Etape Du Tour How To Ride The Etape
My name is Rob Harris, I am a Sports Consultant Physiotherapist working out of Manchester in the UK. As a physiotherapy company we have worked for many years with Sports Tours International consulting largely on cycling and triathlon.
My background is that I am a former international cyclist and triathlete, who several years ago had a cycling-induced midlife crisis and made a bit of comeback at the Etape du Tour!
I have done the last four Etape du Tour rides and can’t speak highly enough about the atmosphere and the whole concept of doing a Tour De France stage in the same year replicating exactly what the pro’s will ride, it is such a buzz being able to watch these guys ride over a course that you have done previously. The last couple of years I have mentored several friends who have recently got into cycling and started from pretty much zero to getting into the Etape du Tour.
In this regard Sports Tours International have asked me to write a series of articles helping cyclists prepare for the two Etapes in 2011. So I am going to write six articles over the following six months to give you some basic frame reference to how you can prepare to get yourself ready for one of the greatest bike rides you will ever do in your life.
If you are thinking of doing the Etape du Tour or if you have already entered – congratulations, both the rides this year are going to be absolutely fantastic.
The 130 mile ride from Issoire to Saint Flour is going to be an epic ride through the Massif Centrale, 130 miles over French mountain roads is going to be nothing short of spectacular, yet extremely hard.
The other Etape, probably the one generating the most excitement is Act 1 from Modane to the mythical Alpe d’Huez, it includes a unique opportunity to ride two of the most famous mountains in cycling, climbs that all racing cyclists from a young age dream of being able to do.
So, that’s the introduction done, the first article is about January training.
Getting started for training
At this point you have finished your Christmas break and the New Year and it’s probably the bathroom scales that have turned your attention towards the undertaking that you have signed yourself up for in six months time.
It is good to have some fear of this event and certainly to be respectful of it because it is harder than people give it credit for, (a fact testament to the broken bodies generally seen littering the road side at the back end of the race), having said that if you start preparing well now you will find the progression smooth towards July. The key thing with January is don’t panic, don’t try and bash out a bunch of miles in a short space of time, January is a preparation month for the training that lies ahead.
Lets look at the two courses first.
I have had a lot of friends come to me recently saying “that is an easy Etape, only 109 kilometres!” Don’t be fooled by the distance. If you are an experienced cyclist or a semi experienced cyclist you will do 100 kilometres in the morning for breakfast.
The difference is you are going to whack 4000 vertical metres of climbing over 109 kilometres, something which in England you just don’t have an opportunity to do. Be aware that the Galbier is 35 kilometres long, all be it with a 5 kilometre downhill in it, but some people won’t be reaching the top of the Galbier until they’re 3 or 4 hours in.
It would be terrible to be 3 or 4 hours into a ride, absolutely knackered and only see 48.5 kilometres on your bike computer. So it will be longer and be harder than most people think.
Equally you’ll probably hit the bottom of Alpe d’Huez tired out after 35 kilometres of climbing in your legs from the Galbier.
Remember, that the temperatures are likely to be in the mid-30s and the first 2km of the Alpe D’Huez average at over 10%, so there are going to be some tired people heading up this mountain. Believe me some people will be mentally broken at the bottom section of the climb.
Act II is different again in the sense that the road from Issoire is undulating and not too dissimilar to some of the sportive routes organised in this country. The big difference is that it’s 130 miles in the heat of France in July and don’t be fooled by the profile in comparison to the Alpe d’Huez stage.
There are still some spectacular climbs to be undertaken, some of which are over 8 kilometres long, averaging over 6%. Some of them average over 8% for more than 5 kilometres. So understand the profile relative to the gradients, it is going to be a tough, tough day, probably tougher than the Alpe d’Huez stage. That said it’s the Alpe d’Huez stage which will take a lot of the glory.
If all of this makes it sound horrible…that is the intention, either of these stages will be one of the hardest days you ever spend on the bike, this is the truth and this truth will hopefully provide focus in the coming months……but please understand that it will also be by far one of the very, very best days you will ever spend on the bike as well. The better you prepare the more the amazing experience of it all will outweigh the pain!
