Where are we?

By now you have probably completed some long rides – 50 miles – 100 miles – maybe a 200km Audax. You will have done some hill work, possibly mountain work, and you have probably built up your speed. You may have practiced group riding.


Where are we going?

We will be riding nearly 120 miles over the mountains.

We will be cycling up climbs many miles long

We will be cycling with thousands of other cyclists.

The maximum gradient will be around 10%.

We will need to exceed 12mph average speed over the entire distance

Finally we will be challenging one of cycling’s most classic climbs – the 21 bends of Alpe d’Huez!


How will we do that?

Fear not – it is achievable! A bit of training may be needed though!


As you will guess from the pre-amble, now is the time to take your training seriously!


A large problem is best solved by breaking it down into small parts.



Last month’s target was a ride of length 80 – 100 miles. If you have achieved that, the next target is to reach 100 miles, or preferably the entire length of the Etape – 120 miles. This is not as daunting as it sounds, if approached in the right way.

If you have not cycled that distance before, choose a reasonably flat but interesting route. Three food and drink stops is probably about right, so you would ride around 30 miles, stop at a café or similar, do another 30 miles, take a lunch break, then stop for afternoon refreshments after another 30 miles before completing the final 30 miles. Why not enjoy it!

Achieving that distance is something to be proud of.


Fortunately, a 200km Audax is almost exactly the right distance. Don’t worry if your first attempt on a ride of that length takes longer than you would like! There is still plenty of training time left.


After extending your distance to that level, a rest period is called for, at least physically! It may take a few days before you feel like cycling again, as your body adapts to this new level of fitness. After two or three days you may itch to get back on your bike again – but that may be a week or more!



You have probably read that fit people tend to have a low resting heart rate. This was once thought to be due to enlargement of the heart, but current thinking is that with improved cardiac fitness the heart contracts more strongly, and therefore does not need to contract so frequently in order to deliver the required blood supply for a given level of activity.


After a high level of activity you will probably find that your heart rate will actually increase! It will then probably stay higher than usual for several hours, gradually dropping to normal, then dropping to a lower level than before with your improved cardiac efficiency. This may take  hours  or sometimes takes several days! This gives a useful indication of your recovery time after the ride, and helps avoid over training.


While this is all very interesting and relatively easy to measure, a more useful fitness indicator is your maximum aerobic power and your wattage at a particular heart rate. See the fitness calculator for a method of measuring this in the gym. You will need to climb at around 150W – 200W to complete the etape.



Now that the evenings are light, you will have an opportunity to improve your speed, by measuring your average speed round your favourite circuit, and trying to improve it from session to session. A training diary is helpful here. If you have the opportunity to train with others, a useful competitive element will tend to creep in, and you will also be able to practice slipstreaming.



When you think of the scenes from the Tour de France shown on television, you will probably recall the heroes battling it out on the cols, or sprinting to the finish line. This is not typical!

The riders spend most of their time riding fast but economically in the huge peloton, pedalling at a steady rate, saving as much energy as possible. To succeed in the Etape you will need to adopt a similar strategy. As it is you will consume 6000 – 9000 calories in the day – so saving energy is vital!

Starting too slowly will give you a low average speed which is difficult to increase later, while riding too fast initially risks exhaustion later.

If your usual activity is 10 mile or 20 mile time trials, you may need to moderate your speed a little in the Etape!


Riding at 18 mph in still air requires around 150W. This rises to 225W at 22mph, and a huge 300W at 25mph. So doubling your rate of energy expenditure only increases your speed by 40%. 300W is a huge amount of energy to expend on a continuous basis, and is generally the reserve of top riders – though this may be you!

Slip-streaming a large group will save you 40% of your energy. You may have to spend part of your time at the front though!


The first 30 miles or so of this year’s Etape is reasonably flat, so you should be able to put a good distance between yourself and the broom wagon from the start! However, this is followed by around 20 miles of almost continuous climbing, which will need to be done at a fairly steady pace!

It is worth thinking through your strategy before hand – I’ll be adding some more detailed notes on the course details to the web site later.



One question that I am often asked is:  how do you train for the mountains if you live in a flat area?

There are suitable training areas if you look for them. A trip to an area such as N. Devon, Cornwall, the Peak district, the Lake District or Wales will provide some long climbs. Studying your map carefully may reveal some similar to alpine climbs – for example the toll road from Porlock via Birchanger has a 7% gradient for over 4 miles rising by 400 meters! (no I don’t mean Porlock hill which has 25% sections!) There are other similar roads elsewhere on Exmoor.


Why not try some real mountains in the UK?  You are also welcome to join us on our rides in Snowdonia during the late May Bank Holiday.   For a taster, see last years event.



If getting to a hilly area is difficult for you, simply riding at speeds of around 18mph or more for extended periods on flat roads requires the same power output as climbing. To simulate the force required on the pedals you will need to choose a fairly high gear. For example a 52 x12 at 20mph gives a similar cadence to 42x27 at 7mph. Depending on your weight, climbing a 7% at 7mph will require a similar power to cycling at 20mph on the flat (around 200W), and the forces on the pedals should be similar.


7% is a good starting point at the beginning on May, but you will need to train at higher gradients than 7%. Ideally you would build up your gradient week by week.

The average gradient on the worst parts of Col d’Izoard is 9% to 10.5%. Most of Col d’Izoard has an average gradient of 8% to 9%.

Most of the climb to Alpe d’Huez averages around 8% or 9%.

 Sufficiently low gearing is an advantage!



How frequently you train will depend on other commitments, but now that the evenings are lighter, generally two sessions a week is a good working minimum, and three sessions a week is better. More than four sessions a week may be excessive, though this depends on the intensity and length of each session! After a 200km ride you may not want to ride at all for a week!

If events prevent you from training for a week, one short high intensity session in a week should maintain your fitness level reasonably well.



So this year’s great challenge is actually achievable. Many of you will be wanting to achieve a gold or silver, and arrive at the top of Alpe d’Huez in a blaze of glory, cheered by the waiting crowds, though many of us will be glad to just reach the top! We will all need a bit of training!




Enjoy your training!