How to train for Etape du tour in 2023

Rebecca Bland
11 mins

Now in its 31st edition, L'Etape du Tour de France is a world-renowned cyclo-sportive that gives amateurs the chance to feel like a Tour de France rider for the day. It follows the same route as one of the stages of the Tour, usually one of the hilliest. It's gained in popularity over recent years, as other riders look for the pro experience. You even get mechanical support like the professionals do! Last year there were 16,000 entrants and 10,000 finishers. So it's not an event you should take lightly. In this article, we'll talk about how you can prepare for it so you can enjoy the big day, whether you participate with your local cycling club or go it alone and make it the primary event of your year.

What is the route for the Etape du Tour?

Like every year, the route follows the same as one of the stages of that year's Tour de France. For 2023, that's stage 14, one of the hilliest stages of all. L'Etape du tour will begin in Annemasse and finish in Morzine, which if you're a fan of mountain biking you may already be familiar with as a ski resort in winter and MTB mecca in summer.
Etape Du Tour 2023 Route

It's 152km in length, and takes in 4,100 metres of accumulated elevation gain. This is done over five categorised climbs, including; col de Cou, col de la Ramaz, col de Feu, col de Saxel and col de Joux Plane.
One of the toughest climbs on the Etape

Essentially, it's no easy feat! Just shy of 100 miles, it's hard work even without all the climbing. The first climb and test of the day isn't categorised, but comes almost straight away - there won't be a lot of time to warm up the legs! The first climb that is categorised is the col de Cou, which is the easiest categorised climb you'll face all day, even though it's anything but at 7km in length and an average gradient of 7.7%.

The rest of the route consists of category 1 climb after climb, with a lot of up and down even after the half way point, so it's important you pack a jacket for the descents, but breathable kit for all the climbing. It might make more sense if you find a group to ride with. This could be a group of friends, or just similarly matched riders you find during the race.

The finish line in Morzine is not a climb, instead it's after a descent from the final climb, the HC categorised col de Joux Plane. This monster of a climb is 11.6km long at an average gradient of 8.5%, so you need to save your power for this final effort before you cruise down to the finish line via a short descent.

Want to maximise your riding for the Etape? Spoked offers a completely personalised training plan to you and your goals for free. It's available for download on the App Store and on Google Play, and each new user experiences a free 30-day trial of our Pro tier plan - no card details asked.

Your nutrition for the Etape?

Getting your nutrition dialled in before L'Etape du tour will make a big difference to your overall experience and enjoyment of the day. If you're not sure how to fuel or if this is your first event, why not have a read of our blog on how to fuel for your first bike race? It's full of tips and advice on fuelling properly but if you're after more of a skimmed down version, essentially you need to build up to being able to eat/drink enough on the bike to balance out the exertion and calories lost. Particularly in an event like this that will be a long day on the road bike, training your nutrition as well as your fitness will mean you're able to perform better even towards the end.

So, what do you need to eat and drink to be able to focus properly during the event? You should aim to consume between 60-90 grams of carbohydrate per hour. The exact amount will differ between riders, and it's unlikely you'll be able to instantly manage this amount of food and drink without training your stomach first. Start slow and include eating and drinking and trialling new products depending on how you react to them within your training routine. Don't go from never eating on the bike to instantly shoving three bananas and a gel down your throat every hour, or you'll quickly regret it!

It might help to make a note in a training diary if you're trying new products or timings, which will help you to understand how your body reacts to different things. Equally, it's important to include eating more or less depending on the intensity of the ride you're doing as part of your training plan. Hydration is also key, as even a drop of 2% in hydration can lead to significant performance losses. We cover how to fuel in depth in this blog, how to train for a 100 mile bike ride. You can easily work out how much fluid you need to take on board, with a quick calculation:

  1. Measure your nude weight before a session and your nude weight after (towel off).
  2. Subtract the total fluid you consumed during your session consumed to calculate your sweat rate

For example:

During a 1hr ride, you consumed 1 litre of fluid (Which is equal to roughly 1kg)

  • Your pre-session weight was 80kg
  • Your post-session weight was 78kg, which equals 2 litres lost
  • 1 L fluid consumed + 1 litre put back = total of 3 litres lost

If we put it into a calculation it would look like: 80kg-78kg= 2L    

2kg + 1L = 3L sweat rate

In order to replace your lost fluids, you must replace 1.5x what you've lost, so to replace 3L you actually need to replace 4.5L. We highly recommend putting some carbs in your water bottles as an easy way to replenish your stores during the race. Particularly when you're climbing, it's much easier to take fluids on board at this point than it is to eat a bar or a banana, for example.

That being said, it's also difficult to eat on the descents as your full concentration should be on using your skills to safely get to the bottom of the climb. So if you can learn to eat on the ascents as well as any flatter parts of the race, it'll help you immensely in terms of keeping your nutrition right for the duration of the event.

What should I eat before Etape?

Well beforehand, try and eat about three hours prior to the start, which will give your stomach time to digest the food and not feel full when you start training or riding. Again, try different foods like porridge or toast, and write down in a training diary how you felt on the bike after eating it.

