Welcome to the first of a six month series of articles supporting you in your training and preparation for L’Etape du Tour 2017. Over the forthcoming months we will guide you through your training, whether this is your first time and you are just looking to complete with a smile, or you are chasing a finish time. We will cover everything from body and bike mechanics, through to psychology and nutrition.
If you are reading this you have either entered or are thinking of entering one of the greatest rides of your life. While the rewards will be huge, be under no illusion, the work required to get there will be just as big. So this first article is to lay some groundwork as to what is required and ensure you and your bike are ready for the challenges ahead.
The route for the 2017 edition of the Etape du Tour covers 178km, with two climbs. You’ll set off from Briancon, the highest city in France at 1,170m above sea level. The initial kilometres will be fast on wide smooth roads, before a few small climbs and gentle drags arrive to warm up your legs after 25km. Having passed through the small town of Embrun, the first proper test arrives; the Côte de Demoiselles Coiffées. Whilst it’s only a relatively small lump, it contains a few steeper ramps to prepare you for what lies ahead. From there on it’s a long false flat – reaching up to 4% gradient – taking you through the town of Barcelonette on your way to the foothills of the mountains.
The first proper climb of the day, the Col du Vars, is 9km at 7.5% and so you need to not go too hard on the draggy approach. The Col is a tough one with some steep pitches at the top, and so conservative riding is key at the base of the mountain. Having reached the summit, a fast 19km descent into Guillestre follows.
More false flat takes you towards the Col d’Izoard; around 15km of 3-4% gradient leads you to the base of this spectacular climb. 14km at 7.3% lies between you and the finish line now; however, this includes a small descent and some shallow gradients at the bottom, making the remainder of the col very steep. The top of the mountain is a stunning ‘casse deserte’ – like a moonscape – so your efforts will be truly rewarded when you cross the finish line.
While the individual distances may not seem overly daunting, combine the duration of relentless climbing with the overall distance, heat and the amount of climbing and you have an epic day on your hands.
So where do we start?
It’s January, the event is still a long way off but we need to begin to focus. Your goals this month are:
Over the next six months you are going to spend many hours in the saddle to prepare fully. If you have a coach, you want to discuss with them how to structure your training for your own specific goals. If you don’t already have a coach it is certainly something worth considering. The benefits of using a coach are that your training plan will be designed specifically for you and can maximise your training time by eliminating the planning and preparation to write your program. They can be a critical friend to help you make objective decisions about your training, and a coach will deliver a holistic approach by getting you to work on your weaknesses as well as technical and psychological aspects to your training. Lastly a coach can act as a motivator through the feedback process.
A coach is not essential to do well; many riders are self-coached, so if you are going down this route think about how you are going to structure your training week. You will need to get at least one long ride in per week, usually on the weekend, as well as a number of shorter sessions during the week, supplemented by strength and conditioning either at home or at a gym. At the end of this article is an example training plan for January.
With it being January the chances of poor weather conditions in the UK are high, therefore investing in either some rollers or a turbo trainer would be a sensible option. It is far better to stay indoors if/when the snow and ice hit and do a shorter turbo session than to go out, fall off, and miss six weeks with a broken arm/leg. If in doubt, don’t go out. With plenty of options for providing structure and entertainment to indoor sessions, for example Zwift or The Sufferfest videos, a session on the indoor trainer can fly by. If you’d like to know more about turbo trainers and rollers, and which would be best for you, read this great article: https://cyclingtips.com/2016/10/rollers-vs-trainer-2/
For a beginner to cycling, we’d suggest a turbo trainer is a better choice as they are quicker and easier to get used to and to start training on, whereas rollers can require a little more skill and technique.
Remember it is only January, so don’t get ahead of yourself and try and smash some big mileage yet. People can get carried away, peak their fitness in April, and then be jaded and worn out by July. If this is your first event just look to be getting a long ride of 30-40 miles on a weekend and find some structure to your week.
At this stage you also don’t need to stress about heart-rates or power meters (unless you are well accustomed to using them, but even in that case it’s a good exercise to leave the toys at home once in a while). We will explain what these are and why they can be so useful a little further into the training plan. The saying ‘what gets measured gets managed’ is also very applicable here. So I want you to look at a training diary of some description. This can be a paper diary, excel spreadsheet, or online program such as Strava or Training Peaks (free versions of both are available). By being able to look back at what you have done you can ensure you are not running the risk of over-training (under-recovering) or doing insufficient training to build your fitness.
