At last there has been a bit of good weather – riding a bike is becoming more enjoyable!


Last month we looked at arriving at a good basic fitness level to start our Etape training. This month we are looking at improving!  We will look briefly at distance, then look at High Intensity training in detail – which is less scary than it sounds!


We will also be taking a look at nutrition.



Try adding a few miles to your training rides, and include a few more hills. If you have been doing 15 to 20 mile rides, try extending your rides to 20 to 35 mile rides when you have time, and weather conditions are reasonable.



In addition to increasing the lengths of your rides, it is worth looking at High Intensity Training. Note that it is intended for people in good health!


Recently there has been a lot of publicity on High Intensity Training (HIT). On the face it this is similar to Interval Training, but there are important differences. Best of all, if your life is busy with work and family commitments – don’t worry – this form of training takes very little time!


If it were not for several well controlled studies by leading universities, I would not have believed that it works! They have proved that it works, not only in terms of general fitness, but in terms of health!


The method consists of exercising at your absolute maximum level for a few seconds, recovering for a minute then repeating this several times. Before the high intensity sessions, you need to warm up for a few minutes at a low intensity (<100 watts).  Various studies have used different time periods – examples are:


6 seconds high intensity, followed by 1 minute’s recovery repeated ten times


Up to


40 seconds high intensity followed by one minute’s recovery repeated three times


It has been convincingly demonstrated that this will give an increase in cardio vascular fitness, with a typical VO2max increase of around 15%. Some studies have shown VO2max improvements of between 0 and 50%.

The method is similar to interval training which has been used for many years for cycle training, but the periods are much shorter. Participants in the 6 second study after two weeks recorded a 10% improvement in fitness.

High intensity training is probably best used in combination with normal endurance training, though high intensity training does appear to improve recovery.



It is fairly obvious that the best form of nutrition is a normal balanced diet. While you are cycle training, it is well known that you need extra carbohydrate to provide the extra calories to replace the energy that you use to power you along. This is best taken as a part of a normal meal, though on a long strenuous ride your energy supplies may run low. Coffee and cakes at the café is usually a good solution!


I like the quote from Graham Obree who twice broke the 1 hour record. When asked in a TV interview what specialised sports food he used he said “ A slow release carbohydrate and a quick release carbohydrate and a hydration substance – jam sandwiches and water!”


How about energy gels? Once sitting in the Café at Col de Lauteret, I was challenged by a friend to the steep climb to the top of Galibier. I was totally exhausted, having ridden long and hard up several climbs that day, but was offered an energy gel. After consuming it I sped up Galibier at a speed that almost startled me!


While they are amazing if you are totally exhausted and have used up all your stored energy, they are probably best not used as your main energy source: the manufacturers recommend 4 a day, and an Etapper has been known to have severe attacks of vomiting after consuming 9 gels, after which he failed to complete the Etape! Personally I only use one when my energy supplies are exhausted.


It is probably safest to avoid products which contain mysterious additives, as sports nutrition supplements are unregulated in the UK. Recent BBC reports warned about DMAA, a stimulant, also listed on packaging as geranium extract, geranamine, which is known to narrow the blood vessels and arteries, elevating blood pressure, which may lead to dangerous health risks.


Some people prefer to only use normal food products. My favourite sports drink if 50% grape juice and 50% water, and a friend attempted the Etape on pizza!



The need for protein has not been discussed as much as the need for carbohydrate. Training is limited by recovery, in your legs and elsewhere. Aching legs seem to be brought about by microscopic damage to the muscles. One way of avoiding this is to ride at a level which causes no pain.


 However higher levels of training will probably be necessary to reach the goal of riding the Etape du Tour. To avoid over training, adequate rest is needed between sessions.


 Recovery is helped by the consumption of some extra protein after a ride.  Protein shakes are available to aid rapid recovery, including some which are derived only from natural food products such as whey, without chemical processing. However the Department of Health advises adults to avoid consuming a total of more than twice the recommended daily intake of protein (55.5g for men and 45g for women), including the protein included in your normal food. It is worth checking the additives in any protein shake you use.


 Personally I tend to prefer normal food sources to supply the required protein, such as chicken stew!




The main thing is to get out on your bike when you have a chance, and enjoy it!


 May you find some inspiring routes!