This is a question I hear a lot, and I am staggered when people tell me they attempted Etape without any training, or with only a couple of months “training”. Remember this: most people will need 4-6 months of training for Letape.
Here are some results of a recent poll I conducted.
Sure, there’s not enough data, but a 63/37 split isn’t clear enough for me. Clearly too many people think they can just turn up. And given up to 30% of people abandon an Etape, perhaps people are over estimating their capabilities.
“Do I Need to Train?”
You might be wondering “Do I need to do any training for L’Etape?” and it’s a good question as lots of people are unsure of what to expect.
Here’s a decent example:
Etape du Tour 2014
If you’ve never done an event like this before, or never climbed mountains on the scale of the Alps or Pyrenees, or never trained, you’ll almost certainly need to do some training.
If you race A or B grade and are of a reasonable level of race fitness, and can climb a bit, you can probably turn up to an Etape with little to no training.
Having said that though, I personally would do some training anyway. I’ve a reasonable level of fitness, race fitness and can climb, and I’d still do a 12 or 24 week block of training leading into the event, just to tune the legs up.
And, watch this video I made for an Etape promo that explains why turning up without being fit is folly.
My experience with training for LEtape
In 2009 I turned up to the Etape up Mont Ventoux with no training beyond being half way through my first season of racing.
I was at 62kg, mountain fit, racing at B grade level and raring to go. And I did well.
After Etape 2009, I got very ill and lost 12 months of fitness. I got back into racing in March 2010 getting fit again for Etape 2010, but turned up about 4kg over my race weight, and absolutely got smashed.
After that brutal experience, I started training straight away, 12 months out from the 2011 Etape Alps.
The year of training made a significant and clear difference. I turned up to Etape Alps 2011 leaner, faster and with a great endurance base.
This illustrates how training can make a significant, impactful difference to your result in Etape as well as your enjoyment of the event.
Why suffer for 8-9 hours when you can smash it and do a lot better?
How to train for Etape
An appropriate training plan for Etape will build endurance in your legs to enable you to ride the distance generally covered by Etape, as well as the amount of ascending.
Don’t forget, this is a Tour de France stage, so it’s going to be hard.
It’s of paramount importance you train effectively for the endurance (distance), intensity and mountains.
The best way to achieve this is a program providing progressive overload and targeting each area according to fundamental coaching principles.
A good program will accommodate your lifestyle, provide for rest and accommodate your existing bike fitness.
Do I need a power meter
If you’re a high end rider, you might need a power meter to maximise your training.
For most riders who are not really fit, haven’t trained before, or haven’t done any mountain training, training with a heart rate monitor with cadence (such as a Garmin Edge 500 or Edge 510, which is what I use) will be sufficient to get large improvements.
If you get to a point where you get marginal benefit from Heart Rate training, then yes, a power meter may provide extra benefit.
A typical program
A typical Etape training plan might be structured something like the below. The acronym THR stands for Threshold Heart Rate. In a power plan, an equivalent measure would be your functional threshold power (FTP or FTPw).
4 or 5 days riding, 2 or 3 days rest (drop a day if you’re busy/sick).
Most sessions would be 60-120 minutes, with 1-2 longer sessions of 3-6 hours (3 hours for beginners, 6 hours for advanced), possibly with some hill repeats.
Almost all sessions would include a base level of intensity; for example 60 minutes at 75% THR with X repeats at 90%+ THR with warm up and warm down.
How long to train for Etape for
For the already race-fit, you may be able to get away with 8 weeks training as a last-minute mountain tune up. When I’m at my peak fitness, this is the final 5% needed for the Etape.
If you have little to no fitness—particularly endurance and mountain fitness—I recommend a program of 24-48 weeks (6-12 months).
I’ve summarised how training would help each rider type below.
Beginner/Novice: little to no race, training, endurance or mountain fitness—24-48 weeks (6-12 months). People start from this level will need at least 6 months.
Intermediate: some race or endurance or training experience—12-48 weeks.
I’ve seen C grade riders (low level intermediate) train for 6 months for Etape, and still abandon (Ventoux 2009).
Where to get a training plan from
There are quite a few training resources on the web that may provide a program. However, verifying the credibility of the author of plan is of utmost importance to ensure you get something effective and appropriate.
If you’re in a big city, especially with a strong cycling culture, you may be able to find a local coach (ask your friends), or else find one who can provide a program remotely over the Internet.
Finally, you can always check out the VeloNomad Training Plans, which come in a few flavours, as detailed below. There’s some more info about them at the end of the article.
Training for L’Etape (Heart Rate based): aimed at all levels of rider, this is a 4 month program designed for Etape and similar Gran Fondos.
Training for L’Etape (Power based): aimed at all levels of rider, 3 separate plans for beginner, intermediate and expert, each running for 12 weeks and designed for Etape and similar Gran Fondos.
Training for L’Etape Elite 8 Week Plan (Heart Rate)aimed at expert/elite riders as a final tune up for the event.
Other training for L’Etape reading
I’ve written quite a few articles on training for LEtape and other sportifs, which are very relevant for Etape.
This is a stand-alone guide providing training for 16 weeks leading into Etape du Tour or your Gran Fondo. For most people with some training/racing/climbing experience, this will be adequate for Gran Fondo conditioning.