That's right boys, just 26 days until the Etape, and it's time to put the final touches to your training.
Pretty much everyone up until now has put in the required miles, and has the hills in their legs too, even those currently injured. The work done up until now has built your muscle memory, so even an enforced layoff is not necessarily a disaster, provided it does not go right up to the wire.
Focus for this month is to put in a good couple of last distance rides, preferably with some hills, and then hone those climbing skills which you will need on the day. There is no need at this stage to go stupid and try to put in mega-miles and an Everest's-worth of climbing in one go....far from it.
By now, we will all have developed our fitness to almost it's final Etape level, all we can now do is sharpen it.
This fitness level will manifest itself in your 'threshold level'. This is the point at which you can carry on uphill without red-zoning, blowing through your maximum heart rate and exploding on the climbs. It does not show itself by providing you with a given speed. Far from it.
Your fitness level will provide you with a 'comfortable' (probably better to describe it as a 'maintainable') cadence, in a maintainable gear, for a specific gradient. Speed is the result of the equation of gear X cadence, and is NOT an input to the equation.
Therefore, at this point, we should not be concentrating on speed, but on how we feel on the bike. We then take this approach, and push ourselves up to the threshold point, practising to just leave ourselves short of 'doing too much'.
Remember, on the day, you may find that 5% extra you never knew you had, but it would be better to find the 100% you knew you'd got rather than exploding on the first climb looking for 2% that just wasn't there. Train to find that level. If you get to the finish, 2 metres in front of the Broom Wagon, having given everything you had, then your day will be the ultimate success. No matter the result, if you give it everything, you can be satisfied. Take it from one who has finished a previous Etape, if you have it in the tank, but don't leave it on the road, you will not be completely happy.
But where on the road should we leave it? This brings us to the final, least strenuous, but most important part of your training.
KNOW YOUR ENEMY.
In the past few weeks, I have spoken to people on Sportives who will be going to the Etapes. Both of them. These people fall squarely into two camps. Those who know what they have let themselves in for, and those who do not. There are no prizes for guessing which group will have most success. Some people I spoke to did not even know how many climbs there were and, in one case, no idea of the distance involved. It would be somewhat evil of me to admit I enjoyed the look on his face when I disavowed him of the notion he would be cycling about 100km, with climbing of about 1500 metres!
You have three weeks in which to:
- Check the route profile
- Look at it on a map
- Review the Broom Wagon Timetable
- Plan your ride (sod everybody else)
- Work out your own strategy
26 days remain for you to prepare for your success in the Etape. Make me proud.
Yes, that's right, May. There are now just 9 1/2 weeks between you and the 2012 Etape du Tour.
So what should you now be doing? Don't worry, it seems that most of us are already doing it, despite the rotten weather brought to us during most of April.
Hopefully, with increasing light, and some decent weather, we should be able soon to put the scuba gear away, and get the bikes out for 20 or 30 miles after work on some evenings. Even just twice a week will have a beneficial effect. Those who live slightly further from the office could consider a commute, as could those who live closer but go the long way round!
Hopefully, by this point most of us will know what a ride of 90+ miles feels like, but if not then May is the essential month to "get a 100 in", just to get the body used to the endurance nature of a long ride.
Obviously those whose time is more precious, particularly Sam with his impending exams may not have time to go out and spend three hours or more on the bike. Do not despair! All is not lost. If there is only time for a one horu ride, then go out and do a one hour ride. Not doing it because you can't do three hours is just an hour lost. If you only have an hour, make it count. Raise the intensity, and try interval work, which is an excellent way of improving fitness where only limited time is available. I am a recent convert, myself.
NOW is the time to assess your strengths and weaknesses, and to adjust efforts accordingly. At least consider:
Even more endurance
Much of this was included in the original "Everything you need to know about the Etape" document "wot I wrote", so please take the time to re-read it.
Note that I have omitted 'speed' from the above. This is with good reason. Success on the Etape will mainly have to do with 'feel'. How the bike feels, how you feel, how hard the effort feels etc. You will by now all have developed your own preferred cadence, whether this be 100rpm, 80rpm (or nil rpm sitting in front of the telly with a Toblerone). At this cadence, your current fitness, strength and endurance will dictate a gear which you are comfortable turning at that cadence. Speed is simply the result of cadence times gearing, not a target in itself.
Those who attempt the Etape trying to hit a certain speed in a certain place whilst ignoring cadence, strength and the other factors will either end up going too slowly, or usually far too fast, with inevitable consequences. Sure, work out the speed you want, but work out the requirements for that speed first. If you 'need' a certain speed, and you are incapable of turning a big enough gear fast enough to achieve it, you cannot do it. Work on changing the cadence, and the gearing. Speed will follow.
The maths bit regarding speed
As an example, the standard 700c wheel (thats the size on all of our bikes) with a 23c tyre (which most of us will have) has a circumference of 2099 centimetres. Lets call it 2.1 metres. The bottom gear on many bikes will be a 34 front and a 27 rear. That means for each rotation of the pedals, the wheels will rotate 34/27ths of a rotation, or 1.25 times. Thus, your forward movement for each pedal rotation will be 2.1 metres times 1.25 = 2.6 metres.
