Carlos García is a professional cycling coach today, but he used to be not just a top professional Uruguayan cyclist used to beat national and South American records, and of course all of the best rivals of his time in track, route and time trial, but who also took part in Los Angeles’84 Olympic Games at the age of 18.
Goosebumps are inevitable for any amateur cyclist when the memories start popping, in the kind of conversation he doesn’t usually share at first encounters. You get to learn about his amazing records through others. He's been like that since I first met him, over 20 years ago, when I didn´t know anything about what for me are very thrilling feats.
This is why whenever I get the chance to chat with Carlos about cycling, anything from training tips, racing, tactical strategy, to mental strength (or weakness), personal character or those necessary tricky moves that may win the race, for you or for a teammate, I listen very carefully. He shares his rich anecdote and vast knowledge in the low key reserved for the true great ones, as incidental comments, never imposing his qualified opinion.
So checking out his views on the GFNY URUGUAY was a must. We covered the routes, training level required to do the distance, organizational aspects, but I was especially aiming at comments that would help the foreign riders to shed some light on the particulars of Uruguayan topography and winds, perhaps the toughest rivals to overcome on race day.
Carlos, once you got to know in detail the GFNY URUGUAY, what are your first impressions?
It’s not an event to be taken upon lightly. It’s a tough event, and is no joyride. It certainly demands certain level of training.
What can you tell us about that?
In any training program, there are two elements to consider: the progression and the continuity. Setting up a generic training program would be wrong, since everyone knows from what training level he/she is starting from, and what can be achieved during the time that is left until race day. Every rider knows what he/she has done during the past year, the accumulated experience, or lack of it… For example, if you have been in competition or not. Of course, this is quite relative, because there can be a rider who hasn’t been into sports for long, but still may have acquired competition ability.
Let’s talk topography. From Km72 onwards, when you take Route 12 Northbound and then Route 60 Southbound, GF riders will undertake a constant series of uphill stretches of varied percentage and length, the kind that slowly eat away your leg power. What do you recommend in order to cope with these hardships?
Even though it's an event that permits group participation, or the spontaneous en-route alliance, it will still be very individual for most, because the competition will be more against topography and the usual Uruguayan winds, than against other participants.
Besides the fact that a team may work as such, especially on the plains section, and protect itself from the wind factor, once they reach the uphill section, the wheel suction disminishes, and it all becomes an individual effort. If the rider doesn’t have the necessary level of training, no matter how well the team works…, in a climb, the team can only get you so far...then you’re on your own.
You can “follow the wheel” of a teammate in these cases, but it’s more of a psicological factor, is that right? How much does this factor weigh up there?
Following a wheel that sets your pace is of such importance, that on a professional level during a mountain stage, or continuous ascending like these 80Km we are talking about, there could be 7 or 8 members out of a team of 9, dedicated exclusively to setting pace for the team leader. There is a lot of energy wearing, not just physical but also mental, in the pace setting. Although it certainly is an important factor, sometimes the strength just isn’t there and it all becomes an individual effort, exclusively, as I understand it will be for many riders.
Having made clear that the training depends heavily on each rider’s condition prior to the race, how many weekly rides do you recommend as a minimum, in order to prepare for the GFNY URUGUAY?
At least 3 rides on weekdays, and one on the weekend in order to achieve more mileage, or fondo.
How many Kms?
More than Kms, we should think in terms of percentage, because it depends on where you start from. But, just as an example, if you are making 40Km distances during the week, you should start progressively increasing the distance to 60-80Km, and considering the remaining time until the race, then set your goal on crossing the 100Km barrier. Only then, you can set off to reach the full distance.
Talking about specific training, for example, if a rider doesn’t have a circuit with climbs close by, is it convenient to train with the best available climb, repeating its ascent?
Ideally, if you have an ondulated topography close by, even if it’s of 15 or 20 Km, you should use it, making as many rounds in order to reach the goal distance. If you don’t have that, you just train with any available climb, yes.
Should one train pace changes as well?
The pace changes are due to happen in a race, inevitably and logically, regardless of your plans of riding it in a regular and controlled manner. In a plain topography race, or a time trial, you have more control. But in this case, it doesn't depend on you alone.
You’ll need to have the paces already incorporated in your training in order to climb up and ride down properly, not ”loosing the wheel” under your rivals’attack. The variables and pace changes are generated by topography, your rivals, and the wind.
Is it necessary to do the whole distance before the race?
That depends on each rider’s goal. If we are talking about winning the race, that’s one thing. But if you are going for a more social-recreational experience, then it’s totally different.
In cycling, as opposed to other sports, you should reach the race distance, especially if you are set to compete. The ideal is to reach it in the same course of the race. That would be the more complex training there is. Because it’s no longer about specific training of climbs or distance, but about both combined, and including the wind factor as well –of which I’m as respectful as of the climbs. Many people prefer the climbs, because you know where they end. Head wind is constant and can be unrelenting. It can make it harder to control your pace.
In Uruguay, there are unstable winds that may shift at a certain time, usually by 10 a.m., so you may end up facing the wind at the start and at the finish. This can certainly wear you out, both physically and mentally.
Considering the date of the race, it is quite probable to have East or SouthEast winds, so a good part of the race will be under crossed winds, and it could end, if this happens, with the last 25 Km against the wind. It can be tough.
At what point of the training should you "do the distance", or get close to it?
That cannot be the last thing you do. Even though it's the training’s culmination point, the last days you should gather your strength. You are not going to achieve on the last 10 days what you didn’t along your time of training. You better take it easy on the final days, just roll and gather your strength, what is known as “tapering off”.
The aerobic capability is acquired far before the competition date, maybe 3-4 months before. It’s what takes more time to achieve, among all the capabilities you need to develop, and also what takes more time to wear off. Many people get anxious while they decrease the training volume and stop working long distances as race date approaches, but that’s what they need to do. You won’t be able to do in a few days what you didn’t do over 3-4 months…
You need to lower both volumen and distance?
What can you tell me about the transmission to use in this race?
Nowadays, the bikes come with big-plate transmissions, 50/39, and crowns of 11/25. I think those are fine for this race. It could be also a big 53 plate, because you can take advantage of it downhill or with tailwind. I do recommend a 39 plate against a 42, which is also of use. This is regarding recreational riders mostly. A well trained cyclist will do the whole race with a big plate, no doubt.
What did we left out considering?
Mainly, to remember having a correct nutrition during the previous months, the rider knows what that is. Also, try to combine the resting hours with the training. The GFNY URUGUAY may very well be a yearly training goal. It certainly is a race to which you need to train for, that is clear.