Training Guidelines for the Etape du Tour - Alpine-Cols


Training Guidelines for the Etape du Tour

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The Etape du Tour is a mass-cycling event for amateurs, organised on exactly the same route as one of the Tour de France stages. Since the Tour de France is one of the most-watched sporting events in the world, there is a huge desire to come and ride on the same roads as the professionals. The result is that the event sells out within hours and there are typically around 13,000 starters. The chosen route is invariably a tough mountain stage and a significant challenge. For all but the most experienced riders, finishing the Etape is an exploit to be proud of: many hundreds of riders abandon every year, more if the weather is bad.

The Etape du Tour is extremely prestigious and attracts many of the best Elite and semi-pro riders, as well as the best sportive and GranFondo riders from the world over. Needless to say, competition is fierce. Only the most dedicated and best-trained cyclists can hope to finish in the top thousand, let alone anywhere near the podium.


1. The 2024 Etape du Tour


The Etape du Tour (version 2024) is 133km long and includes 4,600m of climbing, over four major climbs from Nice to a summit finish on the Col de la Couillole. The first is the col de Braus, 10km at 6.4%; the second is the col de Turini, 24km at 5.2%, the third the col de la Colmiane, 17km at 5.3%, and the last the col de la Couillole, 16km at 7.3%. With the exception of the last climb, the average gradients are misleading because the climbs are rather irregular.

The 2024 event is thus broadly comparable to the 2023 version (Annemasse to Morzine), which was 145km long and included 4,100m of climbing. The climbs are a little less steep, but the additional 500m of elevation will take a toll, as will the likely heat on the often south-facing slopes.

One thing that doesn’t change is the challenging nature of the descents. The descents from the col de Braus and the col de Turini in particular are long, fast and in places quite technical. There will be a large premium on descending skills.

Watch our video presentation of the 2024 Etape du Tour.

There were 11,791 official finishers in 2023. The exact number of starters is not made public but is probably in the region of 13,000, meaning that approximately 1,200 people were unable to finish. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that many starters are inadequately prepared and indeed unaware how tough the event really is.

In order to help understand the performance requirements, the following tables provide the finishing times and average speeds for the first and last riders in each category at the 2023 Etape du Tour (beginning with the ladies):

We can expect broadly similar results in 2024.

The important number to look at is the average speed. Compare this to your average speed at any comparable event you have ridden and you will have a good idea of your likely place at the Etape. Do not make the mistake of comparing it to your average speed on a non-mountainous event: this will be very misleading, as it could easily be 10km/h higher.

Given the level of competition, “doing well” entirely depends on your frame of reference. For an Elite cyclist, it might mean finishing in the top 25. For a keen amateur, perhaps coming back for the 4th or 5th time, it may be possible to target a particular round-number place, such as the top 2,500. For others, the only sensible reference may be yourself. Can you finish, satisfied that you gave it your best shot – and enjoyed it? For others still, and especially for first-timers, simply obtaining the official Finisher’s medal is a significant achievement in itself.


2. Event demands

Riders who do best at the Etape will have the following characteristics, compared to others in their category:


  • A high power-to-weight ratio for the climbs
  • Excellent aerobic endurance (4h30-12h total cycling; multiple long climbs)
  • A high capacity to burn fat instead of carbohydrate while climbing steadily
  • Excellent durability (ability to climb for long periods at a high intensity)
  • Good short-term muscular endurance (short, hard efforts to stay with groups in the valleys)
  • The ability to recover quickly between efforts


  • The ability to maintain focus, motivation and lucidity for the time it takes to finish, even when severely fatigued
  • The self-discipline to stick to one’s maximum sustainable pace on the climbs (and let others go… perhaps to see them again later!)
  • The ability to tolerate long periods of pain and discomfort
  • The ability to stay positive and deal with setbacks and negative thoughts


  • Excellent energy-efficient climbing skills, on long climbs and varied gradients
  • Excellent descending and cornering skills
  • Very good bunch riding skills
  • The ability to eat and drink while climbing and while riding in a peloton
  • The ability to change clothing or at least to adjust for temperature while riding


  • The ability to identify and stick to the optimum pace on long climbs
  • The ability to identify when to push harder and when to conserve energy: which wheels to follow (and which to let go), when to move to the front of the peloton.


