Training & Stuff

The final 30 Days (actually 26!!)

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.


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:
And finally, get your paperwork in order. If I find, a week before the Etape, that some riders still do not have their medical certificates, passports, EHIC cards, registration/bib number from the entrants list, I shall be very, very cross. You have been warned!

26 days remain for you to prepare for your success in the Etape. Make me proud.

The Rhino


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:
Group Riding
More endurance
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.
Training is a very individual matter, and will depend on how much time you have free, and your own fitness and targets. The requirement for someone looking just to finish will be very different from someone looking to post a competitive time. However, here are a few general ideas which may be of use.

Now the evenings are lighter, evening rides of half an hour or an hour become a possibility, even if you go home first. This is the time to ride at greater intensity, to prepare yourself for the climbs. You may want to repeat a known route to try and exceed your previous speed, or tackle a nearby hill or two.

Most people will have a chance of a good long ride at weekends – this is the time to extend your distance if you have enough free time. One approach is to ride at a fairly low heart rate, known as “endurance” rate. If you use a heart rate monitor, this is around 70% to 85% of your maximum heart rate. Don’t worry if you exceed this, but try not to. It is the only level where you will build up your fitness without too much strain, allowing your body to get fitter easily. Theoretically, it is also the level at which fewer injuries will occur. It will also give you a feeling for your sustainable level of riding, which will enable you to pace yourself over longer distances. Certainly, if you are not used to long distances, then setting off to do 100 miles at 95% of your maximum heart rate is only going to end one way, and it will disillusion you!

This mixture of short, high-intensity effort coupled with lower level long rides will improve both your power output and your endurance. Regrettably, on the Etape, you will need both. Personally, I am finding that gym sessions (interval training) during the week, and longer, gentler rides at the weekend are really paying off. It is not necessary to ride like the Police are after you every weekend.

Now is also the time to really start concentrating on your progress.
Many people find it useful to keep a record of their rides, recording distances, speeds, conditions, routes, terrain etc.

The anoraks amongst us may want to plot graphs of things such as:
  • Length of rides
  • Average speed
  • Speed vs distance
  • Heart rate vs power 
This may be useful for seeing how your training is progressing, refining your training methods and planning future training. It may also help in setting targets which are realistic for you.

You may recall that required wattage was considered earlier in the training. Well, the itinerary has now been issued, and those wishing to survive the day now know that a basic minimum speed of 10kmh is required uphill. To achieve this an 80kg rider with a 10kg bike will need to output about 180 watts. I'm pretty certain that all of us can do this by now. The question is "For how long?" Minimum 6 hours, is the requirement, albeit with a couple of 30 minute rests in between.

If the power is no issue, then start planning your strategy. "Just get up and ride" may well work for you, but using the geography and the rest of the competitors will help you finish. Plus it will be great fun. Disclipines to practise in April include:
Group riding - slipstreaming others is fantastic fun and will increase your speed beyond belief (ask anyone who did this year's Cheshire Cat).
Descending - brakes are a waste of valuable kinetic energy. You should be practising using them as little as safely possible.
Comfortable climbing - preferably seated (because it takes less energy) work out your personal 'best technique'. Are you a Lance Armstrong, and prefer to spin uphill like crazy in a lower gear, or will your knees catch fire if your cadence exceeds 80? Know yourself, and think about getting your bike set up to suit YOU. If you hate spinning small gears, you won't be needing a triple, whereas if you can't find the leg strength to grind uphill, you will need a 'get out of jail' gear. Make sure you have whatever you need on the day.

Target for end of April, 100 miles minimum in a single ride. We should all comfortably be there by the end of the month.


This month is the Game Changer. Get March right, and you will be set for the Summer, get it wrong and you will be playing catch-up for the next three months.

With effect from the end of February, there are just 18 free weekends in which to train before the Etape. The secret from now on is making every one of them count.

The winter weather should be beginning to go at last, with temperatures now mostly above zero and less snow and ice. Conditions on the roads by daylight hours at least are becoming safer, and it is noticeable that those daylight hours are extending. The most time pressured amongst us should be seriously considering a ride before work on a couple of days a week, even if only for about an hour or so.

