Lessons from my first Etape du Tour

COL DU GLANDON, FRANCE - JUL 24: The peloton riding in a beautiful curve at Col du Glandon in Alps during the stage 19 of Le Tour de France on July 24, 2015.

9 pieces of advice for Etape du Tour riders learned the hard way!

Well it certainly was an experience! Having now ridden a number of European cyclo sportives and Gran Fondos I thought I would be prepared for anything… but just as they say about the Tour de France, the Etape du Tour really does take the amateur cycle event experience to a whole new level. The enormous numbers of participants, the wide range in abilities, the mix of abilities on the road, the level of organisation, the number and severity of the crashes and the level of psyche and willingness to take risks amongst the competitive types… all combine into a heady mix of ingredients which means I won’t forget the 2016 Etape… Ever!

So what lessons would I offer to someone planning to participate in their first Etape du Tour in 2017?

Do the training! – There are no shortcuts, the Etape is a very long arduous day and you’ll enjoy it more if you have put the miles in and done several long hard rides in your build up. Having a strong and robust body will help you do all this training without picking up injuries (built through using an off the bike programme such as BikeFit)…

Use an appropriate bike. – The most common mistake is using the same gearing you would use riding at home. This will usually not provide low enough gears for the long alpine style climbs which you will be suffering on in the heat and with very tired legs. The second most common mistake is to ride on expensive carbon rimmed wheels. These offer poor braking particularly in the wet and can delaminate when the rims overheat on the long alpine descents. Use a good quality set of alloy wheels that will be a similar weight but won’t let you down.

Consider booking an Etape tour package – This will be more expensive but through using an experienced company you will benefit from their advice in advance, the logistical support on the day (particularly getting you to the start and back from the finish) and in many cases a start in the first block of riders on the road (a huge bonus!). You will have enough to think about on the day without having to worry about all these logistics and so this will probably be money well spent!

Get to the start early – The starting arrangements are very complicated and you will be grouped into a block of up to 1000 riders. So getting a position near the front of your block is very important. However also make sure you have visited the loo in advance of entering the start grid! Ideally use some loos some distance from the start as the event provided toilets will be extremely busy and not very pleasant!

Pacing, pacing, pacing – When you are surrounded by thousands of super psyched riders it is very easy to get carried away and pedal too hard for the initial part of the course. Try not to let this happen! Your experience and performance in the ride itself will be largely dictated by your ability to pace your efforts, so don’t “burn all your matches” in the first hour of the event. Long rides in training, previous sportive experience and having a power meter combined with a good understanding of your own abilities will all help. Ride well within yourself on the first 2 or 3 climbs and save all the trying hard for the final climb if you have anything left by that point.

Ride in a group whenever possible – Particularly on the flatter sections of the course you will save energy and ride quicker if you can join an appropriately paced group. If you find yourself on your own and facing a long flat section of riding it will probably be worth soft pedalling and allowing other riders to catch you up from behind. In most cases you should avoid desperately chasing a group in front of you particularly if you are alone, it’s better to wait to be caught than to do the catching. To make the most of riding in a group you need to practice group riding in advance. This is so you can take the maximum benefit from the slipstream available and don’t find this experience too scary on the day. Riding with a club during your training is a really good way to get experience of group riding and to get friendly tips.

Take care on the descents – The accidents in the 2016 Etape are the worst I’ve seen in my sportive career. Ignore how the others are riding and take care, particularly on the descents. With closed roads and competitive urges running very high it is extremely easy to get carried away and take unnecessary risks.

Keep eating and drinking – Make the most of the many refreshment stops provided to keep your bottles full and keep your body fueled for the long effort involved. Make sure you don’t just consume energy gels, mix it up with real food too as this will help your digestive system deal with an already stressful day!

Try to enjoy it! – It is an intense and at times stressful day. Don’t forget to look around and really enjoy the experience too! You may well be trying to beat your mates, get a good placing and time etc, but in the long run its the whole package of memories that are what the Etape is all about… such as the little partnerships and conversations with other riders on the road, the support of the crowds spraying you with water on the final climb, the majestic scenery, riding the wrong way around roundabouts and through closed road junctions and descending alpine cols on closed roads.

BeFitApps provides sport specific training programmes to develop a strong and robust body that will minimise injuries and maximise performance. Check out our BikeFit programme especially designed for competitive cyclists.

Tony Lowe