We have reached a vital point in training for the Etape. The clocks have gone forwards! The weather is warmer! (and its raining outside!)



            Up till now we have been concentrating on general fitness. In particular, we have been building up the mileage to 50 or 70 miles. A few folk will have exceeded that by now, but if your longest ride is still much less than 50 miles, you have a bit of catching up to do.



            It is encouraging to monitor your progress. A good way of doing this is to find a five or ten mile circuit near you (preferably fairly traffic free!) then measure your average speed round it, trying to improve it as the weeks go by.



            Now is a good time to start looking at the challenge ahead of us in more detail. In this year’s Etape du Tour we will be tackling a 112 mile ride with three mountains: two with six mile climbs, and one  with a climb of nearly eleven miles. With about three months to go before the Etape, it is time to start to focus on these objectives.



            The sensible approach is to build up your riding distance in easy stages.


            A good target might be to beat the 100 mile barrier in April or May.


            You may already have found that having done a few 50 mile rides, that distance becomes fairly easy. Your approach will depend on how much time you have available.  For example, if you have a complete day free for cycling every two weeks, you could plan a 75 mile ride in mid April, and a 100 mile ride at the end of April.  On your first ride of a particular distance, in is perfectly reasonable to take a coffee stop, a lunch stop and an afternoon tea break! As your fitness on a particular distance increases, you may want to reduce the number of breaks and increase the speed.



            Climbing requires endurance and power. If you live in a mountainous area, training is no problem! However, most are not so lucky!



            Typically you will be climbing at a power of around 150 - 200W on a long gradient when ascending one of the climbs during the Etape. A similar power is required to propel a racing cyclist at 18mph to 22mph on the flat on a windless day. Cycling on the flat at speed is therefore a good way to build up your endurance ready for tackling the mountains.



            Climbing requires powerful legs –  or to be more accurate the ability to apply high forces to the pedals. This is easily practiced on local hills if there are any, or in the gym on an exercise bike, with the resistance set to a high level. During this year’s Etape the climbs are not as steep as in some previous years. In 2003 there were stretches of 18% gradient, rising to 20% for half a km at one point. This year, the worst kilometres average 13%, though there are probably steeper bits within these kilometres.

            Sensible riders will have a good range of gears, minimising the need for high pedalling forces, though they may want to train using higher gears in order to build up their strength.



            Descending at speed needs practice. One useful tip to try is to keep your weight low and to the rear, even to the extent of shifting your rear to the back of the saddle or beyond. This stabilises your descent. Technical bit – the reason keeping low and to the back of the saddle: If the brakes are applied, the bike will slow down, but the rider has momentum. If your weight is low and well back, the “couple” or rotating force tending to rotate your weight over the handlebars is lower making the bike feel far more controllable and safer. Normally when braking, both front and back brake are used in unison. When descending, both brakes may still be needed, but placing rather more emphasis on the back brake than usual tends to give better handling.

            Keep your eyes open for actual hazards such as pot holes, loose gravel, debris etc on the road while descending!

            Please note that these are only general hints – you will need to optimise your descending techniques to suit you and your bike!




            Few people have nothing in their lives but cycling, and most of us want to keep the rest of our lives going! Observations show that the more training miles you do, the better your results in the Etape will be, but you  will need to fit your training in with the rest of your life! Cycle commuting  is a possibility for some people, and most people are able to find time for a ride at the weekend and a free hour or two on a weekday evening.

            In general, a good ride once a week will maintain your fitness, but two or more will improve it. Training at that frequency at this time of the year should be sufficient to complete the etape without putting undue stress on the rest of your life!


Some people prefer a more intensive regime. If you like to build  exercise into your routine each day, you may want to make life more interesting by rotating between different types of training on successive days. This does not suit everyone, and I have not tried it myself, but some Italians train for Gran Fondos with a daily training pattern such as:







Rest day










Threshold refers to riding at your lactic acid threshold which generally equates aoroximately to the maximum speed you are comfortable riding at. Strength training would involve hill climbing in a fairly high gear, or on an exercise bike in the gym with the resistance set to a high level. Interval training involves cycling at high speed for typically a minute, then slowly for five minutes, then repeating. Distance training involves increasing your distance as the months go by. Such programs should include an easy week about once every month.

The pattern should be adjusted to suit you and the event you are tackling. It is a bit intense for most people (including me!)



To Sum up:

Training for April should aim to get you closer to that 112 mile goal, and improve your strength and endurance for the mountains. And after your practice hill climbs – enjoy the descent and practice your descending technique!


If you have read this far – you have plenty of endurance! Enjoy your training!


For the technically minded amongst us – read on!!




            Many people find heart rate monitors useful for training. By riding with your heart rate mid-way between your maximum heart rate and your heart rate when stationary, you will be operating at 50% of your maximum continuous power output. At 50% power you will probably find that you are able to ride 100 miles without total exhaustion. To optimise your pacing, you might want to experiment by riding at 60% power or 40%  power, to optimise your pacing.

            For example, if your heart rate is 100 beats/minute when you are just sitting on your bike, and 180 when going flat out up a steep hill, a heart rate of 140 will occur at half power, 150 at 60% power and 140 at 40% power.


            This method is quite accurate when training on a cool day on moderate terrain, but during the Etape itself does not work so well, because of a phenomenon known as cardiac drift. As your body heats up on a hot day or during a climb, the peripheral blood vessels increase in diameter to cool you down, causing a greater blood flow, so your heart rate increases.

            A more effective way of pacing yourself on a climb is to estimate your power output directly. This may be done by multiplying your speed by the gradient. See power estimation for more details.



            The traditional “rule of thumb” for fitness measurement is to measure your resting heart rate. The theory is that the lower your resting heart rate, the fitter you are. The reason for this is that after training, the heart’s volume increases, meaning that more blood is pumped round each time the heart contracts. A lower heart rate is therefore needed.

            The measurement is rather indirect, and really measures the  wrong thing. A more appropriate measurement of fitness is to measure the power you deliver while cycling. This is easy to do at your local gym, where you will find an exercise bike with a watt meter and a heart rate monitor built in. See fitness measurement for more details.

            There has been some discussion as to whether increasing your heart volume is beneficial to health. If you are concerned about this, it is fairly straightforward  to train for the Etape without this side effect. All you need to do is to reduce your training at extremely high power levels.Training at extremely high power levels is not particularly important for the etape anyway, as the Etape is essentially an endurance event.

            It is interesting to note that your rest heart rate tends to return to near normal over a period of a few months after training has ceased.