What should I eat after the Etape?

Post-ride is also key, as this can either help or hinder with your recovery. Ideally you want to eat within 20-30 minutes of finishing your ride, which is why protein shakes and recovery shakes are so popular as they're easy to mix and drink on the go. Eat something with a good mix of protein and carbohydrates to really kickstart your recovery. However, we know that on the big day your post-ride nutriton will more likely be filled with a couple of beers and some frites to celebrate a successful day out!

It's important to remember that the Etape will likely have their own nutritional sponsors, and these are the products that will be available at the feed stops. So if you don't want to use their products, make sure you pack enough of your own to see you through the event. And finally, don't worry about what other cyclists are doing with their nutrition, everyone is different so focus on yourself and what you've found helps you in training.

What to eat during the Etape?

So, you've spent months prepping and have your nutrition plan down to a tee! Now is the time to put it into action. Don't forget to pack everything you need for the duration of the event - there will be feed stops, but if you have a particular time goal in mind, you may want to ensure you have everything you'll need for the duration so you don't need to stop.

The specific timings of the feed stations will be revealed in the spring, but we do know that bananas, water and sugary goods will be available for consumption. If you do want to stop at a feed station, remember not to try anything new lest you risk an upset stomach. Additionally, the first feed stops are likely to be super hectic, so it might be worthwhile taking on board more water than you normally would just so you can avoid this and make it to a feed stop later on.

If you do stop at a feed station, keep moving and don't stand or sit still for too long, or you may suffer 'café legs' where the lactic acid builds up and makes it harder for you to get going again.

How to train for Etape?

Your training routine for the Etape du tour will likely be a big commitment. We're not saying you need to be spending time on an expensive training camp, but structured workouts and longer efforts to match the climbs in the event are a good start.

This isn't a sportive that you can sign up and leave your training to the last minute, this is definitely not an easy feat and the challenge should be respected in your preparation. You don't need to be putting professional levels of training hours on your bike each week, but if you want to see improvements and improve your functional threshold power, we'd recommend training smart and utilising a personalised training plan allowing for at least a few months of build up.

Want to maximise your riding for the Etape? Spoked offers a completely personalised training plan to you and your goals for free. It's available for download on the App Store and on Google Play, and each new user experiences a free 30-day trial of our Pro tier plan - no card details asked.

How to start your Etape training plan

The Etape is an interesting event, because it's ultimately a test of endurance, but with the sheer volume of climbing, it's going to be intense. So first off, we'd recommend assessing what your goals are for the event. What's your goal time? Is it just to complete the event, or to do it in a specified time?

Then, you should assess where your fitness is currently to get a better idea of how you can reach your goals. Cycling training plans can be crafted backwards from the date of the event and your current fitness to figure out how you can achieve your goal by breaking down your training into blocks.

Completing a functional threshold power test or ramp test is a great way to start off, and can be completed if you have either a smart indoor trainer or a power meter. For those riding with a heart rate monitor only, it's still possible to train effectively, and to gauge where your current fitness is by completing a maximum heart rate threshold test. This is similar to an FTP test in that you go all-out for a set number of minutes, and average your heart rate from that effort.

What training should you do for the Etape?

Firstly, rather than dictate your own training plan, it might be wise to find one tailored to you. If you don't mind following something static (that is, a pre-made plan), then there are options on the Etape website for you. But, we do think you'll be better off with something personalised to you and your goal.

We won't write up a plan in this article, (but there is an Alpine Sportive plan available in Spoked) but there will likely be a mix of high intensity intervals and lower intensity endurance rides prescribed in your program. With so many hills, or should we say, cols, and being at higher altitude, it's important you train yourself to deal with oxygen deprivation - like when professionals head to altitude camp.

Alpine Sportive plan in Spoked
Pick the Alpine Sportive plan

Completing efforts like high intensity intervals above your threshold will help to benefit your cycling and increase oxygen uptake. The more oxygen you can utilise, the better you'll feel on the climbs. These aren't short climbs like you find in the UK, so it can be difficult to replicate them. Tools like Zwift, that offer routes like their Alpe du Zwift might be a good place to start. You need to be able to sustain a hard effort for a while, so being uninterrupted on a virtual climb for an hour or so is a great way to understand the challenge you'll be going through.

Endurance is a key element to a successfull time

In an ideal world, give yourself 4-6 months preparation to fully embrace the training cycles necessary to perform at your best on the day. You'll start off slowly and build an aerobic base in a foundation phase, which will help to reduce any injuries from being over-eager (we're all guilty of doing it!). If you don't have a great deal of time to play with, building your endurance might sound difficult. Instead, consider putting your training days back to back, so you have less time to recover between workouts.

Start off with two to three days on, and one rest day. Then build yourself up to five days on, two days recovery. That way you don't necessarily need to pump up your hours, just the days you're on the bike.

You'll also want to think about how long the event might take you. You don't necessarily need ot be able to ride the full distance or duration in training, but complete at least 80% of it a few times prior to the event.

