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Tactics and fueling for the WorldTour’s longest monument
By Larry Warbasse
We’re into the cobbled classics now, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have time to slow down and check in with AG2R Citroën’s Larry Warbasse, who completed La Primavera in mid-March.
In this race report, Larry gives us the details of the WorldTour’s longest single day of racing, including course notes, a short summary on how it went, and – most importantly – an inside look at how a pro fuels to maintain glucose supply across 300km while ensuring he’s got enough emergency glycogen at the end to earn a paycheck.
For more on Larry, check out his First Endurance athlete page. For more on the calendar’s first monument, keep scrolling.
Race Report: The “Easy” Monument
294 kilometers. La classicisima. The longest race in professional cycling. One of the sport’s five monuments. Many of the world’s best riders on the start line. It sounds intimidating, but this was not my first rodeo. Since it was my fourth participation in the race, I knew what to expect.
While long in terms of distance, it’s around equivalent in total time to some other races like Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Il Lombardia, and even some of the longer stages of the grand tours. One of the main differences in Sanremo is that the first 200-something kilometers are easy… relatively!
The first couple hours are more about staying relaxed and conserving energy before the fight begins. One of the most important points to a long race like this, however, is nutrition. It’s something I have spoken a lot about over the last couple years, but it is something that I believe has changed the sport more than anything else. And it is perhaps more visible in a race like Sanremo than anywhere else.
Maybe not THAT Easy
Ok, when I say “easy,” I mean that there are not many difficulties along the way; it’s mostly flat, save for the climb of the Turchino, for which there is still a somewhat significant fight for position, as no one wants to get caught out by poor positioning on its technical descent.
After that it’s normally a pee stop along the coast before a gradual increase in speed as we arrive at the many small hills, known as the capi, peppered along the coast. They are tough but not long enough to cause any damage – though they do sap the legs a bit for the difficulties to come, when the race really begins.
The pace increases steadily each capi, until it’s absolutely all guns a blazin’ into the Cipressa, which is the hardest positioning battle of the day. It’s also a pretty tough climb, an extremely technical descent, and the hardest sprint out of a corner in your life at the bottom, and all of that is just the lead-in to the final fight into the bottom of the Poggio, where the big dogs come out to play.
This year, we were working for our leader, Benoit Cosnefroy. He took 2nd place in Amstel Gold Race last year, and he’s one of the best classics riders in the game when he’s on his day. My job was to stay near him for most of the day and keep him out of trouble, before positioning him for the Cipressa and the Poggio.
Due to the nature of the race, I couldn’t stick to my fueling plan exactly. (More on that later!) Luckily, it did not seem to affect me too negatively, as we were able to hit the Cipressa in relatively good position and get over the climb with good legs! After that, the group was much smaller (80 instead of 200), making for a somewhat simpler fight for position into the bottom of the Poggio.
After we hit the Poggio, my job for the day was finished. I rode home in a group a little less than two minutes down. Unfortunately the day didn’t go as well as hoped in terms of a result for Benoit or our team, but that’s cycling and it happens sometimes!
In a race that spans such an extreme distance – and with the hardest efforts coming near the final – keeping on top of your fueling is imperative. You need to make sure you have adequate glycogen stores when you hit the Cipressa and Poggio; otherwise, you will not be able to follow the peloton.
Nutrition: so Much More than Race Day
The focus on nutrition starts long before race day, first with practice in training, and then in the days leading up to the race. Our team nutritionist gave us a detailed nutrition plan to follow the week leading up to the race, including a detailed breakdown of what to eat at each meal every day to reach our ideal glycogen stores when we arrived at the start line.
The big difference here is that, in the past, we would have just eaten normally a few days out from the race and the day or two before we would have just been crushing pasta and maybe an extra helping or two of dessert.
We now weigh out our portions to make sure we are getting adequate carbs over the course of a couple of days without overeating. Gone are the pasta parties of old (I heard stories of riders eating between 7 and 10[!!!] plates of pasta the night before Sanremo); in are the very normal portion sizes that adorned our dinner plates those final nights before the race.
My MSR Numbers:
Before the Race
The two days before Sanremo, we consumed around 450-550 grams of carbohydrates over the course of the day, broken down quite evenly between meals: big bowls of oatmeal in the morning, lots of pasta for lunch and dinner, and on-the-bike fueling during training.
The morning of the race, we had a big breakfast where we were looking for 200 grams of carbs – mostly in the form of rice, as it’s a bit easier to digest than an enormous bowl of oats, and a bit of bread with butter. Each meal we have a normal amount of protein as well, but our main focus is on getting the right amount of carbs, as that is where most of our energy comes from!
During the Race
During the race, I took a bit of a different approach to some of the other races in the year due to its long nature, fueling with slightly less carbohydrates in the early hours and slowly increasing as the race went on. Our nutritionist made this plan with the aim of optimizing our digestion over the course of the race, as if we overloaded our gut too early, we could potentially risk being unable to eat enough in the last hours of the race.
The aim for the first two hours was to eat between 60-80 grams of carbs, followed by 80-100 grams every hour thereafter. I consume mostly non-solid calories in races these days, as I find it easier to eat gels and drink mixes than eating solid food when the race is really on. When it is easier, a bar or a rice cake is fine to eat, but I prefer to choose what I believe are the most efficient fuels and just pure carbs! It’s easy to do with a mix of EFS and Liquid Shots, trying to drink at least a bottle of mix an hour (or two when it’s hot), normally complemented with at least two gels.
I stayed on top of my fueling religiously the first four hours of the race, because from there on out it was extremely difficult to fuel at all! We had a roaring tailwind and every time I looked down at my Wahoo, it seemed to be reading 65 kph… on the flat! On the twisty Italian riviera coastal roads, full of road furniture, potholes, and numerous other obstacles, bumping elbows with 200 other guys who all want to be in the same place makes taking your hands off the bars a slightly more challenging scenario than it otherwise would be! So while I might have taken a few sips and a gel or two, I definitely did not meet my planned carbohydrate intake! It even happens to the pros…
After the Race
At the finish line, the soigneurs were waiting for us with a small can of soda to get a quick burst of sugar before we roll to the bus (I usually opt for a Fanta or a Sprite to avoid the caffeine after the race is finished), and as soon as we get to the bus we have our recovery drink waiting for us.
For me, that’s Ultragen, and there is not much I look forward to more than that delicious bottle after a long, hard ride or race. I’m pretty sure the Cappuccino flavor is the best recovery drink out there. Once that’s done, we hop in the shower and then grab our recovery meal to eat in the next hour, depending on how hungry we are.
Long After the Race
The night of Sanremo, I love to have an awesome meal with my girlfriend. Last year, we went to my favorite steak restaurant; this year, we went to her friend’s house to eat a raclette – copious amounts of melted cheese spread over different types of meat and potatoes. So good. And well deserved after burning 5,000 kjs on the bike!