Saturday, November 3, 2012


There are three things you need to complete the Etape. Fitness to get up the hills, group riding to make life easier on the flat and descending because what goes up must come down - frequently at speeds of 40 miles an hour or faster with hair-pins thrown in.

Fitness and descending are you can work on alone, but group riding is something you can't. On the flat, at any sort of speed, the vast majority of your energy is used pushing air out of the way. By riding in a group poperly you can take turns to do this, meaning an average speed of 25 miles an hour is a realistic goal.

But I have no idea how to do this in practice.

Things that worry are: Riding so close to a lot of other people at speed; getting out of the way once your turn at the front is done; not crashing into the others while you're "resting up" in the group; moving to the front when it's your turn again; trusting the group to see when you can't; telling the group what's coming up when you can see and they can't - basically there's a lot of it.

The peleton from the 2010 Etape du Tour
So, to try and remedy this omission I set off on my first club ride. You get one of these before you're politely asked to sign up or sod off - so I found a club a couple of miles from home and joined them for their "easy" Saturday ride.

The first thing I was told was that I need to ride a lot closer to the wheel in front than I thought - 18 inches aparently. That's worryingly close and means you can't see.

Then there were the signals (for pot holes, drain covers, cars parked in cycle lanes etc). It's embarassing to admit it, but I'm not that  comfortable taking my hands off the bars - especially when riding in town. But it's a core cycling competancy, so it's something else I'm going to have to work on.

Then there are the shouts "Car Back!" if it's behind you and "Car Front!" if it's heading toward you - these become "Carp!" and "Carf!" as the lungs struggle. "Hole!" for pothole and once, memorably, "Poo!" for a large lump of horse manure in the middle of the road.

I also learnt that not wearing mudguardsis basically anti-soical. If people are riding that close to you, without them you're just spraying muck in their face for an entire ride. I didn't actually know you even could fit mud guards to a racing bike, but it turns out you can - and a set weighs only 180 grams.

I often ride at about 20mph on the flat, and the pace we set was a lot slower than that, so I didn't really feel the benefit of the much-vaunted "peleton effect". It felt easy, but then at a few mph slower than I normally go, I expcted it to. A faster group might have changed that.

But going up a long drag to Eden Park, I did really like the little group that formed of me and two other riders - the pace was steady and there were two people other people to keep it that way. Having the yardstick of two other riders helped.

More than that, the whole ride (36.5 miles) was a confidence boost - I handled it comfortably and was stronger than a fair few riders. That said, it was a trial ride for the club, so most people there were as new to group riding (and possibly riding overall) as I was.

The coffee at the top of Cystal Palace (double esspressos all round, of course - gutted I forgot to take a photo of the cafe with about 40 bikes out front filled with lycra-clad men with tiny coffees inside - but a pic of the place is above), chatting about bikey things (gear ratios, Garmins, tyre makes etc) while riding and the general feel of doing something together were all bonuses.

I haven't decided if I'm going to join or not yet - but for £25 a year and the benefits liste above,  I'm rather tempted.


  1. Practice is essential, but to be honest, you won't find yourself in bunches all that much in the Etape. It really depends how much 'flat' there is, because on the climbs and descents you don't need to concern yourself too much about proximity to others. I found sportives to be the best practice, since it's full on and 'twitchy', unlike most clubs rides, I imagine.

    1. Excellent news, as my main plan was to do sportives. Our route has two main flat sections, totalling about 30kms. And another 30km of rolling countryside. So about a quarter flat and another quarter rolling and half of it either going up or coming down. I think the main thing I was looking for was any advantage I could get to keep ahead of the broom wagon. If I can handle peleton riding then that helps. Also, your blog is about the best thing I found on actually starting out and then completing it. Thanks and good luck with the HR, a thing that scares the bejesus out of me as a concept...

    2. 'Scares the bejesus' and me both!

      The flat and rolling bits are when you really want to be part of a group. Pretty much impossible to achieve as a plan, but being left out alone is very, very bad. The good news is that with the Etape there are so many riders that if you miss one little peloton, the next one is not far behind.

      And now I'm off to sign up for email updates...we'll be watching!