Now that the evenings are getting lighter and the weather warmer, it is a good time to complete the move from general fitness training to training specific to the Etape du Tour. The fitness level we are aiming at is quite extreme – a ride of nearly 120 miles with around 10,000 feet of climbing! But every journey starts out with the first few steps!


Up to now the emphasis has been on building up the length of the rides, but it is now time to increasingly train for other aspects of the Etape as well. Training in these areas is very useful:


1. Distance and endurance.

2. Hill climbing: Power and Leg strength

3. Descending

4. Group Riding

5. Speed


1. Distance and Endurance

You will probably have done a 50 mile ride by now. You may have done a 100 mile ride this year already. You will probably not have done a ride as long as the Etape (though I know someone who has!)

It is good to set yourself ambitious but achievable targets for April. If you have a day to spare, you could plan a pleasant route of say 80 or 100 miles. This may be an Audax, a reliability ride, a ride to visit a friend or relative, or a rural circuit. Plan suitable lunch stops and coffee stops etc. and allow plenty of time.

Having completed it, you will then be able to attempt a route of the same length at a higher speed. On a long ride, remember to avoid dehydration, by drinking regularly from the start. This should reduce any tendency to fatigue after 30 miles or so.

Do not be concerned if you are exhausted after a ride, and it takes a couple of hours to recover. You are extending your fitness level. As you recover you will be building up your strength, so a healthy diet including a good supply of protein as well as carbohydrate is useful.


2. Hill Climbing: Power and Leg Strength

There is a considerable amount of climbing in this year’s Etape du Tour. A flat course would not be as interesting, but some preparation is needed for the mountains! Few of the gradients are above 10% (1 in 10) this year, and the majority of the climbing will be at around 6% (around 1 in 16). These are appropriate levels to train at, which is convenient as you should be able to find hills of that sort of gradient to practice on in most areas of Britain. It is of course more difficult to find long hills similar to the alpine gradients over ten or more km long. Shorter steeper hills are very useful for developing leg strength and climbing power even if they do not develop climbing endurance. If you live in a totally flat area, you may have to resort to the turbo trainer or exercise bike in the gym – or visit a mountainous area!

Last year a group of us enjoyed training in Snowdonia over the late May Bank Holiday. We are repeating the trip this year – do join us! It is an excellent opportunity to try some long climbs and mountain descents.


3. Descending

Descending is also worth a bit of practice, preferably on roads with a good surface. I am told that the road surface on the Etape route will be in good condition this year, so there is not too much point in practicing on poor road surfaces. I recently read that fast riders “descend like a falcon”. It certainly pays to have eyes like a hawk to look out for hazards such as gravel and potholes as well as oncoming traffic, pedestrians and wild life! It also pays to keep both hands firmly on your handlebars while descending – I once met a cyclist who had to have part of his ear stitched back on after forgetting to do that…!

I also once spoke to a cyclist who always found cornering impossible – until somebody told him to lean in towards the inside of the bend when he cornered!


A similar technique as used racing drivers work well for a cyclist – braking as you approach a bend and allowing your bike to accelerate out of the bend. Braking actually on a bend is not advisable if there is loose gravel about!


Group Riding

Most people tend to find riding with a large group easier than they expect. A bit of practice does not come amiss though! Audaxes are an ideal opportunity, as are other local rides. If you look under “Etape Cycling Club” on this web site, you will see that there are Etappers willing to lead rides in most areas of Britain. If you contact the leader most convenient for you, he may have a few rides lined up for you to join in with. You should really join the Etape Cycling Club to take part in these rides – it is free to join at present – simply contact me (Ron@etape.org.uk).

The big advantage of group riding is slip streaming – riding behind one other rider will save you 25% of your energy, and riding behind a bunch will save you 40%. This is very valuable on a ride as long as the Etape! You may occasionally have to take your turn at the front!



The Etape tends to be ridden at a fairly constant efficient speed. However during training, gains have been reported by varying speeds, in methods such as interval training, by tackling a series of hills, or repeatedly climbing the same hill. Some people recommend mixing one or two variable speed sessions a week with one or two constant speed sessions. Recovery is the key to increasing your fitness level, as fitness increases when the body becomes stronger to face the increased level of effort it is experiencing during recovery. To avoid over training, it is therefore wise to recover from one session before you start the next one!


Monitoring Improvements

It is worth recording your training sessions between now and the Etape to monitor your improvements. I've put a training diary on the web site for you to print off and use to keep a record of your training. For a meaningful comparison, measure your average speed over a particular circuit near you at regular intervals (maybe every week or two). If you have limited time, a five mile circuit is useful. As the Etape grows nearer, a longer circuit (maybe 20 or 30 mile) serves to simulate the Etape more accurately.


You may want to plot a graph of average speeds for the same distance as the year progresses. Not only is this encouraging, but it a useful guide to fine tuning your training techniques.


I must end there – I want to get out on those country lanes on my bike and enjoy the sunshine!



Enjoy your training!