Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Hill repeats - the original Etape du Tour 2013 training plan

Up-down, up-down, up-down...
"Ride up hills. Lots of hills," I was told back in November shortly after signing up to do the Etape.
Pez was told to "find the longest hill you can, then cycle up it 10 times, maybe more".

My April training plan hasn't really got a section for hill repeats - although it fits with the general theme of "train for volume of miles one weekend, and intensity on the next next". Hill repeats definitely count as intensity.

So, to aid the "ride up lots of hills" plan, Pez sat down with multiple Etape veteran and prince of Strava Phil Binney (his King of The Mountains honours stretch over two pages, and include Alpine Cols). He also came about 300th in last year's Etape, works with Pez and lives a few miles from us.

They worked out a route, just a short train ride from London, that has a 12-mile warm up (including a 3-mile warm up climb that averages 3% and never gets above 7%) then hits our "Alpine training loop".

Toys Hill - the start of the hill repeat loop
This is a 10-mile loop that takes in two hills, two descents then deposits you back at the start again.

When you've had enough, it's a 10-mile ride to the train station home, taking in a final climb just to sap anything out of your legs you might have left.

We did three laps, that's 8 hill repeats and close to 1,400m climbing in total (albeit four different hills) over 50 miles. And at the end of it I felt, well, good.

...and repeat

Our Alpine training loop

The first ride on the loop is Toys Hill, 2 miles at 4.6%, with decently long sections over 7%. A quick descent and you're at the bottom of Ide Hill - a mile long at 6% with the second half averaging well over 8% (and up to 11.1%).

It's not exactly Mont Revard or Annecy Semnoz, but the gradients aren't too dissimilar. The problem is that you're descending between them so getting a break. Still, at more or less 250m climbing a lap, you can get a feel for the effort you'll need. 4 laps, being a Mont Revard of climbing, for example.

It's also easy to ride, all left turns, no traffic lights and with a nice cafe at the foot of Toys Hill for cake.

Starr Hill, the final kick in the teeth the route offers on the way home, is 0.75 miles at 8.1% - topping out at 11.5%. It's affectionately known as 1/12 of Alpe D'Huez, but the intensity is similar to the Semnoz at the end of the Etape so it fits in rather well.

Quick re-fuel between the second and third lap

So, how did we do then?

Since being chastened by my experiences in the last sportive - the Woking RideIt - I've been training properly.

One on-road intensity session, coupled with lots of 8-mile commutes and evening turbo rides doing base (Zone 2) and interval sessions. I've also been dieting harder. It's been miserable if I'm honest, but the effort showed.

We were going for volume of climbing ahead of power, but I still kept pace, more or less, with Pez over the ride. Our times on the main hills were remarkably close (he edged it, but I'd have scored it a close 2-1 win, rather than the thrashing he gave me last time).

More, I finished the ride feeling good.

That said, the 8%+ sections were a real pain. I couldn't "sit and spin", which meant I was grinding instead. I got up them all, but I seriously envied Pez - who never even got into his giant 32-tooth bottom gear.

The 2013 Etape du Tour has sections at 15% and my odd gearing could become a problem. But for £30 I can get a standard 34-tooth compact ring to fit to my chainset, instead of my current slightly weird 36-tooth.

It might not be a lot, but would give me a bit more freedom when the road tilts up. And, as they say*, no one ever failed to finish the Etape because their gears were too easy.

Next week is a 78-mile sportive, and a silver time is - just about - possible (I need to climb as well as I did on the Alpine training loop and cover the remaining flat 29 miles at 18.5mph. It's doable, but far from easy).

So back to the turbo for me to prepare.

*I have no idea who "they" are


  1. Hi

    That is a pretty good link, and I rode the route yesterday with my girlfriend at her pace. We have ridden in the Alps before and just spent another week in Mallorca which has a 30klm hill climb at around 5 to 6% and this for us was good training, but the Etape is different. The first three hills were similar in gradient whilst Revard is just long. Once down, we found our legs dead as we rolled a lot of the way as it was freezing due to the amount of snow still there. The last climb was a killer. It might average 8.3% but the majority was 10/11%. Trust me, this hill hurt us both. Still, my girlfriend picked up loads of QOM's on Strava !!!

    We also carried all our own food which we are thinking of doing on the Etape as it will save stopping, just need to keep the water topped up.

    Also, reading your previous entries, you need to up your K's. 130k sportive is not the same, try and get some 160/180k events into your legs as you need to get use to spending a long time on the bike


  2. Wonderful blog & good post.Its really helpful for me, awaiting for more new post. Keep Blogging!

    SAP Training London

  3. Just stumbled across your blog... I'll also be doing the etape in 2 weeks and having read this I'm now feeling massively underprepared! I'll be "borrowing your Alpine Route" tomorrow to try and catch up a bit... :)


    1. Hi Christoph,

      I found the fear helps ;)

      Good luck!