If your cadence is 90, then each minute will give 90 * 2.6m = 234 metres, and an hour 60 * 234 = 14040 metres. That's 14kmh! Broom wagon speed up the Madeleine. Thus speed is not the issue, just making sure you have the gear you need to turn, and the strength and leg speed to turn it. SPEED IS JUST A NUMBER!
Continue to work on your strength, endurance and leg speed. Do long rides if you can, shorter intense rides with intervals if you must, but most of all get out there and enjoy riding your bikes. We are in this to enjoy it, not just to endure it.
Finally, with less than 10 weeks left, it is time to consider booking your bikes in for a medical (not forgetting your own forms......) and to refresh/replace anything that might let you down on the day. Do it in plenty of time, halfway down the Madeleine is not a good time to discover those nice new brake cables have stretched (and they do, you know).
Two things should now be worrying you:
1. March has disappeared in about 7 days instead of 31
2. At the end of the month there will only be 98 days until L'Etape
So, did you get March right, or are you playing catch-up?
Do not despair! There is a way forward after setbacks. April is a good time to extend the length of your rides, increase the intensity and, if you haven't already, target the 100 mile mark, preferably approached in stages.
- Length of rides
- Average speed
- Speed vs distance
- Heart rate vs power
OK Boys, Christmas is officially over, and the long road to La Toussuire lays open ahead of you.
The countdown ticker is now below 200 days, and it's time for some serious stepping up of the training regimes.
Still the most important point at this stage is miles in the legs, though that may remain difficult to achieve in January, a month statistically colder and possessing of more ice than December. Be careful out there, some Tour de Mercredi members have already hit the deck this Winter.
Despite this, it is still worth dusting down any Winter Bikes you happen to have, and heading out even on those days when is a bit wet out. At least these days are the ones when the ice is most likely to be absent. I personally am looking forward to a day of wet feet on Saturday 7th for the Poor Student 200km Audax. Lets hope it's wet, but not cold.
It's still not important at this stage to be riding for tens of miles, though, and even the odd 15 or 20 miles on a Saturday or Sunday will retain the fitness and lift the spirits. For the rest of the time, get on those turbos and exercise bikes, raise the heart rate, and get the legs used to those long, steady efforts that they will be putting in next Summer.
As a target, try to reach the end of January 10% higher than the start, those currently hitting 180 watts over an hour should be aiming for the magic 200 by the end of January.
In February, your "travel agent" will be 50, and may be demanding a Birthday Outing to a cake stop (or two) and you wouldn't like to be unfit for that, would you?
Stay fit, and stay safe!
Well, December is nearly here, and a young man's thoughts turn to Winter training (and so do mine).
It's still a long time to Etape 2012, and the most important thing now is miles, or failing that, time spent on the bike. If the weather is decent, just get out there, if it isn't then get on the turbo.
For those looking for more structured training even at this stage, never forget that the secret of Etape 2012 is climbing hills. So how do we train for a 24km ascent when there aren't any 24km climbs locally?
The secret is in simulation. We cannot possibly train 24km uphill in the UK. Even 24 reps of 1km don't really cut the mustard, since all that does is train the body to expect a rest every 1,000 metres. Going uphill, to achieve a specific speed, we all need to produce a specific output. It stands to reason that the more horsepower there is in the engine, then the faster the vehicle. Couple that with a lighter vehicle, and we're onto a winner.
So how to simulate a climb? First, take one turbo trainer or exercise bike, selecting one with output measured in Watts. Second, take the Handy-Dandy Power Calculator and use it to work out what wattage will be needed to get you up the hill, at your target speed, at your current weight. For example, an 80kg rider on a 10kg road bike with smooth tyres will need to kick out 205 watts to go up a 6% climb at 12kmh.
Next, get on your turbo trainer, and get in a gear comfortable enough for you to spin the pedals at your chosen cadence (particular to each rider but typically 75-100rpm) whilst outputting 205(ish) Watts. Notice that the 'speed' on the turbo is irrelevant, only output, cadence and time are important here. A 24km climb at 12kmh takes two entire hours. If you can achieve this output now, great! Chances are though, like most of us, your 2012 Etape target is currently beyond you, and after about half that time you will have had enough.
How do we build up to this level? By training beyond it. In the above example, we are wanting to get to a steady 200-210 Watt output. So, we will train above that level.
Always start with a warm-up, otherwise muscular failure will one day halt your progress. Then, put in a 20 minute session at 230 Watts, followed by a 3 minute rest, then another 20 minutes at 230 Watts. Follow this with a warm down. Eventually, when you are more comfortable with the output level, a second 3 minute interval and third 20 minute effort can be included for an overall 90 minute workout.
In doing this, you will be preparing your body so that it can achieve the lower 200 watt output for a much longer time much more easily, thus delivering you to the summit of your 'climb' in a state far less distressed.
And let's not forget, if you get to the top of the 24km Col de La Madeleine in two hours, you should gain at least 75 minutes on the Camion Balai (Broom Wagon). That's enough for beer and cake if you're not in a hurry, and the basis for a very respectable time if you are.
Remember, though, we're all in this to enjoy it. Over exerting at this stage and suffering an injury is not going to help. Build it up slowly and gently. As of 1st December there are still 220 training days until the Etape, and there's no point being in top shape just for Christmas.