Altitude training is one of the most common preparation on the schedule of a professional cyclist. The principle is simple. When you sleep and ride on high altitude, the athlete’s body adapts to the thinner air and to the lower availability of oxygen. In practice, an altitude between 1800 meters and 4000 meters are recommended.
Various studies have shown that staying on high altitude increase a natural production of the hormone Erythropoietin (more well-known as EPO). This stimulates the production of red blood cells and the content of hemoglobin increases and so the rider’s VO2 max increases.
What is EPO exactly?
Epo is a hormone that naturally occurs in the body and it is produced by the kidneys. When the oxygen tension in the blood drops, for example during a stay in the mountains where the air is thinner than normal, the production of EPO increases. After about three days, this leads to an increase in the number of red blood cells, which returns the oxygen level in the blood to normal. The altitude training camp is an essential part of many top athletes. It is based on this principle.
When returning to sea level, the rider benefits for about one-month-long, from the increased hemoglobin content in the body and the increased VO2 max. So the cyclist can deliver peak performance.
High altitude bike destination: Livigno
There is a special town in the heart of the Italian Alps. Livigno is situated in Lombardy (North-Italy) on 1816 meters altitude above the sea level. It is an exceptional Duty-Free zone in Italy.
In the past decades it has become a mountainbike and roadbike destination for the summer.
Top riders like Annemiek van Vleuten, Remco Evenepoel or Victor Campenaerts are choosing for a high altitude stage each year in Livigno. The most popular times are July and August.
Some of the best Hungarian cyclists chose Livigno for a high altitude training camp in the past years: Kata Blanka Vas (Doltcini – Van Eyck Sport), Barbara Benkó (Ghost Factory Racing) or Márton Dina (Kometa Xstra Cycling Team)…
Alpen Village Hotel in Livigno
The number 1 cycling resort of Livigno was established on 1910 meters altitude above the sea level. They host countless professional and amateur cyclists each summer. Among them the World Tour teams of Quick-Step or Lotto-Jumbo NL, too. On the corridors of Alpen Village you can find jerseys from the greatest champions and other special cycling trophy’s to admire. The hotel is ready to serve all needs of a cyclist.
The Hungarian Time Trial Champion Veronika Kormos (Ventus Cycles Team) chose for a high altitude trainingcamp in Livigno, too.
She described her experience:
“I chose to go to high altitude in Italy because I wanted to see what it can bring to my performance. When you go to a high altitude training camp, you need to have a good basic condition.
In Belgium they always compare it with building a house: when the foundation is good, you can go work on the roof.
I experienced from the second day several effects of high altitude: I was thirsty all the time and I did not sleep so well. My heartrate was always higher with 5-10 heartbeat than normal. I had no good legs on the bike. This was all a normal reaction to high altitude.
I got a specific schedule for this altitude trainingcamp of 2 weeks. The first 3-4 days you may not train hard at all. Luckily, in Livigno you have a beautiful flat road along its huge lake. It is very nice to spin your legs there in low intensity.
After the third day my body adapted quite well and my general feeling was good. So, day by day the length of the trainings were increasing. As well the highmeters and the intensity of each ride. Of course, the sleeping difficulty was over after my training to the top of the Stelvio and back, which was a ride of 110 km with 3050 meters of climbing.
Between my training they took very well care of me in Alpen Village. The food in the hotel is really high quality, various and it is specialized for athletes. In the restaurant I met champions like Remco Evenepoel or Alice M. Arzuffi. Even if you come here alone for a trainingcamp, you will never feel lonely. The lovely town of Livigno offers great opportunities to relax between the trainings and to enjoy a nice evening.
After my trainingstage, when I returned to sea level I took 1-2 days easy. Then I felt ready for competetition, and really powerful in my upcoming races. The high altitude training camp made an effect of 4-5 values higher hemoglobine and hematocriet level in my blood.”
The 26-year-old Belgian rider Loïc Vliegen (Circus-Wanty-Gobert) gets in his summer peak shape after a high altitude trainingcamp in Livigno, Italy as well.
“My body reacts very well to high altitude training. In the race season this helps me to reach a top shape. I choose Livigno, because you can stay on 2000 meters altitude and it is a nice town. It’s important to be good in your mind during a camp. To be mentally ready for quality trainings. Between the hardest days I can relax my mind in the cozy town of Livigno.
I spend minimum 12 days on high altitude, sometimes up to 20 days long. On the first days I always feel tired. I stay in low heartrate pace. After 5 days I start with intensive rides.
My body reacts very well to a high altitude training camp. When I return to sea level I have great legs and my condition is on a much higher level than before. It is also the result of training on longer climbs. These real big mountain efforts and long pressure on the pedals we can’t practice in Belgium.”
Some of the most legendary climbs you can ride up around Livigno:
– Passo dello Stelvio 2758 m
– Passo di Gavia 2621 m
– Passo di Foscagno 2291 m
– Passo Forcola 2315 m
– Passo d’Eira 2208 m
– Passo del Mortirolo 1852 m
– Berninapass (Switzerland) 2253 m