Those following these training hints will have done 40 or even 50 mile rides by now – March is a good time to move towards regular 60 or 70 mile rides. Watch out, though, for any lingering vestiges of Winter. Which bits of last month’s “Most important though is staying injury free, and that means staying at home when it’s dodgy and icy outside” did we not understand? You know who you are.

You will need strong legs for our etape stage, and be able to climb at a good intensity for up to a couple of hours at a time. This will be partly a matter of pacing – but that is particular to each of you, and will come later. At this stage increasing leg strength, respiratory function and endurance is the key to success.

We are lucky enough to all have hills on our doorsteps (at least in my case, my working doorstep) but how do you train for the hills if you live in a flat area? Cycling at a good speed requires a similar power output to climbing, so a good target is to gradually improve your speed over a fixed distance. A 10 to 15 mile ride at a high speed (17-18mph or higher) is a good measurement, and fits well into the hour we may have available prior to work. It is encouraging to record the average speed for particular routes to see your improvement. Ideally, when the evenings get lighter, it would be useful to have a 5 mile, 10 mile and 20 mile training route near you to train on.

Descending technique will also be important. There is nothing like practice, except more practice. I strenuously suggest that on at least one occasion, traffic, time and weather permitting, a gentle ride out to Broadway is followed by 5 or 6 (yes, really) loops of up Snows Hill (or Saintbury/Willersey) and down Fish Hill. Not only will this be good interval training, but by repetition number 6 you will be descending around your 24th or 25th bends of the day, and should be starting to notice some difference.

It is now less than a month before many of us will tackle the 25% Mow Cop Monster! Who will be ready?


The weather in January has turned out to be far better than expected. There has been little snow and ice on the roads, and we have had some delightful days of bright sunshine! It has been a good opportunity to get some reasonable mileages in – 30 miles, 40 miles, even 50 or 60+ miles. February is a good opportunity to build on this, if the weather continues to permit.

Albertville to La Toussuire 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, continuing to improve 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 Madeleine and Glandon/Croix de Fer are not particularly steep, they do have some 11%+ sections, and they are very, very long.

Remember, 10 degrees centigrade in the Winter is not the ‘normal’ temperature and, in cold weather, it is important not to cool your core temperature excessively. Excessive breathing rates draw in large amounts of cold air, so warm clothing and a little caution are useful. I’m sure you will continue to have no objections to tea and coffee stops to warm up!

Indoor training, either in the gym, on a turbo trainer, or in a spin class is still valuable, because it avoids the chill factor. It also enables you to keep track of your fitness level – riding at anything up to 200 watts is a very good level for February, if you are already churning out an hour or more at over 300, then you are an animal (you know who you are!) To gauge your fitness level, you may want to monitor your progress by comparing your (hopefully increasing) power output to your heart rate.

Right now, speed is not the most important thing. You will have time for honing your flat out velocity later in the year. Even in February, if you only have half an hour or an hour to spare though, try a shorter route at a higher speed – maybe in the 15 to 20 mph range for most of us, or faster for those champions amongst us.  

Two training sessions a week may still be all some of us have time for. This isn’t a problem right now, but stepping it up in March will be a priority. The intensity level of your training session is still an important factor. If you are still suffering several days after a training session, then you are overdoing it.

A good target for February would normally be a 50 mile ride but, as far as I can tell, most of us (including Mr Tony) have already exceeded that mileage this year. Our target for February will therefore be to get in at least a couple of rides over 60 miles, preferably getting as far as 75 or 80 if time (and weather) permits. Most important though is staying injury free, and that means staying at home when it’s dodgy and icy outside.


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.

1 comment:

  1. Good work Rhino. My watts seem to be heading in the right direction. For anyone in Stratford, I can thoroughly the 6pm spinning class at the Leisure Centre with Alison. The majority of her classes are about working at high watts for extended periods of time - she doesn't believe in 'spinning'!