The Etape is no longer months away - it is weeks away! Soon we are sitting in those starting pens in the early morning waiting for the signal to go! Then we will be hurtling along with thousands of others at over 18mph following a river valley, drawn along by the huge peloton! After 10Km the route takes a right turn, and we will be heading for the mountains - those climbs and descents! Ahead of us lie 120 miles of mountains Ė we eagerly strive towards those streets lined with spectators after the last descent!

It is not going to be easy this year - a 120 mile ride with five mountains to conquer!

So - if you get a chance (there are more important things in life than cycling!) get some more long rides in before the end of June! If you are repeating a distance youíve done before, try to do it a bit faster, or over a more hilly terrain. If youíve read the previous training hints, you will know a bit about pacing. At this stage in the year, donít be afraid to exceed your ideal paced speed for the distance. It will get you that much fitter, and give you more idea of what you are able to achieve. You will also get a more accurate idea of the best pace for you during the Etape. If the higher speed exhausts you too quickly, you will know to go a little slower in the Etape! Whatever speed you go at in the Etape, there will still be plenty of people going at a similar speed to slipstream!

Iíve forgotten how hard mountains were... (Quote from a previous tour champion after he dropped out of the Etape).... Donít be caught out! This year we will be tackling five major climbs in the Pyrenees, the longest being 12.5 miles long! Fortunately, most of them are not particularly steep on average (5% to 8%) though there will be some steep sections of 10% or more! Get some practice on the mountains if possible, or at least the hills! If you live in East Anglia or somewhere else flat, try and get a trip to Wales if possible if you are not lucky enough to be able to try out a few mountains on the continent. We are planning to try out the actual course with accommodation and minibus support arranged Ė email me (ron@etape.org.uk) if you would like to join us!

Climbs of this length are mainly a matter of climbing at a manageable power. If your bottom gear is reasonably low, your cadence will be reasonable (above say 50rpm) and you wonít have to produce excessive torque. You will also be able to stay seated most of the time (standing on the pedals occasionally for a change of muscle use, and for the really steep bits). Breathing in time with your pedalling may also help.

So youíve been practicing your group riding ready for riding with thousands of others? If not there are still events such as Audaxes between now and July! Iím planning to do a couple! See http://www.audax.uk.net/ for details - there may be an Audax near you! You donít even have to be a member to enter one of these long distance cycling events - and they are an all time bargain! You may even get change from £5!

Riding behind another rider will save 25% of your energy. Riding behind a bunch may save you 40% of your energy! This is very useful with 120 miles to go! Riding slightly to one side of the rider in front will loose you little of this advantage, and is probably a lot safer if something causes them to brake suddenly. In a group riding situation, most riders will adopt a steady riding speed, avoiding sudden manoeuvres such as swinging to one side without indicating. Those that donít may learn a few more international swear words!

The Dangerous bits are the exciting bits ... but please donít be one of those who go plunging off the edge of the road, skid off on gravel, or hit another rider! Fortunately, such incidents are quite rare, and a little thought should prevent them altogether. Look out for gravel, and discarded items as you descend, try not to cut in on other riders, and donít stop or manoeuvre too suddenly if riders are close behind you. I did once, and learned a number of Italian swear words very quickly! It is also best to take a calculated path round a curve rather than leaving it to chance. This skill is well worth practicing.

††††††††††† Slipstreaming while descending needs extreme care, as unexpected things do occasionally happen. If a cow walks out into the road, the rider in front of you may react rather suddenly! Something similar happened to me once.

Descending is a skill that is worth mastering. Taking the racing line round a curve when it is safe to do so, braking gently before a bend rather than on it, keeping the pedal on the inside of the curve at the top of its travel useful are useful hints. Sticking your inner knee out to move your centre of gravity inwards on a tight corner also helps. Attention to whatís ahead is more useful than fear!

What should you take with you to the Etape? Apart from a bike of some sort (tandems, trikes and even recumbents have all been sighted!) it is compulsory to wear a hard crash helmet and carry two inner tubes. The rules say nothing about tyre levers and a pump, but I suppose they might be useful accessories to the inner tubes! If the weather happens to be hot, a well ventilated crash hat is a good idea. Theoretically, a light coloured or reflective one will stay cooler.

Other tools depend on what you think you may need, though three or four Allen keys cover almost everything on a modern racing bike. A tool for tightening cleats is not a bad idea either. A loose cleat is rather worrying! Most riders use a small tool pack mounted below their saddle, but the choice is of course yours.

Donít forget a couple of large water bottles!


Personally I think a lightweight waterproof is essential. Descents are extremely cold if you are hot and sweaty from climbing, and it starts to rain (or even snow!) The 2 degree temperatures of Ventoux and the 7 degree temperatures of Tourmalet are unlikely but possible this year with maximum altitudes of only around 1755 metres, but it is well to be prepared. Light weight gloves may be useful in cold descending conditions, and you may also need an extra layer if cold mountain weather sets in. On the other hand the temperature may reach 40 degrees as it did on Alpe díHuez last year!

At last - the Etape is in sight! Letís make the most of the remaining time to train!

But donít forget the more important things in life!