Hints and tips (1-5) made simple for those competing in the Etape for the first time or indeed any long sportive
1 Understand the task in hand
As with most things, it is essential to prepare well. Early on in your preparation, have a good look at the route. Really understand the number of climbs, their gradients, the distance of each climb and how long you would estimate each climb to take.
2 Get Measuring & Set some goals
You need to set yourself achievable immediate goals & understand where you want to be fitness wise about a month before the event. There are plenty of tools you can use to help measure the likes of weight, calorie intake & burning, from a Garmin unit, Nike Fuel bands to Apps for your phone such as Strava. You can easily get lost in it all. The key is to create a weekly training plan for the final 2 months allowing for an easy final week. Weigh yourself weekly and measure your cycling improvements.
3 What type of cycling should I be doing?
Depending on your fitness levels & the weather where you live, 3-4 months before the event focus on shorter rides (2 hrs on the bike) 2-3 times a week. A couple of months from the off you should be enjoying at least two long rides a week (+ 4hours) and should start to set some goals within these longer rides. For example, within these rides you should be doing some interval training paying close attention to your heart rate monitor. This is a technical term referred to by cyclists wanting show off about their training techniques/plan. Intervals, however are important and are about going close to maxing out and then recovering. The duration you cycle at your max and the number of times you repeat it depends on how your training is going. For a challenge like the Etape you should be starting off by pushing yourself at 95% effort for 10 mins, resting for 10 mins and repeating. Ideally, you should do this back to back for an hour during the ride. You should then build up to 95% for 20mins at a time and reducing the recovery period. Intervals do two major things, strength the muscles and improve your body’s ability to recover quickly from the effort. Both are important in a long sportive.
4 Group rides
2 months before the event you should be feeling comfortable on the bike and happy with the progress of your fitness. This is the time to seek out a local club or group. This is vital to pushing your training to the next level – you will find that cycling in a group will push you that little bit further and you will get more out of your long rides. You will also be amazed how many tips you will pick up from the Bike Bores (BB’s). BB are a dreadful breed, but at this point in your development they are a vital source for sucking up info – disregard the nonsense they drivel on about the bikes, crank sets, group sets, etc – they are just regurgitating what they have recently read in a glossy magazine. What you want to hear about is the detail of their experiences and preparations for a sportive abroad.
5 Seated climbing
A regular feature of the Etape is the long climbs – it’s very common for a climb to be in excess of 2 hours and you are likely to be climbing for 3/4 of your total time on the bike. In or out of the seat, both have their uses. It’s vital, however, to practise steady paced climbing in the saddle (pushing your tushie to the back of the saddle). Hit the hill in the correct gear with a high cadence so that you can settle into the climb quickly. It is worth finding a climb close to where you live. It’s just as good to drive to it, park up and just practice going up an down – the benefit will be massive. For hill training here in Mallorca, we drive over to Soller and cycle up & down Puig Major a couple of times and then jump back in the car.