Although it's the drama and excitement of race days that dominate headlines during a Grand Tour, for riders, rest days are just as crucial. Poor recovery can ruin an entire stage race campaign – it's imperative that each competitor finds the process that works for them during their day off. Despite popular belief, the answer to making the most of the rest day isn't always just spending the day in bed. For some athletes, this works, but others need to keep active to ensure they don't lose the race rhythm that develops during a Grand Tour.
For EF Education-EasyPost rider, Hugh Carthy, the final rest day of the Giro d'Italia this year will be especially important. After a tough stint in the breakaway during yesterday's Alpine stage, the Brit will be carrying lots of fatigue, but the final week of the race will be crucial for his GC ambitions. He spoke to Rouleur about how he tackles rest days and how he manages to shake the fatigue over a three week race.
REST DAYS ARE FOR RESTING
"The rest day is vital for recovery. After Blockhaus, I got up around nine-ish and had a light breakfast compared to what we’d have on a race day, which would be rice and an omelette. Instead, I had a small omelette and fruit. It’s relaxing, too, because you don’t need to think about getting to the bus for a certain time or having to pack your suitcase, and you can have several kips throughout the day. You also check in with the chiropractor or osteopath for further recuperation.
With the stage after the last rest day being relatively light [stage 10 from Pescara to Jesi, won by Biniam Girmay], we enjoyed an easy ride of around 90 minutes at low intensity with a couple of climbs just to spin the legs. You don’t want to do four or five hours, though I know some riders who do over three hours and moto pace, which I think is too much; that said, on a rest day arguably it’s better to do more than less, especially when you’re deep into the race. Your body finds a rhythm and is used to heating up. If don’t get hot on a rest day, I run the chance of blowing cold the next day. You might see things shaken up after the next rest day [on Monday 23rd May] as it’s in the mountains [stage 16 on Tuesday 24th May from Salo to Aprica]."
IMPORTANCE OF SLEEP
"When it comes to sleep, there’s a tendency for it to drop off through a Grand Tour, albeit that tends to be the quality rather than the quantity of the sleep. You might have a couple of good nights and then a bad night. That pattern continues. With the Whoop band, sleep’s a useful metric. The ‘Strain’ score is based on how hard the day is and you can’t control that. But you do have power to influence sleep, like managing caffeine intake, for instance, or not being sat up in bed on your phone.
One of the most ‘vulnerable’ nights for sleep is the night before the rest day, as it often involves a long transfer. You arrive at your hotel late, have a rushed massage, rush your dinner and go to bed full, hot and sticky. And you have a bad night’s sleep. Thankfully, it was only a short transfer after Blockhaus [stage nine] so I slept and recovered well."
"There are a few different metrics that the doctors will look at to see how recovered you are. Resting heart rate is a classic one our doctors will look at on Whoop. As is HRV, which is heart rate variability. Plus respiratory rate. Mind you, no matter how many tools you have, you can’t let it cloud your own feelings and judgment. And if you’ve registered a bad recovery score during a race, what are you going to do? You’ve still got to race.
I use compression socks, but not so much for recovery as for travel. If you’re on the bus for a while without moving your legs for a couple hours, or on a plane, your legs swell up. I find compression socks prevent that heavy-legged feeling, or at least reduce it. Good hydration goes a long way to easing that heavy-legged feeling, too."
POWER OUTPUT DROP? Don't panic
"I don’t get into the numbers too much during a Grand Tour. Take a stage like Blockhaus where peak power is irrelevant. In fact, if you see the peak watts the riders were doing at the end, they’re probably not that impressive. But you’ve got to remember the context of it being a mountain finish with temperatures over 30°C and it being in the second week of a Grand Tour.
Each stage generally starts with a good level of recovery. But by the end of the stage, as the three-week race rolls on, you can feel the power drop off significantly."
FUELLING IS KEY FOR RECOVERY
"I’m pretty good at fuelling now. When I was younger and less experienced, I actually put on weight. The first Grand Tour I did, I piled on 3kg. It was hot and you swell up because you’re desperately trying to hold onto liquid. You then eat less, which makes you more f*cked. Then you overeat to compensate. It’s a spiral.
Nowadays, I know how much to eat, and on some days that’s really not much. There was a stage earlier in this race where the first four hours, any amateur could have ridden in the peloton and not broken sweat. Days like that you don’t need a huge breakfast. Or huge dinner.
It’s all about finding balance of how much to eat and when. That goes a long way to helping you recover efficiently and to keep weight stable."
THE REST OF THE GIRO?
"It wasn’t ideal that I lost over four minutes on that Blockhaus stage but once I’d showered and calmed down, it wasn’t too bad. Sometimes when you have a bad day, it takes the weight off your shoulders. You think okay, I’ve felt the disappointment, I’m freer now. I’m not going to win the Giro but I’m still aiming for a top-10 if not higher. It’s important to focus on getting the day-to-day things right. It’s about recovering and racing smartly."