London To Paris For A Older Newbie

wilko373

New Member
Location
East Midlands
I just completed this as a supported ride, the 280 mile 4 day version via Dover/Calais. I started to prepare a few months out, from a point of not having cycled much since my teens. I was pretty out of shape when I started training, and still over 15 stone at 6'1 on the ride. I have done various sports including long distance running & know my own body, so I came up with my own training approach. I missed 3 weeks due to illness 2 months before & felt under prepped, but was one of the strongest riders in my group despite having the least experience, fattest, heaviest bike, and being one of the older members at 41, so I can't have got it too drastically wrong!

My thoughts... all just personal opinion of a novice of course...

Training:

1. It's not a race or a non-stop ride. If doing this supported, there are likely to be small breaks to assemble your group at junctions, and a break to snack and refill bottles every 15-20 miles. Get up to doing 30 miles comfortably, then start to factor this into your training. On your shorter training rides, you could try something I did a few times - pick a 5-8 mile loop you like on quiet roads with few junctions to stop at. Ride it at a very comfortable pace, then fast so you are working hard, but not absolutely maximum effort, then at a comfortable pace again to make a 15-25ish mile block.

2. Having a good base for mileage is the priority. You can up your fitness and pace quite rapidly/satisfactorily in the final few weeks of prep with spin class, other HIIT/interval work and threshold training, but you can't fake mileage. Take it pretty easy on your longest training rides in the final 6 weeks. Enjoy them. Saddle time and distance matter most. Get off the bike and have a short break every 20 miles like you will on the ride. Eat lunch on the ride as well as on-bike snacking, as you will during the event. This will invariably be baguette!

3. Every article you see about long rides emphasises nutrition. Don't make yourself reliant on energy gels. They give you indigestion and wind if you're caning them for 4 days straight. Eat bananas, nuts, chocolate, flapjack & jelly babies little & often on long rides - this is what you'll get at the break stops.

4. Riding long on 2 consecutive days in preparation is, IMO, important & building this up gradually in duration will help prevent injuries & discomfort. All but the most prepped riders will be popping pain killers by day 3. People in our group who could do 100 miles at 16mph+ on closed roads still suffered! Taper your training plan significantly in the last week.

5. Pace is very relative to terrain & the way you ride will determine how much rest you get too. The Dover/Calais route contains about 1000ft of climb per 20 miles on average. There were 3 groups on our ride. The faster riders in the slow group did just over 12mph average, measuring only the time spent riding, whilst the slowest were only managing about 11mph. The intermediate group hovered around 12-14mph on bike, the fastest group about 16mph. There will be riders in the wrong group slowing the quicker groups down or waiting around for the rest in slower groups. If you can do the average speed required of you for 2 hours straight, and maybe +15% faster for 1 hour over this terrain, then I think you'll be fine as long as you've put the distance work in as well. Ask the organisers what the target pace is - from what I have read, the likely minimum is 12mph, but I don't feel you need to be able to do 60 miles in 5 hours or 84 in 7. You'll never be on the bike over 2 hours without a bit of a rest. Focus on getting good 1-2 hour pace, plus doing the long mileage at whatever feels comfortable & you'll be fine. Do some hilly rides & really go for it on the climbs, then coast until you get your breath and heart rate back. Get comfortable with the bike hitting 35mph+ going down too. You'll feel much better having smashed it to the top of a big hill & recovered than being the one who plods up in the saddle, brakes on the way down & only gets 30 seconds stop on the next re-group. Because the pace on the flat is steady, you'll get away with being less capable at long flat constant riding at pace if you can go up & down hills fast. Google maps can plan cycling routes and give you total ascent info for free.

Bike & kit:

1. It's a tour, not a race. Get the bike set up comfortably. Seek help if unsure. Do buy a touring saddle and break it in rather than adding gel covers etc... I used a battered and hard-ish old Rolls touring saddle I got from a friend, and had zero discomfort without using creams or ointments other than a blob of E45 cream before bed. More experienced cyclists on racey bikes with standard lightweight seats they came with suffered, I didn't, despite being the biggest and heaviest rider in my group.

2. You need a fresh top & shorts each day, you will not get a set washed & dried in a night. Get proper cycling kit. Mine was mainly Amazon cheapo stuff but worked fine. A riding jacket with removable sleeves is a godsend, I'd take a couple of those (they get stinky too), a pair of leggings & a lightweight single layer waterproof. And FFS ladies, you do not wear knickers under padded shorts, you'll just trap sweat on your skin & suffer.

3. Clipless pedals - do yourself a favour... use the MTB pedals which are flat on one side & and buy MTB shoes with recessed cleats. Note: every one of the highly experienced guides on our trip did. Road pedals with 3 bolt cleats are a massive pain in the ass in Paris especially, not to mention an injury risk walking on polished or tiled floors in shops, hotels etc... when you slip on the hard plastic cleats. If you hate this idea, either use toe clips (if you hate being clipped in), or take a pair of basic plastic flat pedals and swap them over for the road clipless pedals & put trainers on at lunch on the last day. There are lights every 100-200m in central Paris... Thank me later!

4. Gearing... there were some sustained climbs of 6-10% and some short ones at 12-14% on our route. You need to practice some like this on your training rides & get a feel for the gears. I rode a tourer with a 48-38-26 crankset and a 11-32 cassette. I had shorter gears than I needed available. Most light road bikes seem to feature a 50/34 compact crank, and a 25-28 tooth biggest rear cog. For fairly novice riders, the lowest gear option is still going to be too long to be comfortable on the biggest hills, especially if not a 28, but you do not need the 11 or 12 tooth small gear on the 50 tooth big ring at all - standard roadie bikes are over-geared for this trip. I occasionally used the 48/11 option on my bike when pedalling really slowly on shallow declines and only used it properly when we had 8-9 miles to go as fast as we liked to lunch & I opted to go flat out & have a longer break. If I was going to do this ride on my lighter road bike at current fitness levels, I would drop the gearing. The current 50/34 crank and 26-11 cassette would be horrible on the big hills with tired legs. I would ideally want 1:1 shortest gear, which is readily achievable playing with cassettes, cranksets, or both.

5. Bike... fatter tyres with lower pressures are more comfortable, and roll better. My heavy (13kg) tourer on 32mm tyres is less effort on the flat +/- 2-3% slopes at touring speed than my light (7kg) road bike on 23mm tyres as it loses speed much less quickly if you freewheel a bit. You absolutely do want drop handlebars, not for streamlining, but because they offer the opportunity to move the angle of your back & shoulders. Practice riding on the drops, tops, and flats and moving backwards and forwards on the saddle a bit.

Lots of modern road bikes can take fatter tyres than the older ones, so my "perfect" bike for this if I was buying one to do it again next week would be a light road bike with 30-32mm tyres, MTB pedals, a touring saddle, a 50/34 crank, and a 34-11 cassette - some endurance focussed bikes now come built to this spec minus seat & pedals. 2 bottles is a must, decent frame & seat bags are a godsend.

As a novice, I found it tough but achievable & I reckon you need maybe 10 weeks training after you get to the point you can ride 25 miles non-stop.

I really struggled to find good advice on prepping for this, so thought it was worth giving some. All just my opinions as a novice & not gospel at all.
 
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