Dame Sarah Storey offers valuable training advice to conquer long rides

Dame Sarah Storey DBE certainly knows a thing or two about cycling. She is a multiple gold medal Paralympic champion and ambassador for the Marie Curie Cancer Care Etape Series. Of the events taking place this year; Etape Mercia on18 August, is a fantastic entry level sportive offering 69 miles of safe, closed roads in the scenic West Cheshire. While the beautiful but brutal 78 mile Etape Pennines, County Durham on 6 October, is hailed as one of the toughest sportives in the UK.

Dame Sarah Storey offers valuable advice to all levels of riders and explains how to improve pacing and climbing technique, increase pedalling speed and motivation, as well as cycling in the heat and what to eat and drink on those long rides. It is sound advice for those interested in taking part in one or all of the Etape Series events.

Watch the video of Dame Sarah Storey sampling the Etape Mercia route here. Participants can enter at www.etapemercia.co.uk and www.etapepennines.co.uk Entry is A?63, although free charity pledge places are available to those willing to raise A?250 for Marie Curie Cancer Care, the events charity partner. The money raised will enable the charity to provide more free, hands-on nursing care to people with terminal illness either at home, or in one of the charitys nine hospices, while giving their families emotional and practical support. With strong links to charity partners, the Etape Series has also been instrumental in encouraging participants to raise well in excess of A?1.5million over its seven year history.

Dame Sarah Storey says: Im so excited to see interest building in the Etape Series. I was up on the Etape Mercia route recently and it really is spectacular. It is a mass-participation event, its non-competitive, and people will have their own little personal goals that they will want to achieve and thats perfect. It is what sport is about – doing the best you can and enjoying yourself in the process.

More top tips and updates can also be followed on Facebook at EtapeSeries or on Twitter, using @etapeseries and the hashtag #Bethefirst.

Pedalling speed

Increase you pedalling speed by using your legs like pistons, picking up the revs as you do. Pedal in a smooth circle and remember the upstroke rather than stamping down on the pedal. Keep the body relaxed and dont waste energy on a tense upper body. Copy the fluid technique of the pros, such as those at the Tour de France. If youre on a turbo, use a mirror so you can see your foot and body position and pedalling action to check youre making the changes you want.


Research the climb before the big day to get your technique and gear ratios right. Gradually click down the gears as the climb starts. The mistake would be to just stay in a harder gear and lower your cadence, or go straight to the easiest gear and spin too much. Staying in the saddle during a climb preserves energy. Save the out-the-saddle bursts for any shorter steeper sections. Keep your upper body as relaxed and still as possible and the hips as parallel to the floor as you can. All the movement you make from hips and above, either side-to-side or bobbing, is wasted energy


Even at the Tour De France there is speculation. Have they gone out too quickly? Have they started slow to ride back later? My pacing advice is practice makes perfect and this is true of any sport.

Use training rides of the appropriate length as practice. Use loops of a circuit near home where there is a bonking chance and practice pushing on. On a familiar circuit, you will be less nervous about pushing hard and then having to ride home with little energy left. It’s easier to build through a ride than finish with no energy, so you can always up the pace 20k from home and see if that helps you finish strong but tired. Finished with too much energy? Start out quicker or build your effort further from the finish. Learn about your body, how it performs and what works. Dont worry about other peoples pacing strategies, everyone is different.

Look for the cues and signs you need to be aware of to maintain a positive feeding strategy. Keep track of how often you are feeding. If you bonk then you need to eat earlier and more frequently. Experiment with food and drink – gels may be good for some but jam sandwiches better for others. Use a speedo and try riding quicker/slower depending on the outcomes of previous rides. Keep a record of your experimental rides too so you can remind yourself of what works best when you ride your next sportive.


So youve hit the wall but need to push on through. How do you focus and get through the pain?

I use the pain as motivation in training; I do think I actually enjoy it! I tell myself that my rivals won’t be pushing this hard and so Im gaining the advantage. I think about how much good it is doing me physically. Its like topping up money in the bank ready for race day, so you have more reserves to spend when you need it.

Each build up race or key training day is step towards your end goal. For me, every moment of getting through the pain barrier last year was about winning in London 2012. Ultimately, as athletes we are working towards goals that will give us the chance to prove ourselves. You are improving physically as a cyclist and beating your own previous best. That is the key to every athletes personal motivation. Having that intrinsic knowledge is a very powerful tool and will help you in all areas of your life not just sporting challenges.

What to eat and drink

Its a subject that many sportive riders get concerned about and if you get your strategy wrong, your whole ride can be ruined. Fuelling for a long ride takes good planning. On the night before eat plenty of slow-release carbohydrates pasta, rice, etc. That morning, have a good breakfast, such as porridge or another slow-release carbohydrate cereal. Ensure you have plenty of food for your ride or know where you can stop to buy good quality fuel to minimise your load.

On a long ride you can never start eating too soon. Start nibbling from the first half hour and make sure you don’t go longer than 30 minutes without taking at least a small snack. My personal favourites are brioche with jam, cereal bars, bananas and specially formulated energy bars which are effective and there are lots on the market to choose from. Your fluid intake is also very important and it should contain some carbohydrate too. Keep eating and drinking throughout your ride with the general rule of thumb that you need to do so before you feel hungry or thirsty.

Try out different nutrition strategies in training because everybody reacts differently. Once you’ve found a strategy that works, dont change it on the day of your event. That way youll be confident of finishing without running out of fuel.

Cycling in hot weather

It takes a bit of preparation to cycle in the heat but you can gradually acclimatise by following some simple steps.

Try and ride during the morning before the sun gets high. Early evening can be just as hot as midday as the heat has had all day to reflect off the road and the air temperature doesn’t reduce much until after sunset.

Start out well-hydrated and cool. Put drinks bottles in the freezer beforehand and use your jersey pocket for an extra drinks bottle. Your fluid intake needs to be significantly higher than on cooler days. A rough method of calculation is to weigh yourself before your ride and then again immediately after. If your weight remains stable you drank enough, but for every 0.5kg you lost you need to drink 500ml extra of fluid during your ride. Of course, the longer the ride the more fluid needed so take enough, as well as money in case you need to stop for more.

Eat often as your energy levels are depleted quicker as your body works hard to stay cool.Gels are good as they contain fluid but eat whatever is easily digestible – your stomach is already dealing with your extra fluid consumption.

Your clothing and helmet are important in keeping yourself cool. Forgo the undervest and make sure your helmet has plenty of vents in it. Wear the lightest weight jersey you can and keep it unzipped a bit to keep the air circulating. (Think Tommy Voekler!)

Burnt skin doesn’t sweat as well and so wear a high SPF sun cream. Keep it extra cool in the fridge and leave it to soak in before the ride to prevent it slipping straight off.

Recovery is important at the end of a ride. If you are struggling to cool down, leave a wet towel in a bag in the freezer and apply it to the back of your neck when you get home. Stick your feet in a bucket of cold water and you should feel better in no time. Finally, don’t worry if you are sweating as this is a good sign that your body is keeping you cool. The more you sweat the better!