The weather in January has turned out to be far better than expected! The snow has left the roads, and we have had some delightful days of bright sunshine! It has been a good opportunity to get some reasonable mileages in – 20 miles, 30 miles, maybe 40 or 50 miles! February is a good opportunity to build on this.

Your type of training will depend partly on which route you are planning to do.

Act 1: Modane to Alpe d’Huez

This is a real climbing and endurance route – not terribly long – but with huge amounts of climbing! At this time of year, building endurance is the key, moving on to improving climbing power as time goes by. The strength of your leg muscles will obviously be important, so tackling some reasonable hills is very useful. Although Telegraph and Galibier are not particularly steep, Alpe d’Huez has some 12% sections.

In cold weather, it is important not to cool your core temperature excessively. Excessive breathing rates draw in large amounts of cold air. Recent weather has been deceptive in this respect – bright sunshine has hidden temperatures near zero! So warm clothing and a little caution are useful.

I’m sure you will have no objections to tea and coffee stops to warm up!

Indoor training, either in the gym or on a turbo trainer is valuable, because it avoids the chill factor. It also enables you to keep track of your fitness level – riding at 150 watts to 200 watts is very appropriate training for February. To gauge your fitness level, you may want to monitor your progress by comparing your power output to your heart rate – see the fitness calculator on this website.

Act 2: Issoire to St Flour

Training for the Issoire to St Flour Etape is more straightforward! You simply need to find some reasonably hilly terrain and do some long rides! Again, a few café stops are useful to warm up at this time of year! English hills are similar in steepness and height to most of the ones you will encounter in the Act 2 Etape.

Later in the year you will be able to polish up your speed performance. Even in February, if you only have half an hour or an hour to spare, try a shorter route at a higher speed – maybe in the 15 to 20 mph range for most of us, or faster for the real champions!

Entering the Act 2 Etape is a good excuse to train on some really scenic rides. Even if you live in a city like Birmingham for example, the rolling hills are only a short drive away! From London, places like the Chilterns are quite easily accessible via the motorway.

Audaxes are particularly useful training grounds for the Act 2 Etape, as they concentrate on longish distances over quite hilly terrain. There are a good range of Audaxes in all parts of the country. A good strategy is to start with 100km Audaxes, building up to longer ones later.

The good range of Sportives now being organised are ideal training for the St Flour Etape.


The Essence of Training

The essence of training is to push yourself hard, after which the body adapts and becomes stronger. Strangely, except on an extended cycle tour, it is during the rest periods that the gains are made! If rest periods are too long, fitness will decline again. If the rests are insufficient after an extreme training load, recovery is incomplete, and over-training may be a problem.

Studies have found that 3 to 4 training sessions a week is about the optimum. On the other hand, less than one training session a week is probably not very effective. Professional cyclists probably have fewer commitments than most of us! Two sessions a week is probably about all most of us have time for!

The intensity level of a training session is an important factor. However if you are still suffering several days after a training session – you are probably overdoing it!

A time honoured training method in the winter months is endurance training – working at a level which you could maintain indefinitely. Typically you would be working at between around 70% and 80% of your maximum heart rate, though this is a very approximate guide. Endurance training is particularly suited to the Act 2 event, though some hill work will be needed too.

If you are entering the Alpine Etape a good system might be endurance training interspersed with fast sections, pushing your speed for around 5 miles, then reverting to endurance level again. As time goes by, the length and speed of the fast sections could be increased as you feel appropriate.

As time goes by, high intensity training will become the norm, and rides will get longer. A good target for February may be a 50 mile ride – though it will depend how fit you are to start with! If you are starting from a low fitness level, 40 to 45 mile rides interspersed with shorter ones, is a good target, but you may well achieve distances of 50 to 70 miles later in February – weather permitting!

Training Events

To arrange a training trip in the area of Act 2, at a convenient time for you, contact Pascal Gorman at Gorman.p@wanadoo.fr   . Please mention Etape.org.uk

Training in the Mountains in the UK: Contact Ron@etape.org.uk to join our early May bank holiday training trip in Snowdonia