How to Train Like Tour de France Contender Tejay van Garderen

American Tejay van Garderen offers his Tour de France training advice.
American Tejay van Garderen offers his Tour de France training advice.Lionel Bonaventure / AFP / Getty Images

Pro cyclist and Powerbar athlete Tejay van Garderen is America's best hope for a Tour de France champion. That's no stretch. After the first week of this year's race, he sat in second overall, just 12 seconds out of first place. It's also not his first time battling the world's best riders: The Washington native claimed fifth overall at the Tour both last year and in 2012.

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Van Garderen's strong second-place finish at the Critérium du Dauphiné earlier this year shows that he's in shape for the Tour. But getting a good result at the world's toughest bike race requires your absolute athletic best. We talked to the 26-year-old cyclist about the key workouts and training tricks he used to prep himself for three solid weeks of suffering.

Set Benchmark Tests
"If there's one workout I dread it's the test days. You do a one-, five-, or 20-minute test to determine your max power, riding as hard as you can," says van Garderen. The workout is nothing but pure, unadulterated misery, and he says it can also mess with your head if you don't beat your previous wattage bests. Still, this workout helps van Garderen figure out where he's at in his training, and the data it produces tells his coach whether he's ready to push even harder, or whether he needs more recovery time. If you don't have a power meter on your bike, create courses that take roughly one, five, and 20 minutes. Return to them regularly to track progress.

Stage a Fake Race
Van Garderen says that when he's trying to develop fitness early in the season, his favorite workout is to just head out from Nice, France — where he lives and trains in the off-season — and ride mock races. "I have training partners in Nice and we'll pick a few climbs and treat them like a race. My training plan has a lot of structure in it; I do a lot of intervals. But the best way to simulate the efforts of racing is to just get out there and race."

Train to Recover While Racing
Bike-racing seldom requires a purely sustained effort. Even time-trial courses are punctuated by turns and descents that allow a rider to rest. Van Garderen used this workout to teach his body to recover whenever race pace eases slightly. Ride one minute at a medium-difficulty pace. That effort means you can say a sentence at a time but not much more than that. You should be working and winded but not dying. Follow that minute with 30 seconds in your high V02-max zone. Essentially you should shift from being able to talk in sentences to only being able to say one or two words at a time — a not quite all-out effort. Aim to repeat the two back-to-back efforts without rest for 20 minutes. 

Workout Before Distractions Can Derail You
In 2013, van Garderen became a father to a baby girl. He says that being a dad hasn't really changed how he trains but it has changed when he trains. "I do have to plan ahead more. I get up and ride early so that I can be back to shower and eat before I need to be on daddy duty," he says. His advice? Carve out training times that no one can interrupt — like when the rest of your house is sleeping.

Practice Attacking the Climbs
Van Garderen will have a lot of competition in the mountains this year, so much of his training has focused on being able to attack repeatedly on climbs. One of his favorite workouts is to find a 20-minute-long climb and do an interval at the base of the climb and then another one at the top. "It starts with this big bang and then there's this big crescendo again at the top," he says, adding that in the middle of the climb you need to be working, not slow-peddling and recovering from the initial effort. "But this is how a lot of the climbs are raced, with an acceleration at the bottom and the top, so it's a good thing to practice."

Stop Hammering Endlessly
"I see a lot of amateurs getting into this routine where they go out and they try and hold as high of a power as they can for their entire workout," he says. This can burn a ton of calories, but it's worthless as a training tool. "If you're looking to be a good bike-racer, you need to mix it up and go really hard sometimes and go easy other times. Otherwise you're just training yourself to hold one speed."

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