The first thing I do after signing up for a big event is figure out my training program. Coach Rob long ago sent me my Etape program on a spreadsheet that I now just use as a template. Rob, if you have an updated version, I’m ready for an upgrade!
My personal view on training programs is that they work. What doesn’t work sometimes are the riders who use them. People can spend far too much time finding the perfect one for them, then only implement half of what they put together anyway. Training programs work only when you follow them. That said, different challenges require different training goals; training for a one-hour crit will be vastly different from training for a seven-hour Etape du Tour.
If I understand these things at all, what you should do is determine the kind(s) of effort you’ll be making most during your event and train those zones most. For example, an Etape du Tour will have you climbing a lot, probably for 5 or more hours. The ‘zone’ you should train in is that which corresponds to the effort it takes to ride for 5 or more hours and still be able to finish the race. But it’s not that simple, of course, and you need to build strength and increase your endurance power during your training, which entails training in higher zones. You might also need to hold onto a group for a short period of time in the race, which could put you in the red. If you have no experience of ‘the red’, you will be dropped like a bad habit very quickly. I speak from experience.
Which brings us to the Tour du Mont Blanc. It seems that my training goals for this event are going to be pretty specific. Because it is an ‘ultra’ event, the physical demands are different from even a Marmotte (177 km, 5000 m), meaning you should not enter even zone 3 much (tempo) during the interminably long day on the bike. If I’m lucky and fit, it will take me 15 to 18 hours, which is getting close to double what it took me to do the Marmotte Alps and Pyrenees (the distance is less than double, but the body will just get slower and slower as the day goes by).
So, although there’s a little bit of other ‘zones’ thrown in, the training program is quite simple: emphasis on long rides at a reasonable pace (zone 2). In fact, in the later stages of the program, there may be weeks when I do two massive rides (up to 10 hours each) and not much else at all. Of course these miles have to include climbs. The total hours on the bike are not anything bigger than what I’ve done for Haute Route, but the type of riding will be different.
The good news is that I have 6 months or so to figure out how to amuse myself on the bike for 10 hours.