Each criterion is important and any weaknesses will undermine your performance.

Before working on your personal training plan, take the time to make a realistic analysis of your current abilities against this list to identify your strengths and limiters.

To obtain your best performance you should not only continue to develop your strengths, but also to work on your limiters, at least to the point where they no longer handicap you.

As an example, if descending is a limiter for you, you might easily lose 5-10 minutes on each descent and be overtaken by hundreds of people. Apart from the risk of accident, the cumulative effect will be even worse because you will lose touch with the people you were riding with and drop back several groups each time. The result could easily add up to a 30 minute deficit by the end. This is a shame, because descending fast and safely is a skill that can be learned and has almost no extra energy cost!


3. Your Training Plan: Principles

There is no such thing as a standard training plan for the Etape. It should be obvious that a 23 year-old Elite rider with the goal of finishing in the top 10 will need a different plan to a 60 year-old first-timer whose only goal is to finish. However the same argument applies across the board. The best training plan for you is one that has been designed with your unique strengths, limiters, objectives, context and constraints in mind, and is constantly adapted for you when things change (as they inevitably do).

This is why we are not providing a standard plan. The “plan” we propose below is in fact a set of guidelines and a framework for you to adapt to your own needs. Our goal is to give you the means to think carefully about the process and take responsibility for your own preparation.

HOWEVER, this is not a book and we cannot possible explain here all the nuances and individual variations inherent in the training process. We therefore strongly encourage you to use this document as an aide-memoire to what might be important, but then either to do your own research into how to apply it, or to find a coach to help you.

Our guidelines and framework are aimed at the “keen, self-coached amateur” who will finish somewhere in the middle of the pack, since this represents at least 60% of the participants.

If your only goal is to finish, you can simplify the process and focus mainly on developing your aerobic capacity by progressively increasing your weekly distance and climbing. If your bike-handling and descending skills are not great, you are at a high risk of an accident and so you must devote time to improving these vital skills. Road cycling, at speed and in groups, especially in the mountains, is a highly technical and skilful sport and it takes many hours of deliberate practice before you can participate safely in an event such as the Etape.

The key principles behind a training plan to “do well” at the Etape are, in rough order of priority for the keen, self-coached amateur:

  1. Your commitment to make the Etape a priority. This should go without saying, but if you want to do well at this supremely challenging event, you must commit to a serious effort of preparation. Our plan assumes you will train for 8-12h per week on average through the early part, rising to 15h per week on average during the final two months.
  2. Be consistent. This is the single most important success factor. Of course your training load will vary from one week to the next but these variations should be deliberate in order to create overload and then recovery and super-compensation. If you are unable to train normally for a period you should keep this to a minimum and find ways to compensate (e.g. leg & core strength workouts, climbing stairs, walking, jogging, swimming…)
  3. Build a strong aerobic base, so you can ride steadily for several hours without having to ease off. To do this, we recommend you train predominantly at low intensity. This is quite likely to be much lower than the current level at which you train. It’s important to understand that training at this low intensity provides the endurance adaptations you need without adding unnecessary fatigue, thus allowing you to train more.
  4. Increase the load progressively, then recover, to allow your body to adapt and get stronger. Remember, hard training actually breaks you down and makes you weaker! You only get stronger when your body has the time to recover, adapt and rebuild. There should be a big difference between your hardest and your easiest training weeks.
  5. Do as much climbing as possible. By the time you get to June, you should be doing at least 2,600m in a single ride. Vary the intensity on your climbs: if you attack every climb in your training as hard as you can, you will build mainly fatigue, not fitness. As you get closer to the event you should do some of the climbs at race pace, especially towards the end of your rides. If you live in a flat area your options are (1) to do hill repeats on whatever you can find nearby; (2) to travel to find some climbs; (3) to use a smart trainer linked to an app which will simulate the climbs for you.
  6. Include exercises to develop your technical skills, and not only your physiological capacity, because bike racing is not only about FTP (Functional Threshold Power, or the power you can sustain for about one hour). These exercises might include low-cadence while climbing, high-cadence while riding on the flat, cornering, descending, riding in a group, etc.
  7. Develop your fat-burning capacity, to conserve your glycogen stocks during the climbs and thus your ability to climb hard for longer. Metabolic adaptation is an important differentiator in road racing. It is not possible to consume enough carbohydrate during an intense ride to fuel it adequately and therefore the more you can use your fat stores the better you will perform.
  8. Build your pain tolerance. Endurance is “the struggle to continue against a mounting desire to stop[1]. There’s no escaping the fact that the Etape is going to make you suffer. The better you can train yourself to tolerate the pain and discomfort as it becomes harder and harder, the more likely you are to qualify.
  9. Build short-term muscular endurance, which is the ability to ride above threshold for short periods in order to close gaps, stay with a group and power up short climbs.
  10. Monitor your readiness to take on high load. Current best practice is to monitor readiness to train, using a combination of daily HRV (Heart Rate Variability) measurements with perceptions of fatigue and muscle soreness, and to adjust the plan accordingly.


