Get Prepared – Training for a Sportive or Gran Fondo in the Alps

Training Alpine Sportive

Last week Brevet Alpine Cycling Adventures hosted a free webinar with Dig Deep Coaching on preparation and training for a Sportive or Gran Fondo in the Alps.

The webinar covered these key areas of preparation and training:

  1. Goal setting
  2. Training
  3. Recovery
  4. Bike Setup
  5. Nutrition

I spoke with Tom Eeles of Brevet who gave a great recap in case you weren’t able to tune in.

Goal Setting

Tom, how do you recommend choosing a challenging but reachable goal when considering a European Sportive or Gran Fondo? How far in advance should you plan? What are the other important things you should consider before starting your training?

The end of summer is a great time to look ahead to the next summer and plan a goal that will keep you motivated through the winter.  If you choose a “stretch target” sportive in the middle or end of summer then it can be a good idea to plan “B” priority local races in spring and an overseas sportive in early summer.

To choose a challenging but reachable goal when considering a European Sportive or Granfondo I think it’s best to aim high. With the right training and a scary target you will be able to surpass your ambitions. Entering a sportive like the Alpenbrevet in Switzerland that has multiple challenging distances allows you to have flexibility in your goals.

Before starting your training it is a good idea to persuade your mates to sign up to the same goals so that you have a motivated training group. Lock in the travel arrangements early so that you have a goal to focus on. It’s also a great idea to get a check up at a quality bike fitting service, many will do a FTP test and bike fit so that you start from a position of knowledge.


What are the basics of a sportive training program? If you come from completely flat terrain, how can you simulate climbing?

Training Alpine SportiveThe basics of a sportive training program are being realistic with your estimate of available time for training – there is nothing more disheartening than setting a plan for the week and not achieving it. Beyond that it is important to be patient as you build through the phases of increasing volume then increasing intensity and to avoid the temptation to cut your taper short.

During our webinar Stephen Gallagher from Dig Deep Coaching gave some great advice on how to simulate climbing if you live in flat terrain: use lower cadence with higher gears for example experiment with 1 minute at 60rpm, 1 minute at 70rpm and recovery at 90rpm. This will help develop the force that you need for steeper gradients.

The other limiting factor when considering climbing capability is your lactate threshold. Using indoor training videos like The Hunted from The Sufferfest can be a great help in training your body to handle the waste products (lactate) created in your muscles better.

Descending is an equally important skill, but is more difficult to simulate. Do you have some tips for practicing descending skills?

To improve your descending skills the starting point is recognizing it as an important skill that you need to actively focus on. Every time you have a planned “climbing session” you should also be targeting learning how to descend on a bike properly.


After months of consistent training, the importance of a taper period was emphasized. How does the taper fit in, especially when on a week-long mountainous cycling tour?

sportive trainingOne of the key tapering mistakes people make is to do nothing in the last weeks and arrive feeling “flat”. Riding in the days preceding a sportive can help fire your muscles and get your respiratory system ready too. Your target should be to be in a comfortable hear rate zone and only exert yourself in short efforts that will help get your body ready for the bigger efforts required on steeper climbing sections.

Also it is very important to keep your sportive goal in relative focus – the real reason you have entered is because you love riding your bike, love traveling, love pushing yourself. So it’s important to have a holiday too! Take in the sights, relish the challenge and loose yourself in conversation as you climb through beautiful Alpine scenery.

In short don’t take it so seriously that it isn’t fun!

What are some of the mental preparations you can do before tackling the Etape or the Maratona. How do you mentally prepare for the day? What are some important things to do the day/night before?

During our webinar Stephen Gallagher from Dig Deep Coaching repeated a useful mantra “Being prepared costs you nothing.”

It helps to keep a training diray andlook back on it in the days before the race and remember that you have put hard work in and now is the time to forget your fears and focus on enjoying it. My goal is to always cross the finish line smiling!

Bike Setup

Bike setup is key to being comfortable and avoiding injury. What is your opinion on taking your own bike or using a tour company rental bike? What sort of gearing do you recommend for riding in the Alps?

Personally I would always take my own bike. Your bike deserves a holiday as much as you do. Renting a bike box is easy and buying one is not that expensive once you have one and are comfortable following these bike box packing tips then you have more reasons to go biking somewhere new!

Too many people spend too much time reading and posting on the cycling internet forums worrying about gearing. The whole stigma about triples and large sprocket rear cassettes is utterly mind boggling and very old school. What’s the trend in the Pro Tour Peloton? Chris Froome rode the 2013 Critérium du Dauphiné on a 11-28 on the back and every manufacturer is currently rushing out 11 speed chain sets.

Take your bike to the Local Bike Shop and ask them to get as many gears on the back as possible. I ride a compact chainset with 11-28 on the back. I have never heard someone ride in the Alps and wish they had fewer gears.


What is the best way to fuel before and during the event? Often the brands of gels/drinks you are used to training with at home are not easy to find in Europe. Tell us some tips for making sure you don’t have stomach problems before or during the event?

Again planning here is key. If possible do two rides with the same products before you travel or take your own supplies. But above that planning your meals carefully the day before and morning of the race will help alleviate anxiety and help to avoid bloating.

Thanks Tom for the recap! Follow these links for more information from the webinar or Dig Deep Coaching.




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