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Cross-training plus cycling a fine formula

Grand Prix ace Alonso among top athletes who ride regularly to stay fit

  • Choosing a car at dealership. Thoughtful grey hair man in formalwear leaning at the car and looking away

Fifteen minutes. This is the lap time that Fernando Alonso might have achieved on the N?rburgring while preparing for tomorrow’s Grand Prix of Germany. This time is quite a bit more than the lap record of 1:29.468 that Michael Schumacher posted around the 5.1 kilometre track in 2004.

The comparison is unfair; the Spaniard would have been on his bicycle checking the track out. The German racer was in his V10-powered F2004 Ferrari single-seater heading for victory, one of 13 he posted that year.

I wonder what mileage Alonso has put on his bicycle since the beginning of the year. Doing reconnaissance rides on the track prior to qualifications would not get his count very high. Riding his bicycle as part of his cross-training regimen would.

Did you know that a month before heading to the first race of the season in Melbourne, Australia, the former world champion had already ridden more than 1,000 kilometres?

In the three weeks ending mid-February, Alonso reported that he had ridden 936 km on his bike, and run 91 km, spent half a day swimming and in the gym, and a good number of hours playing a variety of other sports. Some even wondered if he actually drove a car during that period. Preparation for Alonso meant cross-training.

Cycling is a significant part of his program. It is reported that Alonso usually totals 9,000 km. to 12,000 km. per year on his bike. While this is two to three times less than the time a pro cyclist might clock in a racing year, it is still more than most people with a short commute would rack up in a year.

Riding 10,000 km a year is a big- time commitment and it certainly places Alonso in the most active segment of the cycling community.

He is not the only race driver to ride a bike to get faster on the race track. Jenson Button, Mark Webber and Nico Rosberg have all incorporated saddle time in their training regimen, whether it is through on-the-road cycling, mountain-biking or the triathlon. For many racers, it is more than cross-training; it has become a second passion.

The linear, smooth nature of the sport makes for an awesome cardiovascular workout.

Many other high-performance athletes use the benefits of cycling to get better at what they do. For Alpine skiers, rowers, runners and many more sportspeople, saddling up is a formidable ingredient to get ready for successful performance, whether it is on the slopes, the water or in the streets of London, Toronto or Boston. Cycling is a great complement to the activity of strengthening your core and enhancing your flexibility.

More running enthusiasts than ever are contemplating reallocating some of their running time to bike riding. I have come across many long-distance runners who chose to reduce their time spent in running shoes in preparation for a marathon, for instance, and spend some time on the bike.

The idea of incorporating cross- training in any sport is a sensible one. For cycling, it is no different. Core strength and body flexibility are two of the pillars of a great riding experience.

But none of those two attributes is really enhanced by saddle time. In the case of flexibility, it is quite the opposite. Tight hamstrings or hips will lead to a variety of problems, ranging from less-than-ideal power generation to injuries, including various degrees of pain and discomfort.

This is where proper off-the-bike cross-training is instrumental in creating a solid platform to build upon.

But it is not always easy to convey this message.

When we suggest a rider practice yoga once or twice a week, the usual answer is ?not enough time in a week.? When stretching before or after a ride is discussed, the answer is again ?don’t have much time for this.?

But when the rider understands how the muscular range of motion affects comfort and performance on the bike, the obstacle to their adoption is suddenly removed. Disciplined stretching and yoga even become an attractive idea.

In many cases, the perceived chore of cross-training can become an interest, and even a passion. I know many cyclists who have picked up yoga and have become committed to its practice. While Alonso thinks of cycling as the main pillar of his cross-training to get faster on the track, he is thoroughly enjoying the ride, too.

So will you.

Julien Papon is the president and founder of Vitess Bicycle Corporation. His column appears every two weeks during the summer. wheels@thestar.ca

  • Cross-training plus cycling a fine formula Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso of Spain gestures as he gets ready to hit the track for the first practice session at the Canadian Grand Prix, Friday, June 7, 2013 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

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