Break your training into progressive stages

During the endurance stage you might also want to consider heading to the gym to perform some off-the-bike work. Anything like core work, strength work, yoga, etc. will benefit you on the bike and help to prevent injuries while keeping you as a well-rounded athlete.

Once the foundation stage is complete, you'll transition into build phases. This is where you'll introduce things like tempo or threshold efforts into your training. These managed efforts will steadily become longer while your recovery will become shorter in between sets to help mimic the climbs and terrain of the Etape.

Finally, be careful you don't fall into the trap of overtraining, as this will put you in a hole physically and mentally, reducing the enjoyment of your cycling as well as performance. It can take months to ride out of over training, so keeping yourself within your limits via a personalised plan means you're less likely to go overboard than if you tried to set your own riding sessions.

How to mentally prepare for the Etape

Making sure you're mentally ready for a big undertaking like L'Etape du tour is just as important as making sure you get the training in for it. We've got a few tips to help keep you going and make it more manageable over the day.

  • Be clear that you know what to expect from the day. Know how far it is, what the big climbs are, where you need to push and where you can take it easy. Additionally, if you're aiming for a time, make sure to know how fast you need to be going at any given point to make it.
  • Break it down by climbs and feed stations. It's a big number to think of by itself, and it's easy to get overwhelmed by it. But, if you break it down by the climbs and where the feed stations are (when announced), it'll make it far more manageable.
  • Find your own groove. Pace yourself. You'll have some confidence in the pace you should be doing and how it feels after all your training, but it's easy to get carried away with the day. Try and stick to your own plan, as hard as that may be as groups approach!
  • Break down the climbs, one corner at a time. Just like they do on Zwift, take each climb as it comes and remember that it will end, just count down the corners or switchbacks as you rise.
  • Switch on for the descent. While the climbs are a great time to zone out and ignore the pain, the last time you need a crash is on a fast, twisty or windy descent in the mountains. Stay alert and focus on what you've already learned with braking zones and cornering.
  • You're going to go through bad moments, trust they will pass. Unless you've done lots of these events before or are a pro, you'll likely have a few moments where you feel overwhelmed and like you won't be able to finish. Instead of letting them be all-consuming, acknowldge the thoughts, then move on. You can do this - find a mantra that works for you if you need an affirmation to repeat during the tough phases.
  • Enjoy the day! There are stories that are going be shared for years to come here, so make the most of it and soak up the atmosphere as best you can.

What should you pack for the Etape ride

What to put in your pockets can be a tricky balance. Take too much and be weighed down on the climbs, too little and you could bonk in between feed stations. Here is a high level list you can aim for:

  • Two water bottles (750ml ones will allow you to carry more water than 500ml but they will weigh more on the climbs if you fill them up)
  • 5 x gels
  • 2-3 x carb/electrolyte sachets you can put in your bottles
  • 4-5 x solid food items
  • A multitool for minor mechanicals
  • Inner tubes or tubeless plugs depending on how your tyres are set up
  • A gilet or waterproof/windproof packable jacket for the descents

This may seem a lot of things to pack, so it's wise to perhaps ride with a little pack underneath your saddle and even on the front of your handlebars.

How can Spoked help with your training

Spoked offers a completely personalised training programme at the fraction of the cost of a professional cycling coach. The app uses AI with an algorithm that's constantly evolving and developing thanks to the input from other cyclists' data and of course, our own resident scientists and coaching team.

We offer a variety of plans, from mountain biking to virtual racing, as well as non-event led plans that aim to improve things like your FTP, or ability to climb. But for the Etape, we'd highly recommend the 'Alpine sportive' plan.

Spoked goal ambition
Select your personal goal ambition to understand how many hours you should ride

It's tailored to helping you develop the balance of strength and endurance needed to ride events like the Etape. You can set the number of hours per week you have to train, and the app works out the intensity and structure of the sessions you'll be riding. However, we know that most people don't live inflexible lives, and so if you need to change your available riding time at any point, you can do within the app and the algorithm adjusts the structure of the session you need to complete.

Spoked readiness score
Take advantage of Spoked's readiness score to help you understand how you're feeling today

It also provides insights into riders' improvement, how well you're sticking to the plan, and how your fitness is developing. It's free to download and use, unless you want to move to a paid tier. Every new user will also get a free 30-day trial of our Pro (top-tier) plan, which normally costs £9.99 per month.

Final thoughts

Doing the Etape du Tour is the closest many of us will ever get to riding a stage of the Tour de France, so make sure you prepare enough to enjoy it! Follow our tips above and use them as a guide to build your preparation upon. While many treat it like a race, it is a mass participation event so it's better to focus on your own rides and not what everyone else is doing.

Most importantly, have fun! This is a big event and it's easy to get carried away with the pace of others on a climb so try and hold something back for the bigger cols.

If you do want to try Spoked and get to the Etape well-trained and feeling confident with your own pace, the app is free to download and use and comes with a free 30-day trial of our Pro plan. Download the app on the App Store or Google Play.