Inside a Tour de France Femmes Training Camp

85,000 feet of climbing in 13 days

Human Powered Health is racing the Tour de France Femmes, and to prepare, the Women’s WorldTour team spent two weeks at altitude in Andorra. Here is a look at what they did, and why — and what the takeaway is for you in your own training.

The primary goal of the camp was to do a big block of volume at altitude, spending a lot of time climbing at tempo and sweet spot, and then adding in some intensity on the back end.

The fact that Andorra happens to be a gorgeous little European country with seemingly nothing but massive climbs in all directions didn’t hurt, either.  


“We absolutely loved it there! Most of the girls had 14-15 days,” said team director Joanne Kiesanowski. “It is a stunning place to train with lots of quiet climbs. I had a week up there and didn’t want to leave to come back down to the flatlands.”

FasCat director of coaching Isaiah Newkirk reviewed the riders’ data, and had some interesting observations about what the riders did, and why.

The riders did 84,951 feet of climbing over 13 days, for an average of 6,534 feet a day. The total average Training Stress Score per rider was 2,189, or 168 TSS average per day. Perhaps most notably considering those other stats, average ride time was about 3 hours per day. 

HPH Andorra

Training at altitude is a stressor, but if riders can acclimate and rebound, they can come back stronger. Riders react differently. 

“Henrietta Christie for example took a little longer to adapt to altitude” Newkirk said. “Initially she had a huge decline in her HRV data, and was sleeping badly for about a week. But around eight days in it got better.”

“That is a common theme with many riders, but the benefit on the back half is worth that fatigue load at the beginning,” Newkirk said. “By doing an altitude camp you are changing your body’s hemoglobin. You are improving the red blood cell count and oxygenation, and when you come down, you hold onto that for a period of time.”

HPH Andorra four riders

Unlike the men’s Tour de France that is three weeks long, the Tour de France Femmes is 10 days long, so the benefit from the camp should be able to last the entire Tour.

“Also, the altitude training camp helps with heat adaptation,” Newkirk said. “That increase in hemoglobin helps with heat processing, basically allowing the body to disperse heat more efficiently. And then when the Tour gets into the mountains, they will have that acclimatization.”

Being able to go hard with less oxygen is a benefit, Newkirk said, but the main benefit is increased recovery with less oxygen. 

“In the Tour, the day-to day-fatigue is almost the primary factor determining success,” he said. “If you are used to that altitude, it will expand your ability to recover. And that is huge.” 

Human Powered Health Andorra training

As to what specific training the riders were doing, Newkirk broke it down with highly scientific language: “They did a crapton of climbing.” 

“The primary thrust was sweet spot climbing on climbs at altitude, especially in that first week,” he said. “In the second week, there was some higher intensity, but it was fairly short and controlled, such as 4 by 6 at 110%. It wasn’t crazy.”

HPH Andorra climbing

The biggest climbing day was 11,893ft - in under six hours

Each rider works with their own personal coach for specific workouts, so they weren’t always doing the exact same thing. But they often rode together.

“People like to think that training camps for the pros are really sexy, with lactate tests, people pricking their ears, and recon’ing everything,” Newkirk said. “But really, much of it is just putting in the time and volume.”

Which leads to the takeaway for everyday riders wanting to improve: putting in a block of volume overload can go a long way. Sure, most of us can’t get off to Andorra for two weeks. But if you can pencil in a block of four days of big volume ahead of a target event can reap big benefits.

HPH Andorra intervals

Intervals workouts came in the back half of the camp

“It doesn’t need to be crazy structured; just challenge your body to do more work than it’s accustomed to, then allow yourself to recover,” he said.

Another takeaway from the Human Powered Health training camp that all of us can apply is how they did recovery days: “Many choose to hike instead of ride on their recovery days,” Newkirk said. “So instead of the standard coffee spin, many riders went out for an hour or so, just taking it easy and enjoying the mountains.”

HPH Andorra hike

Human Powered Health starts the Tour de France Femmes on Sunday, and FasCat will continue to bring you inside the team’s experience.

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