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Training for the Tour Divide

Always Riding's good friend Kevin 'Blackhound' Cunniffe is taking part in the epic 'Great Divide' race through America this year, and here, the intrepid adventurer deals with the difficult, yet essential issue of training...


Training for an event such as the Tour Divide is difficult. Training for any event is a matter of preparing yourself for the event you have targeted whether this be a 100 mile sportive, a 2 hour mtb cross-country race or a 10 mile time trial. You know what you need to do on the big day and from where your fitness is at the moment you need to do the requisite amount of endurance and speed training. All training sessions should be either increasing your endurance, speed or be a recovery from a hard ride.


The Tour Divide for me is about riding for 28 days at 100 miles per day, off road, carrying all my gear at altitude. I will be climbing, on average, almost 2 ‘Everests’ a week topping out at 11,900 feet. 28 days is my target, against a record of 17 days, but a lot can happen over 2,750 miles. There has been a lot of snow this winter in The Rockies and the forecast is for a particularly muddy ride. I have never been the best rider in mud and this could lead to a longer ride for me. So, it is not about speed, just getting up early and riding your bike until late into the evening and getting food and water where you can along the way. This is what I need to train over the next few months.


I have been riding for nearly 20 years, many of those a couple of times a week on and off road but between 2004 and 2009 I started to ride a lot more frequently when my work became locally based allowing me to ride to work and go for a ride at the end of the day.


2010 was not a good riding year for me as, due to work issues, I rode far less than usual and my fitness ebbed away due to one ride a week. I did manage my two longest rides ever of 300km and 330km and a weeks riding in The Alps. The Alps were hard as I was not really fit enough to enjoy it (see pic of me suffering on the Croix de Fer with Craft mitts and Bio-racer shorts from Always Riding). In October I went on holiday for three weeks and did not touch a bike so come 1st November I started training from a very low level.


For a few months most of my riding was at a low intensity trying to keep to about 75% of my maximum heart rate. As soon as I hit a climb my heart rate was shooting up so I spent a few months backing off on climbs.


I steadily increased my distance to 100k including a couple on successive days to see how my recovery was and it has been fine. I am well aware that this is well less than the 160km I aim to do in a day, and it is on an unloaded road bike.


Towards late February I tried to pick up the pace a couple of times a week with a couple of turbo sessions which I hope will improve my speed. Although covering the ground easily enough my average speed is about >10% down on what I believe I should be doing and even small local hills are proving difficult to get over. I hope the speed work and the mileage combine and that I will be flying come the spring.


My first target of the year was a 200km audax from Cheadle in late February which did not go very well. Very early on I was struggling to keep up with a group and I was dropped on a small climb at 11km but was still travelling OK within myself. At 40km I stopped to turn over my route sheet and my hands got wet and cold and I immediately became cold all over and my pace dropped alarmingly. Very quickly I realised getting to the first check point at 48km was a challenge and against my better judgement I continued to this point and then cycled the 30km back to Alderly Edge to get some food and dry out barely able to keep my pedals turning. After an hour of coffee and food I made it back to base feeling a little better.


Two days later I flew out to Majorca for 12 days. The first three days were quite wet and I gave one day a miss, I also continued to feel very tired and realised I had a bit of an infection which also affected the audax. I was shivering most of the time and my head was very sore too touch, even the shower was painful. By the following week I was feeling much stronger and my pace noticeably improved and I had a nice week climbing the mountains around Soller, Lluc, Alaro, Orient.and Bunyola.


The second week was dry and while warm enough sitting in town square’s eating and drinking cafe con leche on the bike it was certainly a bit cooler and a windproof such as my Craft jacket or gilet along with Ibex arm warmers and Craft leg warmers were required at all times.


I managed about 800km which included a couple of days off to spend with my partner and a deformed tyre problem on another day causing a low mileage day.


There were many German riders out in Majorca but I did not see a large number of British riders. I was passed by the Le Col - Pendragon team on the climb to Orient and another morning saw the Team Sky squad riding towards Puerto Pollenca.


Over the next few months a few short multi day tours in Wales and the Peak District checking kit are something I am looking forward to. Wales in particular has miles of quiet tracks and I hope to ride the Trans Cambrian route and make up a route from Machynlleth to somewhere on the North Wales coast taking in a few trail centres and lots of climbing. Or maybe a week in Scotland.


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About the Rider: Blackhound
Now retired, Blackhound can get on with the real business - riding! This un-assuming Derbyshire native completed the Tour Divide race in 2011, and in 2013 aims to ride the Highland Trail Race, traverse Spain in a Spanish border tour and, if all that was not enough, roll along for 1,800 miles of the Tour Divide Route.
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