Only 3 months to go before the Etape du Tour!


So how on earth do you train for such a monster ride? There are probably no mountains near where you live – and how often have you ridden that sort of distance?



Part of the answer is in the planning.  This year’s route has four main sections.


1st Section

The first 60 miles or so is flat to undulating – probably similar to number of routes near you. Not very different from an Audax really – except there will be thousands of people to slipstream rather than the odd one or two! So to practice this section – get out there and do an Audax, a club ride or simply a 60 mile ride in the countryside!


Economy will be the key here – haring off at 30mph racing the fastest riders may not be a good idea when there are mountains to climb in the next section! Save your energy! Do this by riding at an economical speed, and taking full advantage of group riding. Slip streaming a line of riders saves you a valuable 25% of your energy – slip streaming a bunch will save you up to 40%! If possible practice this – least it is reassuring that this section should be easier on the day!


2nd Section

The second section – the ascent of Tourmalet - is not so easy to practice! Unless you live in the mountains, it is difficult to find a ride approaching the highest pass in the Pyrenees! The average gradient of 7.5% is not particularly   steep, though the maximum gradient does reach 12% in places. The climb goes on for quite a distance though – for 15miles in fact! You may find yourself needing a rather lower gear than usual for such a long climb – see the Cycling Plus DVD!


The ideal way to train for such climbs is in the mountains – we have organised a couple of trips you might find useful – to Snowdonia on the early May bank holiday, and the Alps on late May bank holiday – let me know if you are interested.


Another useful method of training to climbing is by doing hill repeats – simply climbing a hill repeatedly. Surprisingly, in the Chilterns near me, all the hills are around the same height, close to 100 metres. So it is not difficult to calculate the total distance climbed! It is possible to climb 500 metres simply for example by repeating the climb five times. A variation is to devise a ride with several such hills, though repeating the same hill is useful if you are short of time. 

Hill repeats will improve your climbing abilities, though there is nothing like riding up a few real mountains!


Pacing is important on the climbs as well as on the flat.


3rd Section


Having climbed the mighty Tourmalet, we will have a magnificent descent ahead of us! Starting with hairpins and gradients of 15%, it straightens out and levels off to a more comfortable gradient as we descend. The weather is not guaranteed – when Tourmalet was last included in the Etape the temperature was 7 degrees Centigrade and it was raining on the descent – riders discovered that numb hands could still operate brakes! I shall take some gloves with me! 

After the foot of Tourmalet at Luz St Sauveur the descent continues more gently.


I know only one way of training to descend – doing it! On the first few practice descents, practice having full control of your bike, controlling your speed to a chosen speed rather than the fastest one. This will give you the confidence and competence to descend faster.

Cornering on a sharp bend is achieved by braking steadily as you approach the bend (not hard enough to skid!), leaning your bike at a suitable angle as you round the bend, not braking much on the bend itself, then accelerating out of the bed. Having the inside foot at its highest position will give you more ground clearance. Look out for loose gravel! In the Etape it may be possible to take a “racing line” round the bends as there will be no traffic – not so on many roads!

From the physics and dynamics of a descending bike, it seems that applying more pressure to the back brake than the front one on a steep descent tends to have a stabilising effect, though generally you will need to use both to minimise the possibility of skidding.


4th Section

Having descended Tourmalet, the next challenge will be to climb Hautacam!

Tourmalet is a long climb but with a fairly consistent gradient. Hautacam is a shorter climb but has more variable in gradient, making it rather more difficult to pace yourself. The average gradient is 7.2%, though there are of course steeper sections, The climb is 10 miles long! The last 3km of the climb are flatter, and the views are magnificent!





Suitable Targets for April:

To complete a 100 mile ride in a day. Your speed will depend on your training so far. Don’t forget to have a couple of food stops – there will be food stops on the Etape after all!


To get plenty of climbing practice. Ideally this would include mountains, but failing that, hill repeats or a few nice hilly rides will provide useful training.



Frequency: Ideally, three training sessions a week, with rest days in between, though a minimum of two are recommended. Long cycle commutes are a very effective way of training.


Enjoy your training!