If you’re on Twitter and follow various pro cyclists you might have noticed quite a few “back to work” messages in the past couple of weeks. Riders have had their time off and it there is no racing until the Tour Down Under in mid-January, there’s plenty of training to be done.
“Cardiologist, podiatrist, dentist, Nalini, Medilast, meeting, medical exam, anti-doping control, Fizik, now a breather with a visit to Olympique Lyonnais”
That’s a day in the life of Luis Ángel Maté at the Cofidis training camp in Lyon, France’s second city. Note there’s no riding. Instead this is a chance for checks and admin, marketing and measurements. Nalini is the clothing supplier and riders get measured for their kit, there is no S, M or L, instead the clothing is measured like a tailor-made suit. After all these companies want their kit to look good and ensuring it hangs right on a pro is part of this. Talking of jerseys, we should see the new Cofidis jersey unveiled.
If Cofidis get new jerseys, the same issue is more urgent for Europcar. Currently enjoying a week on the French island of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean, someone has stolen their team clothing. The plan for the week is to ride a bit but also for team building but a few boosted jerseys shouldn’t matter give the warm climate. Their rider Yohann Gène is from the island.
Ag2r-La Mondiale though need warm clothes. They are in Montgenevre, a ski resort high in the French Alps by the Italian border. Team building exercises are the order of the day and yesterday saw them tackle an orienteering course. Interestingly they were put into small groups to run together and it was a sprinters’ team that won, with Anthony Ravard, Lloyd Mondory, Jimmy Casper, Sébastien Minard et Boris Shpilevsky being made to work together already.
Some aspects are less fun. Riders get information on the various products and services linked to the team. Rightly so since they are mini-ambassadors for their sponsors but sitting in a class for a lecture on your sponsor’s corporate values probably isn’t why you took out a racing licence. But it’s important that all riders know who they work for.
As well as admin and team building, Garmin-Cervélo are having a “meet the public” session in Boulder, Colorado, making their camp a moment to present the team for 2012 and to build bonds with the fans as well as to get some media coverage.
FDJ’s influential team coach Fred Grappe gave a good interview with French website cyclismactu where he sets out the role of the pre-season camp in his typical methodical style:
“The camps, according to the the time of year, are completely different. Those in winter are the only ones where we have practically all the team’s riders because there are no races and they are available. The fist camp includes a large proportion of admin with some “training” tagged on. In December it’s 70% admin and 30% training… …The pre-season camps are an essential ritual for the riders to ride together, to meet up, to know the coaches, the support staff… …Later in the year we can put in place specific mini-camps with particular riders in defined places, in the mountains for example. But it’s only in December that we see everyone together.”
As Grappe suggests, a team rarely gets together in one place. Riders are doing different races, support staff are in the service course. If a team is to work as a team then such gatherings are vital.
Finally it is also a chance to plan for the future. Riders and management will discuss target races and goals for the upcoming season, laying down plans for the season that awaits.
If I’ve covered mainly the French teams it is because they are having their pre-season camps right now. Others come later, for example we will be treated to images of the Liquigas squad frolicking in the snow on the Stelvio Pass at the end of the month.
EDIT: one thing I meant to add but forgot was the initiation ceremonies. Like all tribes and groups, some form of ritual is common when someone enters the group. Maybe at your work this means buying colleagues a drink but in France the practice of bizutage can be a lot more serious with university students being forced to leap out of windows or even carving letters in someone’s skin. Thankfully cycling teams are not so bad but pranks and rituals for the newcomers are common. A lap of the hotel car park butt-naked or being forced to stand on the table at dinner time and sing a song out loud are more usual things.
There are 60 days until the World Tour begins and it is back to work for most pro teams now. Training matters but the pre-season camps are often more about admin and bonding rather than riding and training.