Mick Rogers on how to prepare for an individual time trial: Part II: Warm-up and recovery
Mick Rogers is a three-time world time trial champion, multiple-time Giro and Tour de France stage winner, Olympic medalist and much more. He retired in 2016 after a remarkable career and is still a keen fan of the sport.
Along with Daniel Healey (former BMC & Tinkoff sport scientist), Rogers produced this in-depth analysis on how he used to approach the race against the clock, and how you can too. In Part 1, they examined the preparation that takes place off the bike. In part 2 Rogers looks at his warm-up routine, nutrition during the TT, and recovery after the effort.
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In Part 1: pre-race nutrition I stepped you through some of the things I did to get ready for a time trial that did not involve the bike. Hydration, and a three-part breakfast were the key factors that served me well for many years. Now it’s time to get into race mode with a carefully structured warm-up.
The warm up
Everything I have been doing during the day has led up this point: the warm-up. I have seen and tried a lot of different warm-up protocols and like everything else in my sporting career, I learned what worked best for me after much trial and error. However, I always kept an eye on what made sense from both a practical and scientific perspective so what I will describe here ticks both of these boxes.
But the biggest point I would like to get across when it comes to the time trial warm-up is that less is more. There is no need to spend more than 25 minutes warming up. In fact, I’m quite certain I have left many of my best performances on the ergometer before some time trials even started by warming up too hard and much too long. This is a topic Daniel and I have had a lot of discussion about, and when you hear it from him it makes sense that a warm-up can (and should) be short and sweet:
“The aim of the warm-up is to raise core temperature which in itself will prepare muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints for exercise,” he explains. “Then you need to wake up the brain, which is called neural activation, and finally via some short and sharp high intensity efforts you must trigger a change in physiology so that when high-GI sugars are consumed they will not trigger rebound hypoglycaemia. Instead this supplemental sugar in the form of energy gels and sports drink will be made available to exercising muscle.
“These three things should be accomplished with minimal demand on the carefully curated energy stores of muscle and liver glycogen, while causing as little disturbance to blood sugar levels as possible”.
So here is what I found worked best for me. My warm up was 20 minutes of work with a four- to five-minute warm down. I would start with five minutes of really easy spinning. Then I moved into a progression through the power zones gradually ramping up the intensity every 60 seconds finishing with some time at threshold. I would then recover with easy spinning for a few minutes. Next was a VO2 effort followed by three maximal sprints. With that my work was done! I was sweating, my legs were open and my focus had narrowed to the task at hand.
Nutritionally I was also following a careful plan. From 0-20 minutes I sipped water whenever I felt I needed it. But as soon as I started the warm down I switched to a sports drink. Daniel will tell you why:
“During the warm up Mick has done a couple of hard efforts,” he says. “There was some threshold, VO2 and sprint work. These three efforts are sufficient to trigger the release of Catecholamines and one of these slows down the secretion of insulin. With insulin blocked it’s now safe to switch to high GI fuel which should bring blood sugar back to pre-warm up levels.
“The aim is to get Mick on the start line with fully loaded muscle glycogen (this happened in the one to two days before the event), optimal liver glycogen stores, and well hydrated, which includes ideal plasma volume and stable blood sugar”.
During the race
If I had done all of the things I have mentioned so far I was generally in a calm yet highly focused state as the countdown to my start time continued. There is a certain amount of confidence to be gained when you follow a process and when you know that process works for you. The last thing to do was to execute my ride according to the prevailing conditions.
For a short time trial such as a prologue I didn’t need any bottles or gels. But as soon as the effort was anywhere between 20 minutes and 1 hour I would always carry two gels and one bidon filled with sports drink. I would only ever need one gel for even the longest time trials — the second gel was a backup in case I dropped the first.
I know I have left out a lot regarding pacing strategies, gearing and other equipment used during the race. That is because these things are highly personalised and also reliant upon external factors such as starting order, weather, route and, to some extent, the times laid down by riders who went before me. So I’ll fast-forward to the end of the race where a whole series of new processes begin.
Recovery from a short or long TT for me is the same every time. I start with nutrition and then very quickly move into my warm-down. As soon as I make it back to the bus I consume glucose. This can come in many forms and a very famous ex-teammate of mine has been pictured recently eating gummy bears after a race. I did something similar. It works, and Daniel will explain why:
“Consuming high-GI carbohydrate immediately after a time trial will kick-start the replenishment of glycogen (stored sugar) in muscle,” he says. “There is a narrow window of opportunity where glucose has to pass through the stomach and make its way down to muscle where it meets an enzyme that converts this sugar to glycogen. This particular enzyme is most productive in the 30 to 40 minutes post-exercise so feeding it as fast as possible is a very good idea”.
So as I am chewing through my glucose I’ll now sit on the stationary trainer and start my warm-down. My standard warm down looked like this …
I start with one block of easy spinning, not even looking at my power meter. Then for the next block I would alternate between 30 seconds at mid zone 3 then 30 seconds at high zone 1. For the final portion of my warm down I would just spin in a really easy gear. The aim of this warm-down was to help flush lactate from my legs. It’s the middle portion where I alternated between mid zone 3 and high zone 1 that delivered this benefit. Such on/off effort acted like a pump which diverted lactate away from my lower legs.
With the warm-down complete and a bit of fluffing around, my next action was to consume protein around 30 minutes post-race. Similar to the glucose story above there are some time constraints on post-exercise protein consumption as well as a few practicalities. The main thing I noticed after a hard time trial is that I am generally not hungry at this point. Chewing food was not an option so a protein drink was ideal for me.
There are many different protein powders and drinks available so it’s best that the sports scientist provides tips on what is best for you.
“Post-exercise protein is very important for endurance athletes,” Daniel explains. “In fact a Giro or Tour de France champion has a higher need for protein than a bodybuilder. Anywhere from 2 to 2.5g of protein per kilogram of body weight per day is appropriate for these aerobic athletes.
“Protein is used by the cyclist to repair muscle tissue, develop capillaries and also plays a role in the creation of various enzymes that are critical to exercise. The best protein to use post exercise is one that has been highly filtered so look for the words Isolate or Hydrolysate on the label. And make sure it’s a reputable brand that has been batch tested. You don’t need much — around 20 to 25g mixed with water or milk is sufficient”.
Finally, around one hour after the race I’ll have a mixed meal of some sort. Usually on the team bus there is a rice cooker in perpetual use so I’ll load up a plate with white rice and for protein its generally whatever was available, such as tuna or some fresh ham. The other go-to option was a baguette filled with salad fillings and sandwich meats.
I’m describing these two meals because they both contain what the body needs at this point. Although the process of glycogen replenishment was kickstarted via post-race glucose, it continues for the next three to four hours so long as carbohydrate consumption remains high. And medium to low GI carbohydrates during this time are very effective at delivering optimal recovery.
So here we are at the end of my time trial race day. If I followed the recovery steps described here I knew I could be feeling good to very good the next day in a Grand Tour where my focus generally shifted off my own ambitions to that of team helper, either on the flat or deep into the high mountains. It’s been a trip down memory lane for me as I pieced these two articles together and I’m confident that what I have described will prove valuable to anyone that wants to experiment with all or only part of this day-long time trial protocol.
Above is a run-sheet I used right up until the end of my career which should help you manage yourself and the logistics of race day.