This year’s Etape du Tour takes in three serious climbs of 15km or longer over the 142km course, as well as numerous smaller climbs, resulting in an elevation gain of 4,609m. That makes it a real test of stamina and strength.
The arduous route and weather conditions in the mountains, which can range from baking heat to rain or even snow at high altitudes, will be the main challenge in an event such as this. Pacing yourself over the distance is key, especially with three challenging climbs in the way. The main aspects of your fitness you need over the next four months are endurance, to get through the distance comfortably, and your climbing ability, so that the first climbs don’t sap all of your energy and mean you are able to complete the full distance without too much fatigue before the final climb. As well as working on your fitness, improving your descending and group riding skills will save precious energy on the valley roads in between the climbs.
Effective group riding skills and the amount of energy that can be saved by riding in a large group shouldn’t be underestimated and will often allow a less fit rider to outperform a stronger, but less savvy, rider. However, with 4609m of climbing in a relatively short distance there will be relatively few flat roads to get sucked along in a group, so the biggest gains in training will be made by working on your ability to sustain a relatively high power output (and heart rate) over a forty to eighty minute climb and then recovering in time to repeat this. Three times.
With this amount of climbing the Etape will always be a long day in the saddle, even for the front runners, so building your endurance is vital. Those who have wintered well, with a solid period of base training under their belts, should be feeling confident in this aspect and beginning to think about adding some specific climbing work if possible. If you’re a little behind in your preparation then endurance is the first thing to address. Start off by including a weekly long ride, setting a series of mileage goals between now and July to steadily build up in length and duration as your endurance improves. Start off on flatter or undulating roads, just aiming to get the distance up rather than taking in every ascent in your area, and steadily taking on more difficult routes and working on your climbing as you get stronger. If you can do this in a group you’ll start to gain those all-important group riding skills as well as getting some company for the long rides.
If you’re time-poor you don’t necessarily need to complete six-hour rides to prepare effectively for the event, but it will be good for your confidence if you can get at least a couple of similar length sportives or training rides under your belt in the lead up to July. If the Etape your first major sportive then try to schedule something a little less daunting in to your calendar a month or two before the event to gauge your training, help to get the nerves out of the way and practice your pre-ride routine so that nothing comes as a surprise on the day. There are lots of good events in the UK in May and June, including the popular Wiggle Dragon Ride, to give you a dry run before the big day.
Next up, let’s have a look at what your training is likely to involve over the next four months.