Tips and advices by Erik Merino (4th in 2016) for the Long Distance Triathlon

Erik Merino tells us everything about the Alpe d'Huez Triathlon Long Distance Race.

You needed a good chronicle of Triathlon EDF Alpe d'Huez and you were looking for good tips for the main objective of your season? Our good friend and top Spanish athlete Erik Merino, 4th on the long distance last year, shared his experience in Planetatriatlon.com, and describe the bike loop in detail. Useful and inspiring! Thanks Erik... We tried to translate you as good as possible. (PHOTOS : LAURENT SALINO)

"To race this triathlon, in particular its cycling and running courses, it is important to make a specific preparation, adapted to the field. It is recommended to schedule trainings with passes ("true" passes about 10-12km long with a 6 % average gradient at least). If you don't have the chance to live in a mountainous region, use as much as possible the toughest climbs you have around. It is also important to familiarize you with the experiment of a 4 hours ride: with an adequate nutrition, a constant rhythm, a work in downhill and trajectories, and pain... It will be necessary to manage interval training adapted to your level and to your objectives the race day. Work the pace in ascent and add a good work of strength.

For the running, it is necessary to take into account that we run on asphalt and on trail with some stones. It is important to get used to both surfaces and to run with gradient. You'll have to take advantage of the slowness in the descents and learn to maintain the good rhythm at the convenient moment. A good hydration is essential on this sector, and place some small objectives during the run so that the 22kms divided in 3 laps of 7km at 1800 meters high do not seem so hard.

The race step by step

When you just get out of the cold waters of the Verney's Lake (let us specify that these last years the temperature was rather generous and we were able to swim correctly, even if there's always some triathlete who needs assistance with hypothermia), the transition is pretty fast and direct, well protected by a carpet up to the park. At this moment, we shall run at 1000 pulsations/min to arrive as quickly as possible at our bike. When all the material is ready, the real triathlon begins.

The cycle course is long of 120km and includes 3 passes with a final positive uneven of 3000 meters. It begins as soon as we get on the saddle, with a 150 meters ramp at 10-12 %... A good warm-up, as you can imagine. Pay attention to adjust well your shoes, before or after this short climb. You should make a plan to avoid losing time here. During some kms we ride along the Lake, and we can observe the triathletes who still swim on the right side. At the 4th km, we find 2 important bends in the dam downhill. It is necessary to pay attention if the ground is wet. From there and until Alpe du Grand Serre (1375m, the first pass), we have 30km of light downhill on wide roads where the main difficulty is to avoid the rumble strips in the villages we cross. Remember that the traffic is opened and it is important to circulate on your right and to be respectful with the drafting. You'll have to find your pace on this sector which warms us gradually. The first pass of the day is long of 14,94km with 6 % of gradient average. It is the longest but also the most regular difficulty of the day. The positive aspect of this climb: the road is in the shade, sheltered by trees. We go out of the forest only during the last km. It allows us to discover the surround (a valley at the bottom of the ski tracks of Alpe du Grand Serre station). The first aid station is at the top before a short but intense downhill with some sudden bends where we arrive with a high speed (up to 75km / hour). After some kms of descent, a sector of small hills and downhills starts up to the following pass (it's the new itinerary since 2016). It is a climb of 3 or 4 km at 5-7 % and it's quite easy (zone of Valbonnais). Once at the top the flatest segment of all the race consists in a 20km road slightly descending to reach the Ornon's past. If you have time have a look on your left: you will discover a spectacular landscape with an impressive mountain, a magnificent forest and waterfalls which fall on the stone.

Ornon is a very progressive climb with an easy beginning during the first kms, but with some strength you could do it with the big chainring, and aerodynamic position. It is only at the 5th km of the summit when the difficulty begins and the slope is regular at 8 %. Once at the top (1371m) we find a big aid station before a long downhill, technical, fast and dangerous up to the Oisans valley. Another flat segment of 10km and here we are at the bottom of the last big ascent of the day: Alpe d'Huez. 14km, 21 bends and a gradient average of 8,1 %. The main difficulties: the first 3 kms and the heat. Enjoy the view during the climb because she is worth it, giving you the impression to climb literally the mountain and because every effort makes you rise. The last two kms are tough as well but it is the moment to give everything because ... the transition is every close! The park 2 on the Alpe d'Huez soccer field at 1800m of altitude is nice, practical and well organized.

The first strides after the bike are always hard but on this triathlon it's even worst. We already have 5 hours of race behind at this moment and there is another good part of the job to be done. It's important for everyone to start running according to his own sensations, and not to follow other indications (it's useless here). The body will mark the rhythm and the mental owes it.

Every effort, every movement must be effective. I recommend to complete the first lap smoothly, to recognize the whole lap if it is your first time, and only from this point (if you still have the strength for this, because it is easy to write but the reality is very different) give all that you have and enjoy it ! Not everyday you have the privilege to run in a place like Alpe d'Huez. I am sure that some of you will deeply cursed the race while you compete against this myth and its climbs, but believe me, when you will cross the finishline and you will think about all the efforts realized to get there, it will have been worth it.