This time last year Cycling Plus magazine recruited three readers to a very special project. Laura Cook, Murray Cox and Les Pegler won a money-can’t-buy competition to train towards the world’s biggest bike ride, L’Etape du Tour. To help them on their way, they were given the keys to the castle in terms of the bikes, kit and expertise at their disposal.
They had such a good time that a new batch of riders are aiming for the same event this year on 21 July – with the odd new wildcard along the way, including a tilt at Britain’s toughest sportive, the Fred Whitton Challenge (an event many will agree is tougher than the Etape itself).
The riders. Nick Mayer, Marie-Louise Kertzman and Michael Rammell, alongside Cycling Plus’s own Adrian Miles, headed out to Alpecin HQ in Bielefeld, Germany in March to meet each other and the other riders from across Europe (and, for the first time, the USA) that comprise Team Alpecin.
The shampoo company has been back in the pro cycling scene for several years now as the sponsor of Katusha-Alpecin, but wind back to the mid-2000s and it, along with the majority of German companies, was quitting the sport in response to the Operación Puerto doping scandal that brought down German favourite Jan Ullrich, among many others.
With the pro game off limits for the foreseeable, Alpecin decided to support amateur riders instead, creating Team Alpecin – now in its 13th season.
No cycling was done in anger in Bielefeld, but the meet-and-greet served to dial in the basics that would send them on their way to the Etape, including a bike fit to their Canyon bikes and fitness tests that will serve as the basis for their personalised training plans.
Over the next six parts we’ll follow the trials and tribulations of our trio as they take aim at pre-Etape events including the Fred and Schleck Gran Fondo and work hard to iron out the weaknesses that stand in their way of Etape glory.
The Team Alpecin Kit
The team will be loaned a Canyon Endurace CF SLX with SRAM eTap AXS 12-speed groupset, and Zipp Course 30 wheels fitted with Continental Grand Prix 5000 tyres.
Team Alpecin kit is supplied by Katusha, with on-bike kit including Northwave Extreme Pro shoes, Abus Aero / Airbreaker helmets, Oakley Radar / Jawbreaker sunglasses, and Wahoo ELEMNT Bolt computer and Core Trainer.
Recovery is taken care of by PowerDot (electro muscular recovery stimulator), Blackroll (foam rollers) and Squeezy (nutrition). The team will be guided by former pro Jörg Ludewig and coach Florian Geyer.
Name: Michael Rammell
A rediscovered love of cycling opened the door to a mountainous opportunity
“As a kid I was a keen mountain biker, throwing a leg over trail and downhill bikes. My enthusiasm was always far greater than my skills. Through my late teens and 20s I went over a decade without touching a bike, but got back in the saddle after the birth of my daughter.
“We lived just a few miles away from my office and it felt very wrong to be making the commute in my family car, particularly given I’d topped 100 kilograms.
“I got back on the bike and three years later I’m fitter and stronger than ever and I kick myself for not having discovered the road bike sooner.
“I’m now eight miles from the office, but I never take the direct route, instead choosing the scenic routes between Ascot and Windsor, roughly 20 miles each way. On the days I have to take the car, it puts me in a grumpy mood.
“Why did I apply? I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking how much faster the professionals are and I think, ‘If only I had the same support to train like that?’ One year to focus all my efforts to achieve my maximum potential on the bike. Team Alpecin was an amazing opportunity, which I was compelled to enter.
“Pacing is my weakness. Living in the flatlands of Berkshire I can’t resist the urge to go as fast as possible. I’ve never ridden mountains like those of the Etape. My longest climb barely ever touches 15 minutes, so tackling a 30km climb makes me dread the worst. I want to learn how to push myself hard without always tipping over the precipice.”
Name: Marie-Louise Kertzman
One rider who’s focussing on the descent, not the ascent…
“For the past couple of years I’ve been getting stuck into short course triathlon, so a 135km mountain sportive will be quite a jump. I still enjoy triathlon, it’s just that I wanted something bigger to set my sights on.
“In January I saw the Alpecin competition was open and it was exactly the opportunity I wanted. It’s just that it’s a chasm from entering a competition and an email dropping into your inbox notifying you that you’ve been successful. Incredible!
“I want to push beyond the limits I have previously set myself and show other young women that cycling is a great thing to be involved in. When I think back to the self-conscious teenager who was afraid of endurance sports she wouldn’t recognise the person I’ve become, taking on the biggest amateur bike events in the world.
“If you asked for three things that I want to improve as a Team Alpecin member I would say, in no particular order, descending, descending and descending. It’s my biggest weakness by far.
“There’s a running joke among friends that I climb as fast as I fall – I lack both confidence and technique. I tend to shy away from taking the bend aggressively enough, as well as having a chronically overactive imagination about the bad things that might befall me every time I head downhill. I imagine all sorts of scenarios that make me hit the brakes when I don’t need to.
“By improving my descending, I’ll be able to enjoy the fruits of my labours when it comes to climbing, because the way I attack a climb is in complete contrast to the way I hesitate on descents.”
Name: Nick Mayer
Chasing the thrill of cycling and sampling life as a pro
“In January 2006, I moved to New York City for a new job. Four months and more pizza slices than was healthy later, it was high time to shed the two stone I had piled on. I began riding around the West Side Highway and Central Park to get fit and explore my adopted home. It was such a social sport, too, and it helped me settle in.
“Years later, I moved back to London and got a place on the first RideLondon-Surrey sportive. Ever since, I’ve been well and truly bitten by the cycling bug.
“I’m a big fan of Cycling Plus and I’d followed the 2018 Team Alpecin riders closely. I’ll be honest, there were more than a few pangs of jealousy – it sounded like a dream. I’m a cycling fanatic and the prize was essentially the whole package I needed to move my cycling up a notch or two.
“My job is with the London Ambulance Service, which involves long, 12-hour shifts and I want to show that even with such a busy work life it’s possible to find the time to train for such tough events.
“Also, I turn 40 next year and my only regret is that I wish I’d discovered the thrill of cycling earlier in life. This is the closest I’ll ever get to being a pro rider and I fully intend to make the most of this fantastic opportunity I’ve been given.
“In terms of weaknesses, I’ve never done structured training of any sort. I don’t ride to heart rate or power or anything like that, so following a plan and tracking improvements is a step into the unknown. I want to improve my riding, but ensuring I don’t lose the things I love about being on the bike in the process.”
We’ll be bringing you updates on how the Team Alpecin riders are getting on ahead of the big event later this month, so stay tuned.