In order to effectively capture the data from your rides to inform your training diary, it is best to invest in a bike computer – these are available to suit a wide range of budgets, from £30 to £300. This article gives you an overview of what’s available though bare in mind it is now one year old and there are new products on the market: http://www.cyclingweekly.co.uk/group-tests/cycling-gps-units-buyers-guide-181254
Part of the appeal, and challenge, of the Etape is the opportunity to ride with thousands of other cyclists. Therefore, if you are not used to riding in a group, look at joining a local cycling club and learning the skills of riding in a bunch. The support of other riders will also help motivate you to get out when the weather is inclement and support you when you’re changing that puncture when it’s cold and raining! The British Cycling website is a good resource for UK riders looking to find their nearest club.
Your body is going to take a lot of punishment over the forthcoming months, and any current niggling injuries are not going to magically disappear. Your legs are going to make hundreds of thousands of revolutions on a regular basis, so any imbalances, instabilities, postural or movement dysfunctions are eventually going to lead to an injury. It would be a great shame to get to three weeks out from the event and have an injury that will prevent you from riding, or be hounded by a nagging pain that limits your training in the build up resulting in a ride on the broom wagon. Therefore, book yourself in with a physio who has knowledge and experience of cyclists and cycling injuries who can check you over and prescribe you specific supplementary training to keep you fit and injury free. As part of this series we will be giving you examples of strength and conditioning work you can do, but this can never replace the benefit of a one-to-one assessment. The cost of one physio session now could save you the cost of six later on.
Accompanying this month’s article is a PDF with some example stretches for the quads and hip flexors; areas that are notoriously tight in cyclists. Start getting in a routine of stretching these areas after each ride, and before bed after hard training sessions. Prevention is better than cure, and preventing these areas getting too tight will save you from many potential injuries.
You are going to be spending a lot of time on your bike over the coming months, so checking now that it isn’t going to either break you (cause an injury) or break itself (when you’re miles from home) is time and money well spent. The most important thing you could do now is to ensure the bike is set up correctly for you and the event. This requires going to see a reputable bike fitter, either at your local bike shop, or at a specialist studio. You may wonder why a bike fit is so important, but it really is vital – here’s some good information as to why: https://www.britishcycling.org.uk/knowledge/article/20161103-Do-I-need-a-professional-bike-fit–0
Once you know the bike is set up correctly for you, the next thing is to get it serviced. If you can do it yourself, great, but if not then see your local bike shop. Think about the tyres you are running over the winter, mudguards, lights, cables, chain and cassette. You may also want to consider a compact chain set (i.e, one with 34 and 50 sprockets on the two rings) if you don’t already have one. This will ensure you have enough gears to climb comfortably at a reasonable cadence. Whilst you may not need these ‘climbing gears’ now it might be worth switching now and getting used to the gearing nice and early. You will be pleased with that extra gear if you are struggling.
Looking further ahead it is useful to have some build up events where you can practice your nutrition and pacing strategies. Have a look at the Sports Tours International website for a list of Cyclosportives you can enter as preparation for the main event.
If you can, going on a training camp to get a week of quality riding in will set you up brilliantly. Your options are the ever popular Club La Santa in Lanzarote in either January or February to escape the British winter, or one of the many other training destinations such as Tenerife or the Costa Blanca.
Below, Albir Gardens, Costa Blanca
SCR – small chain ring only
LCR – large chain ring only
WU – warm up
CD – Cool down
Rpm – revolutions per minute
% – use heart rate zones, functional threshold power, or simply rate of perceived exertion.
Recovery rides – easy 30-60mins SCR plus Core/ Gym/ Mobility
WU – 5 mins easy
MS (x2 through)
(start with 2mins in each, add 1min each week. )
CD – 5mins easy
Core/ gym / pilates / mobility
Threshold 10min warm up, 20min hard (80%), 5min recovery, 20min hard (80%), 5min cool down
(Optional) Easy- 2hrs SCR only
long 2-3hrs negative split, SCR first half (70%), LCR second half (80%). Warm up/ Cool down 10-15mins.
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