If you are a new, inexperienced cyclist, developing your technical skills is the #1 priority!


4. Your Training Plan: Overview and Structure

Our framework training plan begins on January 1st, giving you six months to prepare for the event.

A key assumption is that you will continue to ride regularly on the roads throughout the period. If this is not possible, you will have to compensate by doing long rides on a turbo trainer and ideally by joining a training camp in the early part of the year in a warm-weather location such as southern Spain or Portugal, Mallorca or the Canary Islands.

Alpine Cols is running three coaching camps in 2024 which could help you. All have a strong focus on improving the skills and technique you need at the Etape. The first is in the Canary Islands 27 Jan to 3 Feb; the second is our GF Vosges camp 15-19 May, and the third is our special Etape du Tour camp 9-15 June. This last camp is totally designed around preparation for the Etape and includes riding the full route (over two days). Alpine Cols coaching camps

Our framework training plan includes three phases:

  1. Preparation (January to end-March)
  2. Pre-Competition (April to late June)
  3. Competition (last 10-14 days)


Each phase is then broken down into 4-week cycles including 3 load weeks and 1 recovery week, with a target training load for each week. If you are over 50, consider adopting a 3-week cycle of 2 load weeks and 1 recovery week.

It’s important to understand that such a structure is essentially arbitrary and takes no account of the total stress you will be under (life stress + training stress) on any particular day. If you feel very tired, have sore muscles, your Resting Heart Rate (RHR) is unusually high and your Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is unusually low, you should either take a very easy day or not train at all until you have recovered. Research has shown that training when you are stressed (low HRV) provides little or no benefit and may even be harmful. Read here for more on how to use HRV to guide your training.

Remember that hard training breaks you down: you only get stronger during recovery!


5. Your Training Plan: by Period

 Download the training plan.

5.1 Preparation Phase: January to end-March (27 -> 14 weeks to go)

The key objectives here for most riders are to (re-)accustom your body to training 8-12 hours per week, to build a strong aerobic base, and to use high intensity interval sessions to develop threshold power and short-term muscular endurance. If you are a new cyclist and/or your goal is only to finish, it is more important to spend time on your bike than to worry too much about intervals.

The training intensity distribution during this phase should be Polarised, meaning 80%-90% of your training should be at low intensity and only 10%-20% at high intensity. The percentage breakdown is calculated on the basis of the number of hours in the workout, not the actual time spent at high intensity. Thus, a typical high-intensity interval session will last an hour (and should be counted as such) even if the actual high-intensity time doesn’t exceed 10-20 minutes. If you add 5-10 sprints to a 4-hour low-intensity outing, count 3 hours at low intensity and 1 hour at high intensity.

You should avoid extensive training at medium intensity (in Z3, often called Tempo or in low Z4, often called Sweet-Spot), because at this time of year it creates too much fatigue for too little benefit.

5.1.1 Preparation Phase, on the bike training
  1. Aerobic endurance: progressing to 5h rides at intensity below LT1[1], the point at which the lactate concentration in your blood starts to increase above the baseline (usually less than 60-65% of your HRmax or FTP). If in doubt, err on the cautious side. The rides should FEEL slow (and only become tiring after 3h or more). Aerobic endurance is by far the most important quality you need to build and you should spend ~90% of your training on this.

