There are now only weeks to go before the Etape!


How is your climbing and descending?  How’s your endurance?

It is good time to work out which aspects of your performance need improvement and to work on these. Here are some areas:


1. Speed

2. Climbing

3. Endurance

4. Descending

5. Group riding


As the Etape is getting near, we shall also be considering nutrition & hydration.


1. Speed

            Speed is perhaps the most obvious requirement for success in the Etape. There is a lot of value in practicing high speed riding over shorter distances, even though in the event itself you may need to pace yourself.

            The advantage of this type of training is that it is possible to fit it in during the odd spare hour – though you may still need time to recover afterwards! With the lighter evenings (for those of us living in the Northern hemisphere!) this type of training should be possible for most people.

            Identify a suitable route or two near you and measure your average speed round the circuit. Suitable lengths are 5 miles, 10 miles and 30 miles. Record your average speed round the route, and try to improve on it. If you have been following the training notes, you may already have been doing this.



2. Climbing   

            Find a suitable hill, and practice. If using a heart rate monitor, keep your heart rate below its maximum, particularly on long hills. Though a maximum gradient of little more that 13% is expected in this year’s Etape, there is value in practicing on steeper hills to strengthen your leg muscles and improve your efficiency of respiration.

            Climbing not only requires a high power output, but high forces on the pedals. Suitable gearing will reduce the force you need to apply, reduce fatigue, and allow you to pedal at a more efficient cadence. A triple changer is useful in this respect. The recently introduced compact chain sets are also gaining favour. Changing equipment to soon before the etape is not recommended – it may not work properly, and you need to get used to it!


3. Endurance

            This is perhaps the key factor. Some riders have already completed several rides over 100 miles this year, while others have completed rides of 60 miles or less. If you have the time, it is worth completing at least one hundred miler before the day (life permitting!). Not only will this give you more confidence in completing the distance, but you will start to appreciate the best pace to set yourself for the distance. For those used to 10 or 20 mile time trials, some adjustment may be needed!

            One secret is to save energy by slip streaming other riders. The bigger the bunch you slipstream, the better the energy saving. This comes a pleasant surprise to those riding behind a hundred riders for the first time, particularly if they are used to club triathalons where draughting is not permitted!


4. Descending  

            Views differ on descending, but there are probably two basic types of descent – the long, straight descent, and the more complex descent with sharp bends and changes in gradient.

            Long straight descents are probably best approached with a view to maximum stability, by keeping your center of gravity low and towards the back. You may prefer to descend on the drops of the handlebars on this type of descent, with your weight down behind the handlebars.

            On a descent with curves and hairpin bends, riders may find that they have better control on the bends when further forwards with the arms making more or less a straight line with the forks.  It is worth trying out these two approaches to see what suits you on a safe road at fairly moderate speeds.


            Your riding position is your choice!  


            The usual recommendation is to use your brakes to slow you when approaching a bend, then release them as you leave the bend. This tends to give good control as you round the bend. There are times when you may need to brake as you round the bend.


            Always keep your eyes open for poor road surfaces. In particular, avoid gravel, especially on bends. Allow an extra safety margin if the road is wet or muddy.


            Keep a reasonable distance from other riders if possible when descending. Please do not cut in on other riders when overtaking .


            Some riders have experienced high speed shimmy – the phenomenon where the handlebars oscillate almost uncontrollably from side to side for no apparent reason. I recently spoke to someone who experienced shimmy while descending at 83 kmph. It disappeared when he reduced the speed to below 42 kph. The text book recommendation is to grip the crossbar between your knees if this happens. If it does happen (which is rare) slowing the bike will bring it under control eventually.


            One rider I know always suffered from instability when cornering. When he was told to lean into the bends when cornering, the problem was solved! On a sharp bend, it may help to stick your “inside” knee out.



Group Riding

            If possible, do practice riding in a group before the Etape. Contact your local cycle club or CTC group – they will welcome new members. You will often not actually have to join to try out a ride or two – though that depends on the club. Alternatively, try out one of my training rides, or an Audax.

            When riding with a group, keep your speed as constant as possible. Riders nearer the front will give warning of hazards such as traffic islands, parked cars, potholes or traffic. When slip streaming, ride slightly to the side of the rider in front in case he changes speed. Do not change direction or stop suddenly without warning!



Nutrition and Hydration

            If you eat plenty of carbohydrates on the last couple days before the Etape, you may find that you need little food for the first 50 miles or so. Otherwise, you may need to eat every hour or so to top up your energy supplies. The feed stations on the etape offer a good variety of free food, though because several thousand people are after it, you may loose several minutes trying to grab some! You may wish to carry some food of your own to save time.

            Food generally takes a little time to digest, so it is probably best to take those extra calories on board 20 minutes or so before you hit the mountains!

            It is good to take some energy drink on board at the feed stations, though too much may be difficult to digest. Not only will it supply extra sugars, but it should also help to replace salts lost by sweating.

            Generally, it may not be wise to try too much of an unfamiliar energy bar or energy drink on the day without having tried it before hand to see if it suits you.

            Opinions vary as to how much you need to drink. Some people recommend as much as litre an hour, but this is completely impossible to carry or digest! Even half a litre an hour is probably impossible. It is however fairly certain that drinking too much at once is not a good idea, and sipping water at fairly frequent intervals is better. However the number of bidons seen lying in the road testify that drinking while riding is not all that easy! Quiet moments do occur when it may be safely accomplished.

            It is certainly worth carrying at least one large water bottle – maybe two. You will be able to stock up with water at the feed stations – once you get through the crowds!

            If you start out well hydrated, that helps, though remember that you will be waiting in the starting pen for some time!