In 2006 when I had been riding a bit more in preparation for riding the Dun Run, a couple of guys from my workplace were training hard to ride in the Etape du Tour of the same year. I remember thinking “I could never do that” but at the same time thought “I wonder if I could give that a go someday?”
The opportunity presented itself a bit quicker than I expected. As one of the sponsors of the Grand Depart, my company got some free entries to the 2007 Etape. The entries being confirmed in October, I decided to give it a go and put my name forward.
I knew in advance that I was a very long way from being able to ride something that difficult. There were a lot of things against me – I didn’t even own a road bike but it was mainly my inexperience, lack of fitness and being heavily overweight that were against me. I would have to train up my fitness and lose weight for months in order to even start the sort of training I would need to do to tackle the Etape.
It was also advertised as the toughest Etape to date – this wasn’t what motivated me to do it, the chance just came up (in fact the cycling press, especially Cycling Weekly were regularly running editorials suggesting that people like me should think again).
I bought my new roadbike in the November and found it quite difficult to adjust to the different riding position. I did eventually get used to it but it took some time, I still struggle to find the ‘perfect’ position to this day, perhaps that’s one of those never ending quests?
Incidentally, the bike I bought was the cheapest road bike in the Specialized range, the Allez, a bike I still ride to this day (now somewhat upgraded). There a lot better bikes available but I reasoned back then that most of the benefits I would get would be through training and weight loss, not from having the best possible kit.
Realising also that the sort of mountains I would be climbing were a bit few and far between in South London, I bought a turbo trainer to simulate climbing and in order to help me train through the winter, this would prove to be invaluable. I really got in to turbo training, I found all the stats and numbers really interesting, perhaps as a distraction if nothing else.
I got so into the turbo experience that I ended up buying a second hand bike to use exclusively on the trainer. As well as saving a lot of time and hassle, it prevented my ‘good’ bike from sweat damage on the trainer.
November and December were about me getting used to the bike and the trainer, from January I started training for real. I had a routine that I mostly stuck to for the following three months – I would ride four laps of Richmond Park on Saturday mornings with a longer ride or turbo session on the Sunday.
I commuted by bike most weekdays and swam at lunchtimes up to three times a week. On Tuesday and Thursday evenings I would turbo, intervals on the Tuesday, climbing on the Thursday.
By the end of March, I had lost over 10 kilos, was significantly fitter and was ready to start thinking about train up for the Etape properly.
The next steps would involve riding in Derbyshire, Scotland, Dartmoor and then lead on to my first cyclosportive.