Preparation is the key!!
So what should you be doing in January?
Preparation is vital here, lets start by assessing your bike.
You are going to spend a lot of time on this bike over the coming months. First and foremost you need to avoid injury, go and get a bike set up. Get your bike set up properly for from a reputable bike fitter who can do a good job for you.
Get it serviced, get some good winter tyres on it and make sure that the bike is in the right condition to work with you through the training plan.
Look at your gears, most people are going to need a compact chain set for at least Act 1, probably Act 2 as well, so this being the case, you may as well get this on early and get used to it.
For a lot of the UK Sportives you will use as preparation you will end up going up various, very steep climbs.
No-one ever fails to finish a Sportive or hill climb because they had gears that were too easy, plenty fail because they had a gear selection they couldn’t pedal. Have a compact chain set and an understanding of how this works and the gears relevant for you.
If you have a history of knee issues, book in with a physio to get a muscle balance assessment to see if there is any strengthening work that is required in the gym and start having a think about your training, stretching etc. Please follow this link for injury prevention advice as you progress through you training plan.
In terms of planning, start looking at your training week and how you are going to fit this amount of riding into 7 days.
This can be done with the help of your coach – should you have one, or it might be that you look at how you can incorporate it into your commute to work.
Just start trying to think how you are going to get some riding in over the course of the week and particularly the weekends. Remember you’ll need to put in at least one long ride a week.
Yes, now a vital part of the training will be some cooking and cleaning – to earn brownie points from the other half, when the training really gets moving!!
Look at the Sports Tours International sportives and training and try and plan a number of intermediate sportives in the UK that lead you into the distance and vertical metre-age of the Etape that is most relevant to you.
Some people find that going to Club La Santa in January or February is a good way to kick off their season and many have already taken part in some of Sports Tours International’s specialist camps.
Others find that riding the Etape route in May or June is a good way to help them understand the challenge ahead as the heavy training starts and they can then modify what they are doing accordingly.
Think about how you are going to ride. Obviously with the Alpine Etape it is all about climbing, 4000 metres of climbing, you are either going up or going down. For you, training is going to consist largely of hills, start thinking about the hills you are going to ride, start preparing yourself for riding bigger and bigger hills over the course of the training programme.
If you are doing the Issoire stage, start thinking about your mileage. Try and get one long ride a week. If you are riding 30/40 miles quite comfortably through January then you are good shape, this is going to become around 60 miles in February / March, so start building towards that now.
Don’t get ahead of yourself. Don’t panic and do too much. This is about a gradual build up.
I find that with a lot of people I have mentored they struggle to get enough mid-week rides, particularly in the Winter where the nights aren’t so good and also because of work.
Don’t worry, just start banging out one good long ride per week at the weekend, start by fitting that into your lifestyle. This ride as I say, 30/40 miles at the moment, it is going to build to 50/60 next month.
January is all about getting everything organised, plan your training routes, plan your training week, plan to see whether you need a coach, plan your build up races, get your bike and everything set up and just start riding.
Don’t worry about heart rate, power etc, just start riding your bike and enjoying it and most importantly get used trying to fit your bike riding into your normal working week. Your ability to juggle and find time will get better as you get used to everything and thus your mileage and ability to fit milage in will improve concurrently as you progress through the plan!
To conclude this month, I went round a few of the riders I have mentored in previous years and asked them what was the best advice they were given in preparation for the Etape.
Resoundingly the top three were:
Ride hills and lots of them.
Get one long ride a week in as often as you can, if you can’t get anything else in that week, don’t worry, just get that one long ride in.
Plan a recce trip of the route to understand just how big these mountains are, or an early season warm weather training camp at some point in the build up
Next month, we will build on January and then in March we will come to the harder stuff as the weather starts to improve. Don’t do anything crazy with the ice and the weather, get yourself set up on a turbo trainer if necessary.
Remember, you have got six months to train from here, missing a day or doing an easier ride on the turbo trainer will take you a lot further than squeezing a ride in the ice, coming off and being out for the next six weeks.
So be smart, be careful and start getting organised, we will see you next month for some more advice.