Sunday, January 16, 2011

Week One: Where do I start?

Each year, the organizers of one of my favorite sporting events, the Tour de France (the "Tour"), organize an amateur race/ride on one of the Tour's big mountain stage rides.  This race/ride s called L'Etape du Tour ("L'Etape").  Usually held in the Alps or the Pyrenees, this is one of the only ways an amateur cyclist like myself can get a taste of what it's like to ride one of the toughest mountain stages of one of the greatest annual athletic events. 

The Idea:
My wife (Melisa) and I have been talking about taking a vacation to Paris (and France in general) for years. Growing up with a French mother, speaking the language (although Melisa is sceptical of this fact) and having been to France several times growing up and in my 20's (although it's been a while since I've been there), the draw to go back there never took precedent over my desire to see other places in the world.  Having said that, I've always dreamed of sitting along the Champs Elysees on a beautiful July day watching the Tour come riding into Paris on the final day.  (Certainly more of a dream for me than going to, say, the Superbowl...)  Watching the Tour on TV year after year, I've wondered what it would be like to ride one of those great mountain stages. (If you've never seen the coverage of any of the mountain stages of the Tour, make sure you tune in this summer- more drama than any of those nutty reality shows).  So enough already we said- this year was going to be the year that we went to France to watch the Tour as part of our French holiday.  Then, only weeks ago, I learned of L'Etape.  Was it really true? I mean, I knew of tour companies that created vacations around the Tour- they follow certain stages of the Tour, and some, even allowing you to get out and ride certain legs of the Tour.  But, a full-on organized race/ride for us mortals? In my mind, you couldn't imagine the timing of this information. Thus, with a few clicks of the mouse and the payment of the entry fee, the idea of riding L'Etape became reality: a trip to France to incorporate culture, Paris, the Tour, and now..... L'Etape.  Now, figuring the rest out....

Not a writer by any stretch of the imagination (my wife, Melisa, will be shocked to learn that I've even considered keeping a regular journal on any subject), I'm interested in taking myself out of my natural comfort zone and have thus started this blog to keep a record of my journey to L'Etape.  I guess it's best just to jump right in.

2011 L'Etape:
This year the Tour organizers have provided 2 different L'Etapes (or as they refer to it, "Acts"):  the first "Act" takes place on July 11, 2011 and travels over the famed "Alp D"Huez", probably the most famous (and most difficult) mountain stage in the Tour's history.  Unfortunately for me, our goal was to see the Tour finish up in Paris on July 24th. (For a schedule of the Tour, click  on this link: Tour Schedule). For me to ride the first Act would mean I'd have to be in France for more than 2 weeks (when factoring in travel days, etc.) which was not possible with my work schedule. Thus, it was Act 2 for me- 208km from Issoire to Saint-Flour: Sunday July 17, 2011.  Here's a profile of the race:

What are my goals with L'Etape? As much as I focus much of my daily thoughts on health, nutrition (and my next ride, climb, run, etc.), I'm a realist.  I have no delusions regarding my current ability, age, time constraints, etc.  That said, I'm very competitive by nature and constantly use goals as a motivation tool.  Without these self-imposed goals, I'm lost.  So here it is: I'm throwing down the personal goal of finishing in the top 20% of this year's finishers at L'Etape.  (So, if there are 5,000 riders, I'm looking to finish in the top 1,000.  Is that realistic?  Not sure at this point. I'm going to do more research to see how well others I have fared over the years.)

Oh yea, I forgot to mention.  For years now I've had chronic pain in my right elbow. It's gotten so painful that I've stopped bouldering and climbing.  Even going out for rides (road and Mtb) provides a hefty dose of pain.  After visiting my Orthopaedic surgeon, Dr. David Altchek at Hospital For Special Surgery, he confirmed that I had a tear in my tendon and a glob of scar tissue that he says has been there for a long time. So, last Tuesday, Jan 11th, I had surgery to repair the tendon and remove the scar tissue.  Recovery, I'm told, will take a full 4 months to get to full strength.  Oh well.  As Tony Horton says (from P90X fame- luv this guy and his program: you'll see more of Tony's program incorporated into my training below), "modify, modify, modify...."

The Equipment:
2011 Cervelo R3
The bike in my kichen...
Currently my plan is to bring my road bike with me to L'Etape.
For those equipment geeks, here's the component build out:
Headset- Cane Creek IS-3
Seat post- 3T Dorico Team
Shifters- SRAM Rival
Front/Rear Derailleurs- SRAM Rival
Brakes- SRAM Rival
Crankset- SRAM S900 Compact  (50/34)
Bottom Bracket- SRAM PRessfit BBright
Handlebars- 3T Ergonova OE
Stem- 3T ARX Pro
Saddle- Specialized BG Gel
Wheels- DT Swiss 1450
Cassette- Shimano 11-27
Tires- Vittoria Open Corsa EVO CX 22mm
Heart Rate Monitor/GPS- Garmin 800

Training Regimen:
Having raced many 12 hour, 24 hour and multi-day Adventure Races (think Eco-Challenge, Primal Quest, etc.  For more on AR, see: Adventure Racing), I've come to understand that the stresses of events like L'Etape are mostly mental.  Yes, there are physical struggles along the way (especially if your pushing yourself to do the best you can), but I believe that the limitations we place on ourselves are mostly mental barriers.  Putting aside things that aren't w/n my control  (unforeseen accidents, injuries, equipment failures, etc.) I'm not spending much time worrying if I can "finish" this event; rather I'm focused on making sure I'm as mentally and physically prepared as I can be to really enjoy myself.  Sure it's a going to be a sufferfest, but let's suffer in style, right?

So the basic training plan I'm going with comes from Tim Marsh's informative guide to L'Etape: "Guide To Tackling L'Etape". A fantastic read on all things regarding L'Etape (traveling, logistics, where to stay, training, etc.)  It's available via book or pdf.  It's a basic 16 week program. Although I've got longer than that, I'm giving myself a bit longer due to the recovery of the elbow, additional P90X workouts and general unexpected downtime.  I'll post my training logs and thoughts as I go.

I'm not going to say much here other than whenever I train (whether it's on runs or rides) I use exclusively Hammer Products.  I've used Hammer products and supplements for years in training and racing and can't say enough about the quality of their products.  So I'm not going to change anything here since it always works.  As for my normal meals, I eat a fairly vegetarian diet (plus fish).  I try not to over think this, but attempt to consume "real" food; that is, eat food in the form it was raised or grown.  Pretty simple.  As for supplements, I completely believe in their effectiveness.  I take lots of supplements daily and have for sometime. (Here's a short list of my favorites: L-Carnitine, DMAE, MSM/Glucosomine/Condroitin, Astaxanthin, Omega 3 Fish Oil, Folic Acid, B-6, Chromium Picolinate, R-Lipoic Acid, Quercitin, Co-Q10, Turmeric, and Diindolylmethane and Whey Protein Isolate).

So I think that's enough for the set up.  Be back soon......


  1. Great blog! Looking forward to more.

  2. love it. i can't wait to read more.. esp how you learn to modify your training with your busted elbow. your next "race" should be from nyc to la... but then you stay. just a suggestion...:)