In March it is time to ride, at this point there is no substitute for getting your bum on your saddle and getting out there and hitting some miles. Those of you who have been training consistently through February and attaining the 50 mile marker that we spoke about last month, will continue to progress smoothly towards a 60-70 mile marker requested this month. Those of you, like some of my friends, who found the training tough through February and jumped back on their bikes through fear at the beginning of March, March is going to hurt you, it is going to hurt you a lot worse than the guys who got through February but all is not lost yet, you are just going to have to suck it back and get some riding done.
March is your last chance to build some basic miles before the real training starts in April. At the end of this month you have got three months to gain the speed and fitness that you need to avoid the sag wagon and get through the Etape in an enjoyable state.
This month is about building towards a consistent 60 miles for those of you doing the Alpe d‘Huez stage and a consistent 70 miles for those doing the Issiore stage. Don’t worry so much about speed or anything like that at this point, just get your bum on your seat and get some mileage done.
This build phase can be a quite painful proposition for most of us because as the mileage increases it takes us out of our comfort zone creating quite a bit of hurt in that last hour of the ride. A little tip that I use is to set your distances up in threes, repeat each distance or hill increase three times before the next progression. Progress the next block by about an hour or by increasing the hills in each block of three. Generally what I find when I have to build to big mileage, the first time you ride the initial new volume, for example an additional hour or additional hills, it really hurts (that last half hour can be pretty painful!). The second ride is completed more comfortably and the third time you repeat the same ride you are finding it significantly easier or even dare I say it – easy, then it is time to increase by another hour or more volume of hills for the next block of three.
Doing in blocks of threes can help maintain your focus but means that every ride just isn’t sore and nasty the whole time. As I say, the first ride will always be nasty but then even as you are staggering home you will know that the second ride will be a little bit easier and the third ride will be quite comfortable. That way you can always keep reminding yourself that this weeks pain is next weeks fitness.
As you get into this larger volume mileage you are going to be out on the bike for three to five hours. At this point it is important to get your nutrition products tested as you go. Some people will tell you that you can trial your nutritional strategy in the month leading up to the Etape, this is in fact true but if you have ever experienced a ‘bonk’ on the bike, that feeling for that last hour when you have got absolutely nothing left, this is a feeling to be avoided and this is always done through maintaining good nutritional practices throughout the ride.
Every person is different as to what they can tolerate, what they like to eat on the bike and what works for them so start trialling this on your longer rides now. I find that personally I take a bar every hour from the first hour for the first four of five hours of the ride. After that I find I can’t tolerate the bars any more, I just don’t enjoy eating them so then I go onto two gels per hour for the later half of the ride. This works for me and always has done so never deviates, it may not work for you but now start trying to build consistency in your own eating and nutrition and drinking strategies throughout these longer rides.
So get started working out your own strategy now, make your mistakes and perfect it as your set in stone template for all long rides. This will give you plenty of chance for trial and error as to what you like because what you like in the first hour will certainly not be what you like in the last hour. Equally what bar tastes good now may not as the weather heats up…it will evolve and progress with you own you progression.
A couple of little tips as you as you build mileage;
Remember to always eat early even though you will certainly not feel as if you need it, what you eat in that first hour is not for that hour but for that last hour of the ride to avoid the dreaded bonk.
Because of the unpleasantness and from time to time inevitability of said bonk, I always keep two caffeinated gels in my back pocket as a get me home product.
Quite often as you build the mileage, as I say, when you get out of your comfort zone that last hour or even half an hour home can be awful. This can be avoided by having two caffeine gels in the back pocket, they give you a boost for that last hour and just get you home. Failing this, if you run out of these earlier than that, stop at a service station, a can of coke does wonders for the last forty minutes of the ride. So don’t just toil through that last part of the ride when you are in a world of pain and tiredness and looking like you are riding with a broken neck. Stop at a surface station, keep a £5 note in your pocket and get a can of coke down you, that will always get you home, maybe not perfect nutrition strategy but certainly a way our of a deep dark hole.
As you continue to build these rides you will find the cadence becomes more important, we spoke about cadence last month, hopefully you are practicing this but certainly it is at its most crucial on these long rides as it will maintain consistency over the course of the ride and leave you less tired in that last hour again. Remember to keep concentrating on this this month even when you are tired.
One of the advantages to March is that the Sportifs season usually kicks off at the back end of this. These start with relatively gentle 60 mile rides and end up with 100 mile brutes around June. This is a good time to get involved with these, partly because one of the key aspects of the Etape is going to be group riding. You are going to be riding along at a fairly fast speed, particularly in that first 20k’s of the Alpe d’Huez stage with 6000 other riders at close quarters. For the Alp D’Huez stage staying relaxed in this first 20km as the bunch whizzes down the hill still tightly packed will be essential. For the Issoire stage being able to draft and offset the workload by sitting in a bunch will be absolutely essential for finishing the long 130 miles in a healthy state within the cut off time!
Some of the people riding the etape will be very very used to riding in a group (remember previous tour de france competitors or champions often ride the etape!), for others, this will be a new experience. The UK Sportifs are a great way to get out there and get the mileage done with a bit of company on a marked course in an organised way with feed stations on route. Again a chance to see what your body likes as varied products are available, but it gives you a chance for some of you to experience your first rides at close quarters with other riders.
This involves drafting which makes life much much easier but more specifically involves a safety aspect which can only be gotten used to by getting out there and doing it with more experienced riders, watching what they do and copying what they do. So this is a good chance to get out with a bit more group riding, copying the cadence of the good riders, working through your nutritional strategy and generally starting your first stepping stones towards completing the Etape in 2011.
One other tip as we enter Spring is to keep those knees warm. Even though the sun may start to show its face a bit more this month the wind chill in the knees is going to be your greatest chance of producing injuries. People at this stage of the year are very very keen to get those winter leg warmers off and start riding around in shorts. If you really don’t like wearing leg warmers then consider a pair of knee warmers that just warm the front of the knees but understand that pro’s will not ride with their knees exposed in temperatures less than 20 degrees celsius, that could be a while off yet so as much as we want to expose our legs to a bit of sunshine and light, keep those knees covered up for the foreseeable future until the weather warms up, more significantly than it is now.
This month is easy, ride your bike, ride as much as you can, building those mileages towards April. April is going to have more consistent mileages but is going to start to throw some speed work in and a few more Sportifs.
At this stage get one good long ride a week, between 60-70 miles, start perfecting your nutritional strategy and maintain the work that you have been doing on the cadence. As these miles get longer you are going to need more consistency in your mid week ride, try to continue an easy 1-2 hour ride in the middle of the week to maintain time on the bike and keep cycling familiarity before these long rides at the weekend because next month we are going to need another ride in the mid week, a shorter sharper ride to start building speed on the turbo trainer.
Good luck with your training this month, we will be back next month talking you through the final three month preparations in the lead into the Etape.