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Competing at altitude

Optimal planning for competitions at altitude

In the upcoming weeks there will be more national and international competitions at higher altitudes. Even if they take place at medium altitudes around 1400m.a.s.l., it is worth paying attention to the altitude factor, avoiding mistakes and get an advantage over your competitors!

With the Proffix Swissbike Cup Leukerbad (1400m.a.s.l.) this weekend is the first of several higher altitude competitions. Andermatt (1430m.a.s.l.) and the World Cup races in Andorra (1950m.a.s.l.), Les Gets (1200m.a.s.l.) and Lenzerheide (1473m.a.s.l.) are further competitions at altitude.

Although all the competitions listed are only at "medium" altitudes, the performance is already significantly reduced compared to lower altitudes due to the lower absolute amount of oxygen (reduced oxygen partial pressure). An interesting tool which illustrates this very impressively can be found on the homepage of cyclingpowerlab (http://www.cyclingpowerlab.com/EffectsOfAltitude.aspx). With a functional threshold power of 300 watts, this is reduced by 25 watts at an altitude of only 1500 m.a.s.l. (in a non-acclimatised state compared to the initial value at sea level). In view of this, it is certainly appropriate to take a closer look at this problem!

Since the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, numerous studies have been dealing with altitude training. Even if the situation regarding the benefits of altitude training is not clear, it can still be assumed that a stay at medium altitudes makes sense at least in terms of performance for competitions at altitude. Although the performance remains reduced even with complete acclimatisation to a corresponding altitude, at least part of the initially reduced performance is regained. Depending on the altitude, such an acclimatization takes several weeks - for medium altitudes, two or better three weeks are regarded as sufficient, since a large part of the acclimatization process is achieved from this point on.

The body reacts with different adjustment mechanisms to the unusual altitude. The first acute height adjustment is perceived primarily through increased ventilation of the respiratory system. Furthermore, the buffer capacity of the blood decreases and the plasma volume decreases. The lack of oxygen leads to an increase in the body's own hormone erythoprotein (EPO) after only a few hours. This increase in EPO finally leads to an increased production of reticulocytes, which are responsible for oxygen transport in the blood, after a few weeks under altitude conditions. To put it simply, altitude is a major imbalance in our body and triggers a whole series of adjustment mechanisms that are extremely complex. And height always means additional stress for the body! With "Alto 06", Swiss Olympic has published an extremely informative and comprehensive brochure in which these aspects are dealt with in detail (http://www.swissolympic.ch/Portaldata/41/Resources/03_sport/verbaende/trainingswissenschaften/fachgruppe_ausdauer/ALTO_06_e.pdf).

If there is no possibility to acclimatize to a certain altitude due to a lack of preparation time, it is recommended to travel directly from the lowlands as quickly as possible. The performance will be reduced, but the body will not be exposed to the additional stress caused by the acclimatization process. The situation here is actually quite clear, it is not for nothing that hobby athletes are recommended, for example, for the Engadiner (ski marathon) to arrive directly on the race day. In many MTB competitions this can be done quite well. If you still want to arrive earlier, it's best to move into an accommodation in the valley at a lower altitude and only drive up for the track inspection & the competition.

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