Alpe D’Huez Triathlon, July 30 2020
2.2 km swim, 118 km bike, 20 km run
A long distance course and unique location, the Alpe D’Huez triathlon stands on its own as one of the legendary races in the annual calendar. Top professionals, as well as age-groupers, flock to the mountain to compete every year, with four-time Ironman World Champion Daniela Ryf winning last year in six hours and fifteen minutes.
Set in the middle of the French Alps, it’s as stunning as it is tough. Competitors get off to a mass start swim in Lac du Verney, in the valley of the great mountains, before attacking the famous 21 switchbacks of Alpe d’Huez on the 118 km bike. After 3,200m of ascent, the race finishes off on the run course, which sits at 1,800m altitude – more than enough to take your breath away.
Tour de France fans will remember Lance Armstrong and Marco Pantani flying up the Alp in all but 39 minutes during one of the most brutal stages of them all. On the flip side, triathletes’ lasting memory of the race will be the run: tackling the final 20km of the day by foot, straight off what is effectively a Tour de France bike stage, is a feeling you just can’t forget.
This is a true bucket list triathlon. Here are six ways to prepare:
1/ Start training six months before
While the race is in July, to prepare effectively, you’ll need to move through a number of training cycles, focusing on improving endurance, strength and recovery. To compete in the high mountains at altitude requires specific conditioning, strength and skills which are above and beyond a standard triathlon preparation.
2/ Attend an altitude training camp
Getting your body used to training at altitude, particularly if you have never been skiing or hiking in the high mountains, is essential. Every individual handles altitude differently, but generally speaking, effects will include a shortage of breath when exercising and less effective recovery.
By exposing yourself to moderate altitude and training (between 1,000m and 3,000m) that you can gauge how your race day may be affected. Usually it will take athletes a week to start acclimating to altitude, with their body producing a higher count of red blood cells, but top athletes will spend up to a month in the mountains at a time.
Consider joining our June Triathlon Europe Alpe d’Huez training week, which will be situated at altitude and specifically cover key performance areas to perform well at Alpe d’Huez Triathlon. The camp will be coached by Fiona Ford, and you can find more details HERE – June 2020 Alpe D’Huez Training Week
3/ Develop a strong aerobic engine
Effectively employing targeted endurance training will help you immensely on the day. Relying on mostly glycogen driven energy systems might be ok in a sprint or Olympic distance triathlon, but is a category A mistake for this event.
Ensure the majority of your bike training is below threshold with controlled pieces at tempo, in order to shift the lactate curve to the right and allow you to compete in events lasting 4+ hours.
Get ready for the 21 switchbacks by practising sustained climbing to increase functional muscular strength and get used to working with gear tension on the indoor trainer, along with developing efficiency across a range of cadence values. These two strategies for the bike to assist in ascending HC (beyond categorisation) mountains.
As you get closer to race date, gradually increase the amount of work you do at threshold, building up to the duration you’ll need to climb Alpe D’Huez (a well conditioned amateur cyclist would top it in 50+ minutes). Do this more for the short course race but sparingly if preparing for the long-course race, as you will need to be sub-threshold for much of the day over a number of alpine passes.
4) Hone your open water skills
The mass swim start in this triathlon means you’ll need to get comfortable dealing with the lactate of a high pressure start, drafting effectively, working with a range of breathing patterns and integrating sighting.
Identify a good land-based warm-up which you can do before the race begins to raise your core temperature if you are of light build. The hydro-electric dam is incredibly cold, due to its depth – despite the electricity generating turbines being switched off for the day. This body of water is entirely glacial as well as being deep, so ensure you are fully warmed up before zipping into your wetsuit.
5) Running strength is key
Running strength, skill and coordination over undulating and rough ground will make or break your day, as the run off the bike is essentially over ski trails. If you live at sea level, try to include lots of hill training to help deal with the higher workload required when running at 2,000m over undulating hilly terrain.
Schedule in a training block at altitude where you can run at this elevation. This is a crucial element to prepare for, as your body will take time to get used to adapting its pace to match less oxygen intake, adjusted heart rate values and the difference in pacing. Lastly – invest in light, grippy trail shoes
6) Train your gut
Fuelling is an incredibly important part of the day, so you’ll need to be able to take on energy drinks (fluids, electrolytes and carbs) as well as small amounts of fuel (like bite size snacks of choice).
If possible, try and source the products the race provides to save carrying unnecessary weight up those mountains during the race. If you have your own specialised nutrition, you will have to carry all of it! If your body adapts well to race-issue products in training, then you have saved yourself a lot of extra hassle and a much lighter set up for climbing high mountains.
Future Ironmen, cycling nuts and Tour de France fans.
Sign up for the race at alpetriathlon.com
Prepare for the event by training at altitude and on the course – book your place on Triathlon Europe French Alps training camp here – June 2020