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Greg Whyte OBE

Physical Activity Expert


30 July 2013An interview with Professor Greg Whyte

Q Is it just 'as easy as riding a bike' or should we be focusing on technique, cadence, positioning, etc. and varying this according to the flats and the climbs?

Professor Greg Whtye

This very much depends on the level the rider is at. For a complete beginner, any amount of bike riding is going to be beneficial. Obviously, with time constraints, the smarter you train the better. Duration is not always, in fact rarely, better than quality. In a short amount of time, a lot of progress can be made as long as you are training properly. That said, any amount of riding, even non specific, is better than none.

Q I tend to suffer from cramp in my calves and inner thigh towards the end of rides above 80 miles even though I think I have taken on enough fluids during a ride. I try and consume a large bike bottle every 20-25 miles. What else could I do to try and prevent this?

Professor Greg Whtye

It’s a common misconception that cramp is always caused due to lack of hydration and loss of salt during exercise. These are contributory factors but lack of specific muscle fitness and therefore onset fatigue is the reason you are getting cramp. It may also be down to poor position in the bike but taking this out of the equation, the fitter you get, and the more accustomed your body becomes to riding the bike for extended periods of time, the less fatigued your muscles will become and therefore be able to cope with the additional work load you are putting them under.

Q For this challenge should I be concentrating my training specifically for hill climbing, mile munching or a combination of the two?

Professor Greg Whtye

A combination: ideally you need to have a bespoke, phased training plan to get you to your goal. Speaking very broadly, strength, strength endurance, power, and hill specific work are the phases I would break your training into, increasing the distances across time.

Q What food / nutrition do you recommend for the duration of the ride?

Professor Greg Whtye

The entire ride is 242km, the climb is really the end game, getting there in a decent state is going to be the challenge. Feeding on the bike is a very individual thing: some people can eat solids quite happily, others struggle and prefer carbohydrate gels. What is a given is that you MUST have a carb mix energy drink in your bottles, this will give you c.30g of carbs per bottle straight away. Care is warranted as the upper limit of CHO uptake is c.60g per hour. This can be increased with the use of various forms of CHO i.e. glucose and fructose, but the use of non-CHO based energy i.e. fats and protein can make a big difference on very long rides (think savoury as well as sweet). Eating on the climb may be an issue for some but, as I said, if you do not manage your nutrition for the first 200km, the climb won’t be a pleasant experience at all.

Q Ideally how many miles should we be aiming to complete a week in preparation?

Professor Greg Whtye

I would refer you to the above question about training: it’s going to be very difficult for you to actually complete "race" distance given time constraints etc but ideally I would be looking to put you through a two-day block close to the actual event of 300 hilly kilometres spread over the two days. Ultimately, if we can get you guys on bikes for 8-9 hours on a single day that would be great, but it is going to be impossible to replicate the event in training in the UK. Weekly mileage/hour targets are very difficult to prescribe on a mass basis; individualised training plans will optimise training alongside work, family and life commitments.

Q Any tips to improve comfort on the bike?

Professor Greg Whtye

DO NOT WEAR PANTS UNDER YOUR CYCLING SHORTS and use shammy/chamois cream. Have your position assessed; it makes a big difference to comfort and performance. The majority of discomfort will be from the neck, back, hands and undercarriage which can be significantly reduced with hours on the bike in a correct position – get a tailored bike set up.

Q How much do you think success in making the summit of Mont Ventoux is down to training or mental grit and determination?

Professor Greg Whtye

The training, and achieving small goals along the way, will give you the confidence you need to have the right mental approach. With the correct training comes the correct mental attitude, if the body’s right, the mind is right.

That said, we can replicate the length of climbing in training with repeated hill efforts but we simply cannot climb for that long in this country; this will affect some more than others. Pace judgement is going to be vital, not only on the climb but for the whole ride. The better prepared you are, the less psychological strength will be required, and the reverse applies on a very steeply sliding slope.

Q What should I be eating in the run up to the event to help me ensure my body is ready for the challenge?

Professor Greg Whtye

Nutrition will be key whilst training as will carbohydrate loading in the run-up to the event. Simply, carbohydrate is your fuel, protein post training is your recovery; you can nudge this in the right direction with gels, carb and protein recovery powders, but ultimately a good healthy balanced diet is key. You will notice an increase in portion sizes if you are training correctly. Fruit and vegetables are an essential source of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and roughage, but provide very little in the way of useable fuel for exercise.

Q How do you train/prepare the stamina required when it is not possible to replicate the conditions? (i.e. heat, distance, size of mountains).

Professor Greg Whtye

As above, specific programmes with repeated flat and hill efforts; back to back days of training; blocks to cause accumulative fatigue to replicate distance; over dressing to replicate heat conditions (take care); heat acclimation in chambers (even your bedroom or garage!). Be under no illusions; this is a tough, tough challenge.

Q I’ve read articles that say “to climb successfully you must be a light as you can possibly be” (definitely a challenge for me!) and that a good way to shed those excess pounds is to do training rides “empty” (i.e. not having eaten that morning before heading out, and not eating whilst on the bike). This I did on Sunday, over a relatively testing route, but after four hours, having just turned for home, I completely ‘bonked’, lost all power and suffered for the next 90 minutes riding very slowly (into a headwind just to make it worse) before collapsing in a shattered heap when I finally made it back.

Professor Greg Whtye

I would strongly advise against this – you need to be properly fuelled to train correctly and if you are all new or fairly new to cycling the increase in training and changes to nutrition will bring your weight down considerably without even trying. Training without fuel can cause muscle damage in some cases. The pros can get away with sub 500 cal light training days for three day blocks but they have the benefit of doing nothing for the rest of the day; this type of training takes a long time to recover from. You want to be focusing on backed-up training days – this won’t be possible if you are not properly fuelled.

Q Do you subscribe to the training ‘empty’ theory? And do you have any recommendations for ‘get out of jail’ energy-providing food/drink for when the ‘tank is empty’?

Professor Greg Whtye

See above for first part of question.

Jelly snakes, babies, wine gums, etc – anything that will give you an instant glycogen boost; a mars bar is great! CAUTION, this will fix you for about 20 minutes, then you will fall back in to an even deeper place than you were before, this really is a last ten mile get me home "fix". Avoid 'bonking'; be proactive in feeding. Designing a bespoke feeding plan is a key element of performance.

Q What is the most effective training I can do (either on or off the bike) in a 2-2½ hour time frame for this event?

Professor Greg Whtye

If that's an average per week it will be difficult to deliver big improvements in performance – an individualised plan to optimise training is a must.

If you have 2-2½ hour availability on a number of days per week then there is no problem at all. With some focused training that's plenty to get you through. Four minimum, ideally five, key sessions a week of 2½ hours, ten hours a week, it will be hard, the sessions won’t be pretty but it’s possible.