March training Hints
As always, the Etape this year is quite a challenge (though not as bad as last year!)
We are training for an 81 mile ride, with around 3500m of climbing.
The route may be neatly divided into two halves.
The first half is undulating, and not too dissimilar to rides you might do in the UK. The longest climbs are around 200 to 300 metres – similar to Cheddar Gorge, some of the climbs around Exmoor, and climbs in Snowdonia. This year the Snowdonia training trip will be particularly relevant.
Perhaps you have been regularly doing 20 to 30 mile rides. March is a good time to increase your distance to 40 miles, the length of the first half of the Etape. Having done a 40 mile ride or two, it is worth changing the route to increase the amount of climbing. In the first half of the Etape, there are around 1500m of climbing. This may sound a lot, but with a bit of planning, it should be reasonably easy to clock up this amount of climbing in a 40 mile ride even in the UK.
The second half of the Etape route consists of two climbs of around 1000m, separated by a descent and a flat section. As there are no 1000m climbs in the UK, the turbo trainer or exercise bike in the gym is a good alternative, as it allows you to ride at constant power for long periods. Riding at 150W would give you a feel for the power required to achieve an Etape climb in a reasonable time. Ride at 200W and you are lined up for a good finishing time!
All training should build up gradually in intensity and duration as the weeks go by, so initially you may want to start at a lower power level for maybe half an hour increasing the session length in later sessions. The main problem with sessions long enough to simulate a full 1000 metre climb is probably boredom! Virtual reality trainers such as the Tracx or Bkool would probably help in that respect, though they are somewhat expensive!
The good news is that if you build your power up to 200W, you will be able to climb the equivalent amount in a shorter time, reducing the boredom! At 200W it would take around 1 hour 20 minutes to climb 1000 metres(1), depending on the combined weight of you and your bike and other factors. Naturally, the lighter you are the less time it will take to climb 1000 metres at 200W.
It would be possible to simulate the whole second half of the Etape by taking a rest of half an hour or so between two constant power sessions to simulate both mountains, with the downhill and flat section between them.
An alternative method of simulating long climbs, from the point of view of power and endurance at least, is to ride on a long flat road at a steady speed. In windless conditions, 150W equates to 19mph, and 200W is needed to ride at around 21mph.
In early March it is probably sufficient to practice one half the Etape route at a time. Later it is worth increasing your ride length to 80 miles or 100 miles later, maybe by mid April. More of that later!
Everyone will have their own optimal training frequency, depending on available time after taking care of their work, family and other things in life.
Optimum training frequency will also depend on the intensity and length of your sessions. After a long, hard session you may need to rest for a day or two, whereas short easy sessions may be possible almost every day.
Leaving too many days between sessions may result in a decline of fitness.
There is nothing quite like the challenge of training on some real mountains. To find climbs around 1000m you will need to travel abroad – maybe to Mallorca, Corsica or even the Annecy area! There are also many places in Italy and Spain where there are suitable climbs.
While the Met Office consider March to be spring, the weather does not always agree, so take care to avoid icy patches, and beware of hypothermia – simply wear sufficient clothing! In my case at least I have proved that cold legs will become stiff achy legs after the ride – solved even with temperatures around zero by wearing two sets of cycling tights! Warm muscles are also well known to be more efficient.
Riding in a group is obviously good practice for when you will be riding with thousands of others. It is useful to practice saving energy by slip streaming, and has competitive element will spur you on. This may be done with friends, in an Audax, or a Sportive.
Above all – find some great routes - and enjoy your training!
For more information on the Snowdonia trip see 13Snowdonia.htm
If you wish to join the Snowdonia trip on the early May bank holiday, contact me at Ron@etape.org.uk .
Ref (1) . This estimate is based on a 12 stone (76Kg) rider with a bike, tools, clothes etc. plus accessories weighing 14kg, and allowing for 20W loss due to rolling resistance, and negligible losses due to air resistance.