or eat everything in the house.

The more or less facts based on modern research:

1) Lactic Acid levels will return to normal within a couple hours. Faster if you add in massage or other type of tissue stimulation (like compex).

2) Glycogen stores in the muscle will replenish quickly if you have them available in the form of 'ready carbs'. So - this is where the chocolate milk, fruits or recovery specific drinks come in. Get it in your system within the first hour while your body is screaming for it. Otherwise, you gotta wait for a slower digestive path.

3) Sleep and the general rest is required for healing the micro-tissue damage and restoring some of the lost muscle fibers. Also restoring back your hydration levels, electrolytes, etc. Plus, you need it for your brain to get straight again. If you don't have sufficient time between the gruelling events, you start to drag and lose performance on a daily basis. You will always rise to your lowest level of ability. Try to find out what that is. For me, it's '10 / 10' - meaning, if I drop below 10kph @ 10% grade, I know I'm on the road to ruin. Over tired, under-fed, under water, etc. All these count. Know what is lacking then fix it. But setting yourself some minimum performance indicator is very important.

4) Always ride as hard as you can the last 5km and the last 1km should be the hardest effort. This way your body has the clear signal that you should increase performance evry day - not decrease it! No matter how crappy I felt, I always tried to follow this. I finished EVERY CLIMB out of the saddle and as hard as I could! I made up most of my positions on each stage, in fact, in the last 5km of each stage!

That's it for now.


Maximum Pace
Feb 5, 2012
Thanks Tim for the sneak peak,

I'm interested in getting into racing at some level but was never really sure what it was like in a stage race, so this is a nice piece on what one could expect.


Maximum Pace
Dec 31, 2009

Glad to hear about your adventure, and also glad to hear you finished! Its no small feat, that's for sure. I really enjoyed all of it and read a few parts several times. Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to the pre-ride ritual chapter.


Maximum Pace
Oct 11, 2009
Thanks - one thing he mentions is particualrly important - and that is the on-bike eating requirements. Alot of people (and myself included) tend to overeat on the bike. I think this comes from simply not having the day to day confidence regarding how much food you really need and also the feeling that because you have no energy, somehow food will fix it.

In fact - when I smacked myself and started to behave properly, I was eating no more than about 200kcals/hr. This means, even though the stage might consume nearly 4000 kcals energy - on bike I was eating less than 1000 !! Why? cause when you are riding at tempo your body is not so good at both providing blood supply for digestion AND muscle oxygenation. However - if you don't feed your body something, it will scream 'starvation' and start shutting you down in a hurry. So - giving it ready available (easy digested) carbs is very important.

After the race - pretty much as I said. Get some food, get massage, get sleep and zonk out. Wake up and eat again. Then zonk out until you have to get up and do it all over.


Maximum Pace
Nov 3, 2007
Thanks for that great summary Tim, and belated congratulations.

It brings pouring back back memories of Transalp in 2009/2011 ... there just is not much time to get through the recovery routine -- refueled, rested, etc. and ready to go the next day in an event like this.

Though my 2-person team finished in the bottom 10% both times I have done Transalp, I found it a lot easier in 2011, mostly because I was familiar with the routine. It is a huge help to be going over at least some of the climbs for a second time, but more important, it is a huge help to have the routine down for recovery, refueling, sleep, repacking, etc., and allows you to focus on the race itself with a much lower stress level.

So the question is -- are you going to do it again next year?

I would love to try this (or better yet, the Pyrenees version that they have announced, or Transalp for a third time) ... but may instead focus on London-Edinburgh-London and/or the Super Brevet Scandinavia. So many great options if it is possible to get the time and get out of Tokyo in the summer ....


Maximum Pace
Apr 8, 2008

It's really interesting to read about your adventures. I would love to try something like this.

The things you describe for stage race recovery can be taken on board for single post ride recovery.

All good stuff!




Maximum Pace
Oct 11, 2009
@David - my first thoughts after doing this were similar to how I felt after the Mt. Fuji experience - 'Once is honorable, twice is insane'. But now I've recovered a bit and am thinking seriously about a 2nd go at it - perhaps even the Pyrenees version as well. My finishing placement guaranteed me an invite for next year, so that helps. Also - I'm looking into the possiblity of cooridinating a 'Team Japan' contingency. In any case - I'll make the decision within this year so I can optimize training for this event specifically.

The primary thing I'd do differently or more of is just do more back-to-back-to-back rides of 150km and then an emulation of say 5 days in a row roughly 30-45 days prior the actual event.

I'd also focus and work hard on following a very strict on-bike and off-bike nutrition regime. In fact this would be far simpler than the shotgun approach I took at HR. I'd choose only a single supplement provider (probably High 5) and have everything packed into day bags. And I'd also make sure I can get the post-ride chocolate milk or whatever I crave well sorted out prior to the start. I lost alot of valuable 1st hour recovery time in trying to find convenience stores, etc. This is the most critical time to replenish - so you don't wanna be stressed by anything lacking.

So, my actual on-bike distance wouldn't be that different - however the aggregation of it and focus would be. I'd also try to get some high speed acclimitazion rides in - like the Dochi Michi descent very early with minimal cars. Breaking the 75kph barrier is important to getting good finishing time on this event. And you (me) need alot of practice and confidence building to sustain these high speeds comfortably. Equipmentwise, I'll probably change to Gokiso / 33mm / Tubular Alloys (Niobium) and perhaps more 'road aero' bike like the Scott Foil, which is a little heavier than I rode - but again, more optimal for the lengthy, high speed descents and transits.

The major climbs were all in the 7% - 11% range, so having a super light bike was maybe not as critical as having the comfort, stability and multi-range aerodynamics. And, oftentimes you were in smaller groups of 3-5 riders - so , again, getting a bit more aero is useful as you don't often have a large bunch to sit in. I imagine your setup for TOITO would be roughly the same with the exception of the TT bars (definitely not allowed or recommended).


Maximum Pace
Jan 9, 2011
A really insightful account of the event. I don't know if I would ever have the guts or commitment to do something like this but this is certainly a great primer for anyone planning to ride a stage race for the first time ... not to mention being a great read for armchair followers:warau:
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