One month to go!

With only about a month to go before the Etape du Tour, it is time to assess which areas you need more training in, and to take a more detailed look at the challenges ahead of you. You probably have not have ridden anything on the scale of the Etape itself yet, so it is worth deciding which areas to put the effort into.


Course Analysis

A detailed analysis of the Course Analysis is now on the web site. Take a look - it will let you know what you are in for!



The main challenges are:

1. The distance

2. The lengths and gradients of the climbs

3. The descents

4. Speed


In addition, we will be taking a look at:


5. Group riding techniques

6. Equipment

7. Nutrition


1. The distance

The length of the Etape this year is 117 miles. If you have been following the training notes, you may have done a ride of this length already this year, or at least have exceeded a 100 mile ride. If not, now is the time to do it!

As before, when attempting a longer distance for the first time, you may prefer to ride at a steady rate with plenty of stops, and when repeating the distance, you may want to up the pace and reduce the rest stops. Remember to take on board plenty of water.



2. The lengths and gradients of the climbs

There are two important aspects to this – practicing similar gradients, and knowing what to expect on the Etape!


Most of the climbing this year is between 7% and 9%, with a few patches of 10% - so it is worth practicing these gradients. It is also worth practicing long slopes with a 2% - 2.5% gradient, and gradients up to 14.5% - I’ll tell you why in a minute!


As you will see on the Course Analysis page, Izoard and Lautaret start with over 10 miles of 2.1% and 2.6% respectively.

Such gradients are more of a psychological challenge than a physical one, as the roads seem almost flat, but the going is tough, giving a false impression of fatigue. It is almost a relief to get to the steep section – at least then you feel that you are getting somewhere!


The foot of Alpe d’Huez is a special challenge. Your first instinct on starting this last, great climb on the ride may be to attack it hard! This may be unwise, as within the 10% sections at the start of the climb it rises to 14.5%. Exhaustion in the first two km of the Alpe d’Huez climb is not what you will be aiming for, so take the first two km a bit steadily!


3. The descents

Descending techniques have to be learned by practice, but a few hints may help. The classical approach is to slow down as you approach a bend, then to accelerate out of the bend. Braking on a bend is generally not recommended (though it is necessary at times!). Leaning into a bend obviously helps, and having the pedal on the inside at the top of its travel improves ground clearance.

Skidding due to braking too hard is obviously best avoided, so try and think ahead. Stability tends to feel best when you are not braking at all, and gentle application of the back brake tends to stabilise the bike while front wheel braking seems to have a more destabilising effect. Do practice your technique at moderate speeds first!

The Italians recommend descending like a falcon – i.e. in an aerodynamic manner. I would add – have eyes like a hawk! While training keep your eyes open for loose gravel and pot holes. On the Etape look out for discarded items – water bottles, food items, pumps and even items of clothing! You will probably have to avoid few literal banana skins!


4. Speed

Interval training may be of some help, but the most appropriate form of speed training at this stage is over fairly long distances, but at intensities that do not lead to total exhaustion. As time is always in short supply, rides of 35 miles or so, including a few hills if possible, are valuable training.

5. Group riding techniques

The object of good group riding technique is to ride safely while saving lots of energy.

Riding behind one rider will save you around 25% of your energy – riding behind a bunch will save you around 40%! This is a big consideration on an arduous course.

 You may need to take your turn at the front at times – but it is a grand feeling to lead a peloton – particularly a large one!

You may find that you naturally team up with a group of riders going at a similar speed, and may stick with them for 20 miles or more, each rider taking a turn at the front. Or you may hop from bunch to bunch – peloton hopping – as various groups become too fast or too slow for you. It is all part of the fun! Most pelotons are quite accommodating in the Etape.

When riding in large groups, some manoeuvres are best avoided. In particular make sure you are ahead of a rider you are overtaking before pulling in – don’t cut in on them. Though it may seem like fun to cut in, it sometimes causes serious crashes. Avoid sudden braking if possible, and if changing direction, give a hand signal – you may not see all the riders approaching from behind, so at least warn them of your intentions! Slower riders tend to be on the right, though not always. In the Etape, warnings tend to be shouted out – even if you don’t understand the French you will know that there is a hazard ahead to be aware of!

When following the wheel of another rider, you may like to ride slightly to one side in case he suddenly slows, for example when changing gear on a hill.

Personally I have found the riding standards in the Etape to be generally very high.


6. Equipment

A good standard of equipment is needed for the Etape. Tyres must be in good condition and inflated to the correct high pressure, and brakes must be effective.

Inner tubes should not have patches, as braking on long descents heats up the rims which tends to cause any patches to lift. You are required to carry two spare inner tubes – which also means that you need a pump and tyre levers.

Your gears should have sufficient range – a compact or triple is very useful for those long ascents.



One of the commonest problem in some Etapes it hypothermia! This may even occur in relatively warm weather when a rider’s energy reserves are totally exhausted, In the high mountains it becomes more likely, as air temperatures have been known to drop to 7 degrees or even 2 degrees in previous Etapes. When you add the wind chill effect of fast descents, and rain and even hail, and numb hands and hypothermia becomes a real risk.

It is therefore important to carry a water proof and wind proof top. You may wish to take wind proof gloves and a spare long sleeved garment or arm warmers if bad weather conditions are expected. It is always a compromise between weight carried and carrying sufficient clothing.

High temperatures are also not uncommon – in some years temperatures have exceeded 30 degrees centigrade. Last year a temperature of 37 degrees was recorded at one point, though this is extremely unusual.


Having said all that, the weather is fairly moderate in most Etapes!



7. Nutrition

The organisers supply a generous range of food at the feed stations, plus water and sometimes energy drinks. It is still wise to carry your own favourite energy bars or other food – though you do not need to carry enough for the entire course as you will be able to stock up as you go round.

It is wise to try out any sports food you intend to use before hand to make sure that it agrees with you.


Planning your final training

Do plan your final training. Decide which aspects you need to concentrate on, and spend time on these. Some times it is possible to tackle several aspects at once – a 200km hilly Audax will exercise your climbing, group riding and distance skills.


If there are no hills near you, a reasonable substitute, particularly for the gentler slopes, is to train on the flat at high intensity in fairly high gears (see Training on the Flat )


Conventional wisdom is to taper off your training before an event. Certainly it would not be wise to cycle 100 miles and climb several thousand metres on the day before the Etape, but on the other hand, some of us will hardly see a mountain until just before the Etape! If you are in the area before the Etape, it is worth trying out a few mountain roads before hand to get the feel of the climbs and descents, and perhaps to gain a little more fitness, though it is worth easing off for a day or two before the event.


Well, its time for me to leave the keyboard and think about getting out on my bike!


Enjoy your training! See you there!