So this year's Etape was my fifth one, and from looking at the profile could be one of the hardest (apart from 2012, that was stupid wasn't it) 138km in total from Saint Jean De Maurienne to La Toussuire (Where Froome attacked Wiggins in 2012, remember?) and would be used as Stage 19 of the Tour on the 24th July.
This year I could only get a few days off work, so unlike the usual car full and 10 days holiday with my brother and Parents, Lucinda and I drove down in the Rover, left London on Wedneday at 4pm and arrived at our villa in Orelle, just outside Modane at 7am Thursday. Perfect.
I had a good number this year (226) which meant I was in the first pen, and off at 7am. Jack, Dave and Lucinda were also all doing it this year, Lucinda's first time, so on race day we all arrived at Saint Jean early on the Sunday to allow for plenty of time to find the bag drop, faff and chat. The weather forecast had been "mixed" for the past few days, so I made sure that I took all the kit, including arm warmers and Gilet, even though in all likelihood I wouldn't need them...
So that's now 5 years of "Etaping" done, so I reckon i'm in a pretty good position to offer 5 tips for anybody looking to ride in 2016, I know I will be...
#1 Training - Logo Solo Hilly Rides
Club rides are good, but the problem with club rides is they don't truly reflect the Etape, you stop and start and benefit from the shelter of other riders. You'll be out there for 6/7/8 hours, solo riding, so some solo riding around 5 hours will get you trained for this. As is often the case in winter, base miles are often the order of the day for many cyclists, and this was certainly one of my training methods. This may seem an obvious point, it may also seem slightly boring, but I personally like solo rides. In addition to this climbing for 10 minutes up Box Hill once wont really cut it. Find somewhere with longer hills, or if that isn't possible do hill repeats (a particular favorite) 10 Swains Lanes in North London for example is around an hour in total, with about 3,000ft climbed. Although you're not climbing all the time it's certainly a good way to get the hills in.
#2 The Race - Pacing is key
More so than ever on this particular stage as you had 4 climbs. There is no point smashing the first climb 2k in, and then blow up on 2nd or 3rd climb. I made sure I not only rode on feel, but also maintaining a constant speed and effort up climbs, not worrying too much about other riders on the road. So when Miles attacked on the Glandon I didn't follow, I was concerned with pushing too hard and loosing too much time on the last climb, i'm 100% sure that was right decision. Using VAM as a measure of effort when climbing was also useful and is almost as good as using power, well, unless you have a power meter.
#3 Travel - Road Trip
Everybody loves a road trip don't they? For the past 5 years we have driven to the Etape, with varying numbers of people. This year it was just Lucinda and me in the car, we racked up a total of 1,450 miles, with tolls adding upto 173 euros and fuel 220 euros, we also caught the eurotunnel from Folkestone to Calais, cost was about £120 return, but it only takes 35 minutes! Driving from calais to Orelle took just under 10 hours, which if you can share driving is easy. Our chalet spelt at least 10 and workout out to be about £15 pppn, bargain indeed! Doing it this way, and not through a tour company is great, but does rely on yu having a good support team, which we did again this year, in the shape of my parents and Dave's wife Charlotte. Their help was essential, especially ferrying us around on race day.
#4 Training/Race - Mental Toughness
This point is similar to the first one, but you need to be mentally tough. 5km around Hertfordshire might seem like nothing, but 5k in the mountains climbing is hard, long and will take a while. Likewise you need to train your body to be climbing for over an hour. Little changes to your body position can help, I'll ride on the tops for this k, or I'll have a drink every 1k sign. Either way it's a long day in the saddle, so solo rides are key. Hill repeats are another good way to toughen up mentally and benefit climbing as well.
#5 Kit - Gearing
This year I ran a traditional 39/53 setup with a 12-28 on the back, this was fine for me and allowed a good steady cadence. However do not underestimate your gears. A compact is ideal, and if I had one I'd run that (34/50) with either a 12-28 or a 12-32. I churn quite a hard hear, but if you prefer to spin a 32 might be a good option. It may sound obvious but a new set of brake pads will improve confidence and braking ability, don't forget to bed them in a little though
After the Etape we had a days riding up the Mollard, went for a swim, it was pretty epic, few photos below. Can't wait to come back now...