Training in High Places

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Why is it that professional riders escape to the mountains for training camps? To bask in the presence of their beauty and splendour? Apparently not...

Oxygen. Up at dizzy heights of 1800m and above, the air is less compressed, resulting in a lower air pressure, or 'thin' air. This means that in a given volume of air, there are fewer molecules present, including... Oxygen.

As we breath, oxygen attaches to hemoglobin in our red blood cells and is transported to our muscles and vital organs. As you ascend to higher and higher altitudes, you breath in less and less oxygen and the body is therefore forced to adapt in order to cope with these changes. This is known as acclimatisation.

In the short term, coping mechanisms include changes such as deeper breathing and a faster heart rate. However the real benefits of high altitude training come from long term bodily adaptations which eventually result in an increase of red blood cells.

When returning to altitudes closer to sea level and breathing air with a higher concentration of oxygen, with more red blood cells to transport more oxygen to the muscles and vital organs, riders should experience an improved performance for couple of weeks. Not only that, but when races such as the Tour de France have riders competing at high altitudes, their bodies are better prepared to deal with performing under these different, more difficult conditions.

We caught up with Team KATUSHA ALPECIN riders, Nathan Haas and Rick Zabel to get the low down on their recent high altitude training camp with Marcel Kittel in Colorado.

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What is the reason for a high altitude training camp?

N: We need to get fitter, when you're chasing the dream of winning at the TDF, you have to be at your best. For me, altitude training always brings my best to the fore and Colorado is one of the best places on earth for it

R: Getting in better shape

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How long do you have to do it for in order for it to make a difference?

N: For me, I think 10 days, less then that and you get some cool changes, but you're not on top of your game unless you do a bit longer

R: The minimum is around 10days to 2 weeks I think

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Do you notice a considerable difference when you return to normal training?

N: Not really in training, it's more on racing I feel the difference, when it starts getting harder, you just don't suffer as much

R: Yes I do

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What does a typical day look like?

N: We’ve been enjoying the German breakfast style of having a table buffet, that's fun. Then it's coffee, ride, shower, eat, nap, eat, sleep... Boring right? Not for me, I love the discipline 

R: Breakfast, train, lunch, chilling, dinner. Haha sounds boring, it is also, except the training here in Colorado is beautiful and sometimes we also do fun stuff. We have a good group here

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What’s the best thing?

N: There’s not one best thing, when I think that I'm riding with friends and focusing on good health and happiness, there's nothing to stress about. Maybe that's the thing, we're just happy keeping it simple

R: The views, being in the USA

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What’s the hardest thing?

N: The hardest thing is walking up stairs at 2600m altitude. It surprises you every time how puffed you get

R: Training in high altitude, no oxygen 

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How do you keep yourself motivated when you are setting the schedule yourselves?

N: Motivation comes from drive, and you don't meet an elite athlete without drive. You can't fake that. So it's innate in what we do

R: Food and doing fun stuff on a rest day or also training days with my mates. Nathan and me always find something fun to do

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Does someone clearly take the lead?

N: Papa Marcel? Not really, we have a meeting after dinner every night, we make a route, a plan that best fits each riders goals for the day and voila, we are a democratic bunch of friends 

R: We have Robert here, he‘s the coach and takes the lead and decision but always after speaking with us so everybody is happy

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Who cooks in the evenings? What do they cook?

N: Marcel takes control of breakfast and the BBQ, I was the pasta and salad guru and Rick, I forget, did he ever cook? The real star was Marcel's partner Tess and sous chef, Robert, our coach. They study nutrition a lot so they kept it very healthy and still tasty as! Except their gluten free pasta, they can keep that to themselves #keepitgluten

R: Steak, tacos, pasta, salad, vegetables or a soup that‘s the things we eat mostly

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The guys are seen in our BREAKAWAY collection, which takes direct inspiration from their KATUSHA ALPECIN team kit, using the same colour palette and technologies.

Find it:

The Superlight Jersey

The Icon Bibshort

The AERO Suit

The Light Rain Jacket


Photos by Peloton Brief