Tackle cycling’s toughest sportive like a pro
Riding the Etape du Tour this year? Got it on the bucket list? Here's everything you need to know.
Most riders take their own bikes for good reason – discovering the race scalpel you’ve hired is less comfortable than a Ryanair seat with 100-plus kilometres to go is not ideal. Choose a solid bike box – soft ones don’t guarantee as much protection from ‘enthusiastic’ baggage handlers.
Some companies hire boxes, a cheaper option for the occasional bike traveler. Try Polaris, www.pod-it.co.uk. Even cheaper - albeit a little more hassle - is buying one on eBay, then flogging it again after the event.
Decent bike boxes fit all racing bikes, including XL frames. Use old t-shirts or foam pipe insulation to make sure everything’s secure.
“You want everything as tight as possible”, advises Nick Miles of RPM90, a company specializing in high-end foreign riding trips. “Mark your seatpost height with electrical tape so you can slot it back in the right place easily, carry a stash of cable ties to secure any loose parts and remove the gear hanger. Take a spare too just in case – it’s a £20 part that’s easily bent and if it goes it’s a showstopper. Fit new brake pads, put a spare chain link in your saddlebag and make sure you know how to fit it”.
- Snug and happy. Team 33Fuel's Bianchi Oltre prepares for lift off. Use cable ties as an extra fastening for your case - most case locks are flimsy at best
Pack your bike and gear in race trim – water bottles on, saddlebag, tubes and tools already in place, etc – to avoid forgetting anything, and pack as much of your riding gear into the bike box too. Check your airline's weight limit for bike boxes (normally classed as sporting equipment) and stick to it – there will be a lot of bikes heading out that weekend so carriers will be doubly vigilant.
Pack shoes and pedals in hand luggage – if your bike goes awol you can hire one on arrival and at least your race is still on. Remember to take tyre inflating gas canisters out of your toolkit before flying and make a note to buy replacements. These will be available in the main race village.
The smart money is normally on regular airlines. They provide a minimum of legroom (essential for resting legs heading outbound and not cramping up like a freeze-dried insect on the return), and are barely more expensive if at all once you’ve added luggage and bike – budget carriers tend to really load the prices for a bike box.
Connecting to/from the airport
The Etape du Tour is normally stationed around the Alps for max climbing fun/pain which usually means a Geneva flight and a connection to somewhere in the hills. This is where the shuttle minibus services that spend the winter ferrying skiers about come in handy. Better still, you can kip in the back while someone else works the driving.
“There are a huge amount of transfer companies running from Geneva,” says Miles. They’re used to servicing skiers every winter so can easily cope with cyclists in summer. All good companies will drop you directly at your hotel. Advance booking is advisable.
Hiring a car is not simple as it sounds as Geneva straddles the French/Swiss border. You can hire on both sides (access the French side by following signs once through customs), but while Swiss cars come with the €40 sticker permitting Swiss motorway use, they cost more. Hire from the French side though and you need to be very good at map reading to reach Annecy without accidentally crossing the Swiss border, picking up the €40 motorway charge anyway.
Pre-race you’ll be that pumped on nerves you won’t notice where you’re staying. Post-race you’ll be that tired you could sleep on a clothesline. French two stars are normally excellent, just go for one with half board and a restaurant – eating is key so an in-house restaurant can be a lifesaver.
On arrival build your bike up and check it over with X-ray specs. Take it for a shakedown ride and then retighten everything afterwards. Pack a small lock too for last minute trips into town.
Avoid booze on the flight, it will dehydrate you and dehydration affects performance massively. Being just 2% down can impair performance by up to 20%. Instead drink water. Eat as clean as you can and stick to a normal routine from here in until the race start. Now is not the time to go off-piste with your pre-ride food. If you use our products (you clever devil, you) then you'll be happily stashed up with our All-in-One Shakes and guaranteeing that whatever unknowns the local eateries have in store for you, or however meagre the hotel buffet, you'll still be nailing your nutrition with ease before and after the race regardless.
“To shave the legs or not is a big Etape du Tour topic,” says Miles. “Either is fine but whatever you choose, don’t shave on arrival – a full day in the Alpine sun is not a good place for freshly-hacked pasty British flesh”.
- Yes, it will be busy. Expect traffic jams on major climbs unless you're seriously fast and remember to look up from the wheel in front from time to time. Views will be stunning
Starting and finishing the ride
“Check the weather, and make sure you have clothing for all eventualities,” advises Miles. “A bin liner can be a lifesaver if its cold or wet waiting at the start, and even if it’s warm a packable jacket and sleeves for the final descent will be very welcome. Suncream is essential, try P20 – it lasts for hours.
Basking in the afterglow
Don’t forget delayed dehydration. You’ll still sweat and pee after the race. The basic rule is to replace 150% of the water you lost in the race so hit the water before the beers.
That, my friends, will be down to you. Train hard, train smart, and log the miles with plenty of variety and as many climbs as you can find, even if that means multiple repeats of your nearest hillock. Most importantly, take the time on your bike to get comfortable on it. The Etape's a long day out and comfort plays a major role in how well you're going to execute. A good bike fit can be worth its weight in gold, but only when you've previously put in the hours to acclimatise your body to time in the saddle. Do that first and fitting will be the icing on the cake. Have the fit before however and all you'll be doing is changing something that's going to change again repeatedly before race day.
Ladies and gentlemen of the Etape, past, present and future, we at 33Fuel proudly salute you all. Chapeau!
©33Fuel™, Fueling limitless performance since 2012
For more information and to buy our all-natural endurance nutrition, visit www.33fuel.com or simply click the logo at the top of this page