• Boris Clark

Preparing Hannes Bergström Frisk for tour of Qinghai Lake and elite national championships

Updated: Oct 5, 2019

It takes special preparation to get ready for a race at high altitude, particularly when you don’t have the option of an altitude training camp beforehand. This is the situation we faced with Hannes Bergström Frisk of Memil Pro Cycling and his preparation for the Tour of Qinghai Lake (2.HC), which is to our knowledge the highest average altitude stage race in the world (13 stages, with ‘low’ stages being run around 1500-2000m altitude, and ‘high’ stages peaking close to 4000m with some brutal climbs).

Qinghai Lake is a big goal for Hannes, being that it is a 2.HC race, the highest classification his Memil Pro Cycling Team can compete in, and a chance to impress on a large stage. However, on the way we had the National road race championships of Sweden, and the time trial championships after in August, which were also big objectives for Hannes having been 10th in the 2018 road race nationals, 3rd in the 2018 time trial nationals, and 11th at the 2018 tour of Qinghai Lake. The aim for 2019 was to better these positions, hopefully significantly.

With the main goal being the tour of Qinghai lake, we made a plan to prepare for this, that would also facilitate the qualities needed to perform in the road national championships, and in particular the time trial championships approximately a month after the tour ends.

Our first step was to look at the demands on the 3 events Hannes was targeting.

Hannes competing at the 2019 Sweden national road race championships

The road national championships

180km with an approximately 5 minute climb 9 times. While it tempting to look at this and think training for 5 minute power would yield great benefits for this scenario, what we really want is repeatable power, and fatigue resistance. The race will be won and lost on the last few times up this climb when there is already many hours of racing in the legs. The winner won’t be who has the best 5 minute power, but who can maintain their power over the course of the race.

The tour of Qinghai Lake

Long sustained climbs with low O2 availability and reduced ability to recover from short hard efforts. Power at the anaerobic threshold would be key here, as would be minimizing the build-up of lactate when above threshold efforts are made, explosiveness can be sacrificed here in return for greater steady power. Being at altitude also increases carbohydrate utilization. Training would have to be designed to factor these in. This is a long tour so the ability to recover and perform back to back would also be vital.

Time trial nationals

Threshold power is all important here. No need to explosiveness to ability to change pace. High sustained power at the anaerobic threshold is key.

Despite being a climber/time trial specialist, Hannes has previously won the national criterium championship

The preparation

At high altitude the air is less dense, meaning oxygen availability is lower, leading to a decrease in aerobic performance. Not only is aerobic performance compromised due to the low oxygen availability, but recovery from hard efforts is dramatically extended.

At altitude anaerobic capacity will remain largely unchanged due to oxygen not being needed to create adenosine triphosphate through this pathway. This makes it far easier to go into what many refer to as the ‘red zone’ due to athletes performing work at a similar anaerobic level as at sea level for short bursts, but having dramatically lowered ability to clear lactate after this anaerobic interval has been completed. Due to the lowered VO2max at altitude the net lactate production is increased at intensities above the anaerobic threshold, and net lactate combustion rates decreased when below the anaerobic threshold.

With Hannes we were lucky enough to know his VO2max value, and also the approximate level of the anaerobic threshold/LT2. This meant we were able to run a back calculation to approximate his current maximal glycolytic flux capacity so we could figure out where our training efforts would be best placed.

After we obtained this data we were able to see that we had room to decrease the maximum glycolytic flux rate, which would result in a higher anaerobic threshold power approximately 20w higher, and importantly make it harder for Hannes to go ‘into the red’ due to the decreased energy production through the glycolytic pathway.

There were multiple benefits to doing this for Hannes target events. We could increase the power at anaerobic threshold, which would not only improve his time trial and climbing performance, but mean sub-maximal efforts would take less out of him, this would also aid in repeatability of efforts which would help with the repeated 5 minute climb in the national road championships (albeit at the expense of some explosively), and decrease carbohydrate combustion at sub-maximal intensities which would allow Hannes to perform at a high level for longer, reduce the effects of the increased carbohydrate requirements when at altitude, and mean refueling between days during the tour would be an easier task.

To achieve this change in physiology we used targeted training, with a much narrower focus than would normally be used, and nutritional periodisation which involved manipulating carbohydrate availability around certain training sessions to enhance the training effect and adaptation. Lower carbohydrate training has been the subject of a lot of research over the last few years and has shown mixed results. In general studies show a wide range of physiological and metabolic adaptations, but minimal or no benefit on average when it comes to endurance performance. The key thing to recognise here is the words on average. Often in these studies the net benefit of the total participant pool may be zero, with some participants even getting worse, however, the odd one or two may see a benefit. When working with athletes, we don’t care if the research shows no benefit on average, if we are working with one of the outliers who is a responder then we want to use this approach, and we knew from past experience, that this approach works very well for Hannes.

These training and nutritional approaches and Hannes hard work has already paid off, with Hannes taking 5th place in the national road championships of Sweden, while aiding his brother to 3rd overall and the U23 title.

The Tour of Qinghai Lake starts on the 14th July with a team time trial. We look forward to seeing how Hannes and his Memil Pro Cycling team perform!