The 2013 season is drawing to a close and many riders are looking forward to a break from work with no bike to ride or diet to watch. But like all time off work, it’s never long enough and the new season is not far away. Several teams are already making plans for next year.
Here’s a look at some options for the winter and why the Tour Down Under is the equal of Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Switzerland.
Take BMC Racing who are all heading to Grenchen in Switzerland. More famous for its watch-making – the Breitling factory is there – the town is also home to BMC and team owner Andy Rihs is behind the town’s new velodrome which is also the new home of Swiss Cycling. The pro team will gather for a post-season debrief. The word “team” might be obvious but it’s very rare for a whole squad to meet up during the year, if nine riders are at one race with mechanics, soigneurs, managers and others then you’ve got 21 riders and a large proportion of staff on another race or sitting at home. Last year Team Sky had a big get-together in London complete with fun rituals for newcomers, a tradition called le bizutage in the French teams.
It’s also a chance for more practical tasks like measuring riders for their bikes and kit. Most team-issue bikes have stock frame sizes meaning the adjustment has to be made via stem length/rise and the seatpost. But there are a few exceptions, for example Peter Sagan’s Cannondale is a size 54 but reportedly has the top tube length of a 56cm model. Team kit is often made to measure, it’s important for it to look right during the year and pro cyclists have unusual body shapes that require the right kit. Measurements are taken now and the kit will be made over the coming weeks in time for 1 January when the new stuff appears.
Cyclo-cross was created a means to keep fit over winter but these days there’s not much cross-over. You’ll see a few riders do it for fun but it’s rare for road riders to make it a regular thing. But the exception is FDJ. Team boss Marc Madiot, often a cross man, believes in the benefits such as improved bike handling. Here’s the infamous clip of Bradley Wiggins:
The track was once a big draw over the winter with a big calendar of six-day races. These would allow a paying public to see the stars in action but it’s fading away with events dropping off the calendar and few big name road riders taking part. Smoke-filled velodromes were not good for riders although anti-smoking legislation should have done away with most of this. It’s risky too, ask Stephen Roche who never recovered properly from a crash in late 1985.
There’s talk Mark Cavendish might ride, he needs track work to get points to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics and we’re seeing others like Bryan Coquard and Elia Viviani do the same. But it’s rare. Six day racing was so big that in times past Paris-Nice used to be sold as a six-day race on the road, a means for the trackies to get their road legs back.
CX is also a term used in aerodynamics, the drag coefficient. Some teams will visit a wind tunnel to look for aero gains. Note Chris Froome only visited one for the first time in the spring of this year.
Some sports contracts can stipulate no skiing but several pro cyclists will be waxing down their XC skis. It’s too early now but the likes of Thor Hushovd or Cofidis’ Jérôme Coppel will find the roads blocked by snow and go for a ski workout instead.
For much of the year pro cyclists skirt eating disorders as they try to stay as lean as possible. Now riders can eat what they like. And it’s not just the riders, I know of one case where a pro’s been so determined to avoid temptation that cakes, biscuits, potato chips and other snacks are banned from the house. Consequently his girlfriend can’t eat these things either and she’ll visit friends for a snack instead. Similarly inviting friends over is awkward because the cupboards are bare; things are more normal now.
So far we’ve seen several options for winter. Now time for some certainty. The winner of the Tour Down Under collects as many UCI points as the winner of Paris-Roubaix or the Tour de Suisse.
The Tour Down Under might not be everyone’s preferred race but it’s a valuable opportunity. In fact the relative predictability of the race makes it something teams can train for with specific efforts to match the run-in to a climb and the short effort up Old Willunga Hill where the race is inevitably won. Fitness levels may vary at this time of year but the value of the points on offer do not.
But there’s one race left, the Amstel Curaçao. Ok, it’s a beach party with a bike race attached but the event is open to all. Just fly out to the Caribbean island and you can take part. Luckily the pros have not lost too much condition so they can be sure of winning the race and then there are other events such as a tug-of-war, “kissing” a tame dolphin and the accompanying images.
This year’s event will see Alejandro Valverde take part along with Jan Bakelants, Wout Poels, Pieter Weening and others like Ellen van Dijk for the women’s “race”. Warren Barguil is riding, proof the Frenchman has already made a name for himself. The event is used as clever marketing trick to promote a resort and presumably assures a flow of stick-like oddly tanned Dutch tourists throughout the year.