When it comes to cycling goals, they don’t tend to come bigger than riding the Tour de France, or at least the Tour de France route. For some, it’s hard to know where to even begin your training for a race of that calibre, but Wattbiker Andrew Hayton did it all on his Wattbike Atom. We caught up with him on one of his rest days to find out exactly how he did it.
What got you into cycling?
"I used to play Sunday league football - badly - and obviously, as I got older I started to pick up lots of knocks and niggles so instead of doing a football tour one year I decided to do a cycle ride over five days. I really enjoyed it, so each year I’ve been building on my cycling and going a little bit further."
Tell us about your cycling challenges?
"A couple of years ago, after I did RideLondon, the idea of riding 100 miles in a day once a year was a big challenge. When I realised that actually, it was more than possible I started looking for my next challenge and decided that I wanted to get better at riding up hills. I remembered someone mentioning Le Loop, which used to be called Tour de Force, and they said it was really good. Le Loop is operated by the William Wates Memorial Trust, so we all ride for the charity."
Why did you pick the Wattbike to train on?
"Once I signed up to Le Loop [an organised ride that follows that year’s Tour de France route] last year, I realised that this was a little bit harder than what I had been doing, so I needed to start my training much earlier in the year and carry it on throughout the winter. I saw on social media that the Wattbike Atom was being launched so I went to try it at The Cycle Show. I was sold instantly. I'm quite an analytical person; and I liked having the watts and heartrate zones [in front of you]. It allows you to do structured workouts when you don't have time to do an outdoor ride, so you can be a lot more effective with your training. "
What apps do you use when you’re training indoors?
"Zwift is very useful if I want to do an endurance ride in the middle of winter and the weather doesn't allow me go out. I also use PerfPro studio which allows individual sessions to be programmed into it, and the Wattbike Hub for the FTP testing and hill climbs, as I can't simulate them in Lincolnshire!"
How did your Wattbike data help you with your training?
"Initially, it gave me an indication as to where I was in terms of fitness, and it was quite motivating to be able to see your average power going up. I also use a power meter on my road bike now. To have the numbers available is quite a motivating factor - you know exactly where you are and you can see yourself improving week after week."
What sort of sessions on the Atom did you use to train?
"It was a real mixture. The event is endurance based, but when I'm short of time I like to throw in some high-intensity sessions, so I'll do some V02 max sessions and threshold sessions. The Wattbike is exceptional and the shorter sessions make it time-effective."
How long have you been preparing in order to take on all the stages?
"I picked up a football injury earlier in the year, so I didn't really start preparing until January. Before then I’d been training up until November, keeping the hours going after Ride London."
How are you finding the tour route so far?
"It’s absolutely fantastic. Full medicals, sports massages, riding it with so many other riders - it’s a great experience. By having so many people out here it’s a very supportive arena, so if you’re having a bad day there's usually someone to help you out and keep you going. Compared to the pros we’re probably half as fast, and we have to stop at junctions, but going out on the track is fantastic. I don’t think there's been a single day where there hasn’t been a silly smirk on my face. There’s been some truly stunning scenery. There’s so much variation in what you get to see as well, it’s so motivating when you can actually enjoy looking around."
What’s been your favourite stage so far?
"Probably stage six. On paper that was the toughest stage, close to 4,000 metres of climbing over 100 miles and you finish with a couple of insanely steep climbs. To actually still have some energy left in your legs to get up to the top is truly amazing, but the people around you help you get up."
What’s been the hardest challenge?
"There have obviously been a few moments along the way when you’re a little bit tired. Sometimes it's the bits you don’t expect that throw you out. On day eight, another fantastic day, we had over 3800m climbing over 250 miles, which was fine and didn’t phase me, whereas yesterday, we had a little section on the main road where I was feeling a bit low on energy.
Riding on my own on that section was a little bit tougher, but once someone came along and gave me a little towing it was back to normal again. The cobbles on stage one were really tough. I’m still a little bit sore. We actually got a bonus set of cobbles that the pros didn't get because there was a diversion. The cobbles were probably the toughest bit that I didn't really expect. I knew they were there but they were more vicious than I thought they would be."
What’s next for you?
"If I'm being honest, I don’t know. My full concentration is just on this. Ideally I’d like to keep the level of fitness of where I’m at now - I'm getting fitter every day so I’d like to maintain it. I’ll do things with the cycling club I joined last year, but in terms of actual challenges, I'm not sure. I’d probably like to do it again, it is so good people always come back."
What words of advice do you have for motivating yourself to train indoors?
"It’s easier when you have an event lined up. This motivated me to jump on the bike even when I didn't feel like it. Training indoors allows you to get so much further outdoors. You start your training much earlier in the year, carry it on throughout the year and it means it’s possible to do any challenge you set your mind to. There isn't anything much bigger than the Tour de France. If someone like me, who is in no way a natural athlete, (until a couple of years ago I wouldn’t even call myself a cyclist) to do the Tour de France after training on the Wattbike, I don’t think there’s a cycling challenge you couldn’t do."
You can also help Andy raise money for the William Wates memorial trust here.