Part 3 – Preparation and which events to ride

In parts 1 & 2, we looked at the types of continental events, the riders, teams involved and hopefully started to give an idea of what to expect. This article will expand on how to train and plan for these events, plus give a selection of events to ride.

When we planned this series of articles, it was suggested we should talk about our own target events for the coming year and the preparation involved. Through our own cub, we are targeting the Le Velomediane in the Belgian Ardennes in August, and The Alpen Traum Ultra from Southern Germany to Italy in September. A number of events will fit around these, as part of a training program which will usually involve at least a week’s training in the mountains (and we’ve already had a week’s training in Gran Canaria in February). These will include the Gent-Wevelgem cyclo 230 km at the end of March then the Liege-Bastogne-Liege Challenge in the Belgian Ardennes (with 4 time trials) at the end of April. Next is the 305 km Dragon Devil in Wales at the start of June. From then, we move from cyclos to sportive racing and the first is La Morzine on June the 21st in the Haut Savioe Alps, France. The longer option is 160km with 5 cols, 3,800 m of climbing and attracts a top field chasing a good result towards the national Grand Trophee series. Next will be La Pierre Jacques en Barretous in the Pyrenees on July the 25th. This is a fantastically tough course with some great riders. It is a gem of an event, with a relatively small field (c400) of mainly French and Spanish entrants. There are several distances and it’s well worth the trip. Both the mountain blocks will be classed as training and neither of the races are targets. This means we’ll use the days either side of the sportives to get in some serious mountain climbing and ride the events ‘in passing’ as opposed to tapering before either and performing at our best. Although this means we’ll not do as well as we could in either race, it will be of great benefit for our target races in August and September. In between these, we’ll maybe time trial and possibly ride the odd road race.

Training to get a top place takes a huge commitment. Many of the guys at the front and on the podium are riding 25-30,000 km per annum and have very specific training programs. Do remember these are frequently paid riders. Any continental magazine will offer lots of advice on training programs, and these usually start from around 10 hours per week. They all include distance work for stamina, intervals and speed work, varying intensities and recovery. Ultimately, any programme can be tailored to each individuals goals and the available time. Many people use a coach to get the best from their time.

A common theme in any training programme is to have a training camp in similar terrain to your target event. Lots of people go to the mountains to prepare for events like L’Etape and La Marmotte, which makes perfect sense. If you’re very lucky, you’ll be able to get a week’s preseason training in Gran Canaria or Mallorca, which will certainly lay the foundations for a fantastic season. From the spring, we tend to train a lot in the Belgian Ardennes, as it’s only 3 hours from Calais and has climbs of up to just under 700m – there are even ski lifts and downhill runs! This is a stunning area, full of cyclists, clubs and teams which make a great atmosphere. Factor in the chance to train in the hilliest part of Belgium (the Ardennes are officially categorised as mountains) which is home to the Liege-Bastogne-Liege race and you can see the reason. For those with more time to travel, training on the edge of any mountain range is hard to beat. This will give access to the large cols, plus ‘smaller’ climbs of say c1,000m, but more importantly allows you to mix in flat rides and really get the most from your weeks training. You can also make the most of the terrain on offer if the weather is bad. After all no one benefits from high altitude training when it’s freezing cold, snowing (yes it does snow in the middle of summer in the alps) and you risk hypothermia or crashing on the way down. We frequently take groups to both areas and would be happy to offer advice.

Many people will not be able to get away until the event and will focus on UK training. There is fantastic training terrain in the UK and with the correct focus on UK sportives worked into your training schedule, this is not a problem. In addition, to get the desired level of speed needed to race at the front of a Continental Sportive, you could include road racing (which will certainly help with bunch riding and the changes in speed) and time trials. The latter are actually very good for helping with the mental and physical effort of climbing mountains. There is a lot to take into account; hence if you want to do well having a coach is a major benefit. Plan your training and stick to your plan, but be realistic!

Equipment and gearing will be a very large topic to cover and we’ll focus more on this in later articles. However, the most important thing is the correct fit to ensure you’re in the most comfortable and efficient position. You’ll see a lot of very high end bikes at European events and there’s no point in spending a fortune on top end components unless they’re set up specifically for you and your event. It’s amazing how many people buy very expensive bikes and then spend the whole ride in pain because it’s the wrong size or their position is wrong, not to mention how much effort is being wasted! Spending time in this area is vital. We help a huge number of riders get this right. They get the most from themselves and their bike and go for a high placing in the race.

Nutrition is another huge topic and taking enough to cover the event is vital. There are feed stations, but the front bunches never stop (many riders and teams have back-up throughout with a team car, race radios and spare bikes etc), so if you want to race the event unsupported, you need to know you can cope with the distance, speed and terrain. Experimenting during training and non-target events is the best way to learn how your body copes and what you’ll need. You may be able to carry enough food and gels and take a 30 second pit-stop at a feed station just to refill bottles and put into an electrolyte tablet or take a salt capsule.

It’s been mentioned many times before, but if you want a top place, race at the front (or at least at the front of your bunch), so you can stay out of harm’s way and can react to whatever happens. Ultimately though, it’s your personal challenge to give you a great sense of achievement, whatever your goal.

In part 4, we’ll look further into equipment and how to get to your event.

Andrew Thompson

Andrew Thompson

Andrew Thompson starting racing in 1983 and has competed in road and off-road events, both in the UK and Europe up to UCI Amateur World Championship level. He is a director of Hammer Sports Ltd and the inspiration behind Hammer Bikes specialising in custom built, individually fitted and tailored bikes, with custom colour paint. Hammer Sports run the UK based Hammer Trophy series of sportives, offer personalised training programmes as well as tours and training camps both in the UK and on the Continent. You can see details at www.hammersport.co.uk
Andrew Thompson
Posted in Riding European Sportives.

Andrew Thompson starting racing in 1983 and has competed in road and off-road events, both in the UK and Europe up to UCI Amateur World Championship level. He is a director of Hammer Sports Ltd and the inspiration behind Hammer Bikes specialising in custom built, individually fitted and tailored bikes, with custom colour paint. Hammer Sports run the UK based Hammer Trophy series of sportives, offer personalised training programmes as well as tours and training camps both in the UK and on the Continent. You can see details at www.hammersport.co.uk