June 11, 2018 by Mark Burton
A few years ago, I went through a slightly odd phase of signing up to long distance cycle tours. You may remember the general gist of how these things went – badly. If you don’t, here’s a brief recap:
12 weeks to event – I’ve signed up for this event! It’s 500 miles of mountains, yay!
11 weeks to event – Start of training phase
10 weeks to event – This will be a piece of piss, I did a lap of Richmond park today and it was quite easy
9 weeks to event – End of training phase
8 weeks to event – Tapering and carb loading phase
1 week to event – Dawning realisation of imminent failure. Prayer.
Event – Failure
I thought, having passed the cavalier days of my mid/late-20s, that a more sensible side was emerging. Perhaps I could finally accept that, fun though it is, cycling fundamentally does not like me. Perhaps I would find solace in more genteel pursuits like tiddlywinks or endless FIFA tournaments, at peace with my spindly chicken legs and ryvita-based knees.
So to bring you up to speed, the older, wiser me has foolishly signed up for the Etape du Tour in a little under a month’s time.
Whilst I don’t need to reiterate what a poor decision this was, I will enlighten you with some of the hilarious challenges that this ride will throw my way.
The Etape du Tour is an annual one day ‘race’ (lol) which follows the same route as a stage of the Tour de France. More precisely, it follows the ‘Queen Stage’ route of the tour de France, which is a pretty piece of phrasing which actually means ‘hardest stage’. Given that this is meant to be the hardest stage which is meant to test the limits of professional cyclists, it’s a pretty safe bet to say that this is going to be a ‘challenge’. Google suggests that it should be quite easy – top article titles include ‘Etape: the agony and the agony’ and ‘Etape: how much pain can you take?’. So yeah, lots of fun there.
A quick glance at the route confirms and compounds the fear. At 169km it’s already long enough to be a challenge, but what’s really, really going to hurt is the climbing. This year’s edition has a cool 4,017 metres of climbing in the day – put another way, it’s got Box Hill but for 100 kilometres. Just typing that makes me feel quite sick. What the route doesn’t really mention is the nature of the climbs. The Plateau des Glieres is not only an 11% average for 6km, but has a top section which is entirely unpaved, just for laughs. The Col de Romme and the Col de La Colombiere join forces to form a sort of double act from hell right at the end, like Ant and Dec. For context I was once overtaken on the Colombiere by two Americans pushing 70, on touring bikes, not putting in any effort, possibly smoking. I classed that as quite a successful day too.
Thankfully, I won’t be taking on this challenge alone. As well as 15,00 wiry, angry French cyclists I’m pleased to say that the non-famous, globally un-renowned Mackenzie brothers have also signed up to this suicide pact fun, wholesome event. Together we make a great team, and each bring something different to the group. Harold brings height and a digestive system that could kill an adult moose at 40 paces. Andrew also brings height and an air of mystique, as I have not seen him in the best part of two years. I’m not sure what I bring but I know that it is different to the above. Our team aim is to finish in front of the rather ominously titled ‘recovery vehicle’, i.e. in under 12 hours.
In truth, our group training has been somewhat hit and miss. On one hand, we’ve sent each other a lot of messages about cycling which has surely done some good. On the other, we haven’t been on any actual rides. Harold and I tried to go for a ride but were beset by two minor issues – he had a slight physical issue in that he’s not been on a bicycle in a year and his legs stopped working almost immediately, I had a slight mechanical issue in that my pedals fell off. Overall it went well.
I have been doing some actual training for this, much as that goes against tradition. I can cautiously say that I’m in the best cycling shape ever, although admittedly this is a particularly low bar to beat. As well as the occasional long weekend ride, I’ve started doing a fair amount of indoor cycling (or, y’know, spin as it’s otherwise known). I was a bit apprehensive about indoor cycling as every class seemed to advertise terrifying promises: ‘pumping beats’, ‘mood lighting’, ‘sense of community’. I had visions of suddenly spending all my time lifting small weights above a bike and getting really into kale.
Thankfully, I found H2 in Soho instead, which has been brilliant. All the bikes are hooked up to power meters, so you can actually track your progress against your own abilities. You also gain the ability to instantly become the most boring person in any given room by talking about power, watts and FTP – handy when you want some alone time at a party or family gathering.
Seriously though, this has made a big difference to my fitness as the classes are taught by knowledgeable coaches who consistently push you. It does translate massively to how you cycle on the road. As an example, I went on a weekend trip to the Alps a couple of weeks ago with the ever excellent Traverse Aravis (who are setting up an alpine cycling club by the way) and was pacing up climbs in half the time it took in 2016. As mentioned before, the bar is low so I’m still not fast, but it’s made a difference at least!
Training has been somewhat curtailed in the last couple of weeks due to my bike being stolen. I’ve tried putting on cycling gear and running to Richmond mimicking a cycling action but it hasn’t really worked, so I’m probably moving into the carb-loading and tapering stage. At 4 weeks out I am hitting this perilously late by my own standards. As I understand, my cycling pals are just getting into their training phases now, so we’ll see whose approach works better on the day.
I suspect neither.
Given how easy the Etape looks, I thought I’d add a Brucie (RIP) bonus and have a crack at the RideLondon 100, which I’ll be taking on alongside some great people to support SPEAR, a homelessness charity based in West London. Harry and Andrew will be riding the Etape to raise money for Macmillan cancer support.
To skip to the obvious destination of the past few sentences, it’d be eternally appreciated if you would like to sponsor either (or indeed both if you’re feeling particularly generous) of these events and the very worthy causes they’re for!
Asking you to pick between fighting homelessness and fighting cancer feels a bit morally iffy, so to make your life easier, just pick link A or link B if that’s easier. Or if you want to choose one specifically, click wildly and randomly on these links until you find what you’re looking for.
Stay tuned for more tales of ineptitude and poor preparation in the coming weeks…