Feature: Altitude training with Damien Howson

Thu 1 Jun 2017

24-year-old Damien Howson has proven to be one of ORICA-SCOTT's most valuable domestiques in recent years. Now, as he attempts to make his first Tour de France selection, Howson is putting in the work at altitude to be able to give even more.

The Australian enjoyed a successful start to the 2017 season with a stage win and overall victory at the Jayco Herald Sun Tour in February and has gone on to produce consistent performances so far this season.

With a lengthy racing season ahead, Howson along with two teammates, Esteban Chaves and Sam Bewley, has been preparing for the next phase of the season at altitude.

Training high above sea level is something many athletes do to stress the body by training in an area with less oxygen in the air. Howson believes it is a valuable way to train and often endures three week blocks in various altitude locations along with basing himself in Europe in a high area.

“My European base is in Andorra which is at altitude, approximately at 1500metres,” Howson explained. “I guess over the course of a full season I spend a fair bit of time at home and that is a small altitude benefit.”

“I started the season in Australia and went directly for the Jayco Herald Sun Tour to South Africa for a team training camp, we stayed there for three and a half week at 1800metres. 

“We based ourselves at the top of a mountain, quite isolated and that was my first altitude camp of the 2017 season. Throughout May I have been training in Colombia, again for three weeks, but here we are much higher sleeping at 2550metres. 

“Some days we ride down to as low as 800metres above sea level and ride back up to the height of the accommodation. Other days we train from the plateau of 2550metres up to 3400metre which is the highest altitude I have ever ridden at. 

“The advantage of being here is that we are on a plateau so we also can train flat and still be at 2550metres, therefore with less oxygen and getting a training benefit.”

Training at altitude can take time for the body to adjust to and is essential to train for a lengthy period of time before really noticing any training benefits.

“In the first week I could definitely feel the difference, just walking around doing daily activities,” Howson continued. “There’s a lot of scientific research around training at altitude and I have done a lot of camps in the past.” 

“It fits well when you have a bit of time away from racing and also I was able to experience Colombia and the culture which is refreshing whilst also training hard.

“I tend to feel a lot hungrier at altitude because the metabolism is much higher and the body is constantly working with less oxygen than I am used to.”

To achieve the maximum benefit from training there’s a lot of other aspects that go alongside riding a bike. Howson is enjoying the support of a mechanic, physio, team coach and chef for the duration of the camp.

“For me it is good to be training in a controlled environment,” Howson went on. “I can really focus on all aspects of training, nutrition, gym, core, stretching along with riding. When you combine all those things hopefully it will help deliver a good result.”

“After this training camp I will return to Europe and spend one week at home before heading to races in June and be ready for the second half of the season.”

We wish Howson the best of luck with his preparation and the remainder of the 2017 season.