Riding slowly may sound incredibly boring and it certainly takes some adaptation, not least in your attitude and mindset. Read here for tips on how to help the time pass on long slow rides.

If you are unable to ride outside you will have to do long sessions on your turbo trainer. Read here for suggestions on how to make these more tolerable.

  1. Fat-burning capacity: Improve your metabolism by limiting your intake of refined sugars and high glycaemic-index carbohydrates, both on and off the bike. Do one long low-intensity ride per week partially or fully fasted, and only begin to eat on the bike after the first two hours (later three hours, then even four).

Adjust your food intake to your energy expenditure: eat more, especially carbs, on high load days and during high load weeks, and cut back sharply on the carbs during easy days and recovery weeks. Make sure you eat plenty of protein (1.8g/kg of body weight is a good target during training). Keep an eye on the scales to be sure that any weight loss is slow and progressive: the priority at this stage is to fuel your training!

Obviously each food item should be as high quality and as natural as possible. Avoid processed and especially industrial foods. Read here for more on nutrition while training.

  1. Short-term muscular endurance: High short-term muscular endurance is essential for making the short, hard efforts required to stay with a fast group during a road race. If you are planning on riding competitively at the Etape, you should plan on two sessions per week (except recovery weeks) to include multiple 4’-8’ efforts, initially in Zone3 then increasing progressively to Zone5; and/or 1’-2’ efforts initially in Zone4 increasing progressively to Zone6. Do some of these efforts at low cadence.
  2. Technical limiters: e.g. descending, cornering, bunch riding etc. Take every opportunity on your long rides to practice technical skills. If you are not a confident descender, consider joining a training camp in the mountains with a coaching team qualified to teach you to descend fast and safely. This is always a key focus on all Alpine Cols coaching camps.


5.1.2 Preparation Phase, off the bike training

You may not be used to off-the-bike training. Nevertheless, it can have a significant impact on your performance, especially as you get older. To cycle faster, you need to push harder on the pedals, which means you need not only stronger leg muscles but also greater core strength to stabilise and channel the extra force. The best way to strengthen your muscles is off the bike, using appropriate exercises and good technique.

  1. Strength and conditioning: one or two sessions per week, ideally guided by a Strength & Conditioning coach with experience in cycling. The goal at this time of year is to increase the strength of your leg and core muscles.

If you are new to this, err on the side of caution to limit the risk of injury. Good exercises to begin with include squats, lunges, planks, bridges and roll-downs. All of these require correct technique to be beneficial. Once you’ve learned good technique you can do this at home.

  1. Flexibility and stretching: two to three 20’ sessions per week. Pilates or Yoga can be extremely beneficial. Learning correct technique is vital so choose a practitioner who knows cycling and only takes small groups (or better still individuals).
  2. Complement occasionally with other sports: walking, running, swimming, etc. If cycling is your only sport you risk building up imbalances and soft tissue problems over time.


5.2. Pre-Competition Phase: April to June (14 – 2 weeks to go)

The key objectives during the Pre-Competition phase are (1) to increase the training load to 15 hours per week or more, (2) to reinforce your aerobic base, (3) to improve your climbing at race pace and (4) to improve your general race readiness.

The training intensity distribution should now switch to Pyramidal. You should still train for 70% of the time at low intensity but you should now introduce medium intensity training (Z3 tempo and low Z4 sweet-spot) for 20% of the time, while maintaining 10% at high intensity. Your training thus becomes more race-specific as you get closer to the event. In practice it means adding tempo or sweet-spot sessions to one or two rides per week while maintaining one ride per week focused on high intensity work.

