Besides the usual training for mental discipline, nutrition, cycling techniques, workouts or methods to improve cardiovascular endurance through distance and tempo training, one big factor a participant has to keep in mind is altitude on the Tour of the Dragon race.
Especially for an international participant from sea level, one has to keep in mind that race takes one over four high mountain passes which on average are well above is over 3000m (9800ft). The air is definitely thin here. It is recommended that such an international participant spend at least 7 days prior to race in the country (along the route of the race) to acclimatize to the altitude. As the race, altitude is one serious factor.
Overexertion in high altitude, without having acclimatized, can be fatal. Kid not, even those that are regular biker have to acclimatize and train in order to bring about their peak performance. Remember, it is not for nothing that it is being claimed that it is perhaps the world’s most difficult one day biking race where one gains nearly 4000m and loses 4000m. Combining these two figures, it nearly becomes the height of mountain Everest. And you are going to do it without the oxygen tank – hopefully.
One has to invest time and effort in training to come for the race.
The route of the race features some of best cultural attractions of Bhutan, as such, while one is learning the route and getting used to the altitude, one can spend time exploring these areas. After having flown into Paro, one can simply spend some time here to gain overview of the country through general sightseeing and getting to know your hosts – the Bhutanese, the happy Bhutanese. Typically, with a night in Paro, one can drive or ride to Thimphu – the capital of Bhutan and ending point of the race. And from here, over the next five days, one can ride to Bumthang – the starting point of the race – scouting the course and training.
In Thimphu, after having set your bike up, and making sure you have all your gears and spares (which if you have not brought, can be bought in Thimphu – beyond Thimphu, you cannot find any establishments that can cater to your biking needs), you could explore the only true city of Bhutan.
The next day, one can continue on to the ancient capital of Bhutan – Punakha beyond the pass of Dochula (3150m). From Punakha, it would be shame not to visit the high enchanting glacier valley of Phobjikha/ Gangtey, crossing the pass of Lawala at 3320m. After visiting 16th century old Gangtey Monastery at Phobjikha, one should head onto Trongsa – the place where the benevolent monarchy took birth. But before reaching Trongsa, one definitely have to cross the pass of Pelela (3430m) one of the “highpoints” of the race. The next day, it is two passes of Yotongla and Kikila that one would ride over to Bumthang – the starting point of the competition.
So a typical pre-trip itinerary could be: Day 1: Paro; Day 2: Thimphu; Day 3: Thimphu-Punakha; Day 4: Punakha-Phobjikha; Day 5: Phobjikha-Trongsa; Day 6: Trongsa- Bumthang; Day 7; Bumthang – Rest and Explore; Day 8: Race Day; Day 9: Celebratory stay in Thimphu; Day 10: Paro: Hike to Taktsang; Day 11: Depart Bhutan
Three days after the race is recommended for celebrations and for one to recoup, not to mention for one to explore additional sights and sounds of Bhutan.
A Bhutanese can and should definitely follow the general itinerary mentioned here, not because we need to acclimatize to the altitude but because many of us are new to sport and need training. There is no substitute to training-and sometimes that simply means making time to take your bike out to ride for certain period everyday at least six months in advance to the race.
The training begins with mental discipline-starting with self assessment and goal setting. What shape are you in just now? How would you like to complete the race this year? – At the top, average? One needs to plan to get there, combining advices of friends, research and daily training to get there.
Often it is recommended that one train in stages such as below:
Intensity Training; develop power over short distances
Peaking: Combining endurance and power for long term cruising speed
Learning the Route: assessing the gradient of the road, the terrain, etc and adapting the training to it.
Tapering: reducing training and storing energy for event
Performance: the Race itself- the Tour of the Dragon
Post Race Recovery: Revision of the race, performance and training for next year; planning training
For each of the stages, advices can be found from the other biking enthusiasts, biking clubs, books, and internet and from your own instincts. Listen to your body! And to listen, one has to know one’s body. Refresh yourself on the elementary physiology of the body, including the muscular and nervous system.
And then one has to know the new extension of one’s body for the race – the bike of your choice. It is important to learn the makeup – its plus points and drawbacks. One also must find the right bike specifications that one is comfortable with for the race and that is best suited for the route. For example, while though it is considered a road biking race, our roads may not compare well to those of the manufacturing country’s road. Some of the ultra light road bikes may not be feasible for our conditions