With two weeks to go before the Etape, it may not be the time to make great gains, but just to consolidate your fitness. It is worth training on alternate days or similar, though not to the point of total exhaustion or injury! Longer rides, maybe between 80 and 100 miles or so, are worth doing if you have the time available.
A club run at a good but attainable speed is useful. If you only have an hour available, a fast ride is useful. Even if you only have less than an hour available, a hill repeat or two will strengthen your legs and improve your breathing.
Try to get plenty of rest. For some, the temptation is to over train at this stage rather than allow time for recovery. You need to be fit, but also in a good state!
Tapering off before the Etape is generally held to be a good thing. However, many of us will get a rare opportunity to ride a real mountain or two before the Etape! How do you reconcile these two extremes?
Basically the idea of tapering off is to avoid being exhausted on the day of the Etape. So the day before the Etape should be reasonably leisurely – though to expect to relax at this stage is probably taking things too far!
In the week leading up to this, it is good to get some enjoyable rides in. If you are in France, some mountain rides are a great help to getting used to climbing continuously, and enjoying the descents. Moderate length rides are probably enough though – 30 miles may be enough, or maybe 50 or 60 miles with a good long climb or two. The fittest will be pushing the speed, and those who are just hoping to complete the stage will be saving their strength, but enjoying themselves nevertheless!
As well as preparing yourself, the beginning of July is the time to ensure your bike is in as good order as possible. Make any changes as (such as fine tuning the bike adjustments, fitting new tyres, sorting out problems, fitting new brake blocks) as early as possible, so you get plenty of miles in to try the changes out. Patched tubes should be replaced with new ones (patches may lift in the heat), worn cleats replaces, rim tape checked and replaced if faulty etc. Radical changes such as a new bike at the last minute, or new gear ratios, may not be a good idea!
Be prepared for anything! It is generally on the hot side in the south of France in the summer, though rain may occur, ans temperatures some times plunge to surprisingly low levels.
So – what do you do! You will need to have hot weather cycling gear, but carry a garment which is wind and rain proof. You may need gloves, and carrying a layer such as a long sleeved T shirt may prevent hypothermia. But maybe you won’t need any of that!
The feed stations are generally well equipped. In fact they have improved from year to year. There will be nets for you to through your rubbish in.
Speed is of the essence at the feed stations. Leave your bike at the edge, dodge your way to the front, and grab what you want, eat it and go! It is worth having an idea of how far ahead of your target time you are so that you know if there is time for a rest!
It is important to have two large water bottles, and wise to have enough food with you so that you will be able to miss at least one feed station if it is too busy. Do try out the type of energy bars and energy drinks you intend to use on a long ride beforehand, to make sure they suit you. Some people prefer items such as malt loaf or even cold pizza – bananas are popular but I prefer to have a large, red, local apple in my pocket!
Don’t forget to carbo-load on that wonderful French food!
Enjoy the Etape!