5.2.1 Pre-Competition Phase, on the bike training
  1. Aerobic endurance: continuing long low-intensity rides, progressing to a 6-7h ride by mid-June, with as much climbing as possible. Either do these long rides alone or with an understanding training partner willing to stick to the low intensity.
  2. Fat-burning capacity: continue along the lines laid out for the Preparation phase. It is important to keep varying the amount you eat and specifically the percentage of carbs in proportion to your training load: it is equally important to ensure that you are fuelling your training adequately and to avoid over-eating during recovery weeks. Ideally, you should eat almost no carbohydrate on rest days. Keep a close eye on the kCal expended per ride (as reported by apps such as Strava) to guide how much you should eat. Read here for more on nutrition while training.
  3. Threshold: multiple 10’-30’ efforts, first in Zone3, then in Zone4 to develop your ability to climb at race pace. No need to structure too much: just make all the climbs in Zone3 or Zone4 on a 2-4h ride. Try to push a bit harder on the final climb. No more than two per week, less if overly fatigued. If your only goal is to finish, one is enough.
  4. Sportive or club ride: twice per month in May and June, either ride a sportive or join a fast club ride in order to sharpen your reflexes and (re-)accustom yourself to race pace.
  5. Recovery: short rides, 60-90 minutes, strictly in Zone 1. Make the recovery EASY. If the hardest training has pushed you close to your limit, then recovery must be easier than normal, otherwise you will overtrain and lose the benefit.
  6. Test different nutritional and equipment choices so that come race day you know exactly what works – and what doesn’t work. Practice changing clothing and adapting to different temperatures while riding. Get used to carrying two spare inner tubes and either two CO2 cartridges or a pump.
5.2.2 Pre-Competition Phase, off the bike training
  1. Strength and conditioning: one or two sessions per week, ideally guided by a Strength & Conditioning coach with experience in cycling. The goal during this period is to maintain the strength of your leg and core muscles. Cycling does not do this adequately.
  2. Flexibility and stretching: as in the previous phase it is vital to maintain these sessions to keep your body flexible. Do two to three 20’ sessions per week.
  3. Other activities: optional, as desired. We recommend an occasional swim, a 1-2h walk or perhaps a light jog.
5.2.3 General
  1. Maximise your sleep. This is essential for recovery and adaptation. You should aim at a minimum of 7h per night, and try to wake up naturally (without an alarm-clock). Banish all screens from the bedroom.
  2. Minimum travel, minimum stress: the less you add to the stress on your body, the better off you will be. Look for psychological coping strategies to reduce the impact of the most stressful events that can’t be avoided.


5.3. Competition Phase: taper for the last 10-14 days

The key objective is to eliminate fatigue without losing fitness. You want to arrive on the start line the fittest you have ever been, but also super-fresh and thus able to race hard and ensure your qualification.

5.3.1 Competition Phase, on the bike

Progressively reduce your training volume by at least 50%. For example, if you have been riding 15h per week, you might bring it down to 10h in the second-to-last week and no more than 7h in the final week. If in doubt, do less. It’s too late to make any difference to your fitness and it’s far more important to eliminate the accumulated fatigue.

Ideally, you should arrive in Nice at least 2-3 days before the start. The earlier, the better. Do a couple of short rides to spin the legs but nothing strenuous. Some people find it beneficial to do a few short efforts at high intensity on the day before a race, e.g. 5’-10’ in Zone4, 1’-2’ in Zone5, but this doesn’t work for everybody. If you are not sure if it works for you, better not to risk it.

5.3.2 Competition Phase, off the bike

The need for sleep, good quality nutrition and minimum stress are even more acute during the taper. The advice is the same as for the Pre-Competition Phase. The better you can plan to sleep well, eat well and avoid stress, the better off you will be.

Download the training plan. Remember, it is up to you to adapt it depending on your personal situation.



All of our coaches are experienced at road racing and know the challenges extremely well. We can help you prepare in three complementary ways:

  1. Sign up for a six-month coaching agreement to receive individual day-to-day coaching and one-on-one advice;
  2. Join our special Etape du Tour camp 9-15 June, which includes a full route reconnaissance (over two days) and route analysis. You will benefit from a big block of training as well as one-on-one coaching on your technical skills and of course plenty of advice and tips for the event itself. The coaches ride with you on their own bikes and use both observational feedback in real time and videos to help you improve.

Contact Alpine Cols if you would like a professional coach to help you prepare for the Etape du Tour.

[1] Ideally, you should determine LT1 via a lactate test. Failing this, you can estimate it by paying very careful attention to your breathing while starting at a very low intensity and increasing slowly. Your LT1 will be the point where you first feel the need to start breathing more deeply. For the majority of people, LT1 will be in the range 60-65% of FTP or 60-65% of HRmax

[1] Samuele Marcora, quoted by Alex Hutchinson in his book Endure (2018)

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