Having asked for your questions about the sport, one subject that came up was the timely subject of team training camps. I’ve covered the pre-season training camps and to summarise these are often more about logistics and team building than anything else, where riders and staff get issued their clothing and measured for bikes and maybe do a survival course or other team-building exercises.
But right now many teams are gathering to ride together ahead of the upcoming season. Some of course have been racing in Australia but in recent weeks most European teams have been assembling in Spain and Italy to ride together. Here’s a look at what’s involved.
Teams head in search of the sunshine and Spain is the most popular destination because of its mild weather at this time of year but note Spain as a nation includes islands like Majorca and Tenerife. Some French squads opt for domestic resorts on the Mediterranean coast, the Italian teams do the same, for example FDJ-BigMat have been riding in Corsica and Lampre-ISD have been riding along the Tuscan coast.
But what use is a group ride like this? Well a first explanation is that it is very photogenic, teams stage these rides with photographers invited to follow, often snapping out of the back of a team vehicle. So what you see is often the most staged part of the week, it’s a perfect image of team harmony and strength in numbers.
Many riders have been training solo for some time and joining the group allows for more rhythm and helps regain the habit of following a wheel. And this is also a chance for some long rides, many have been logging six or more hours on the bike.
What you don’t see so much of is the structured work. Riders on the team have different objectives and varied race programmes. Those wanting to be fit for the spring classics in March and April will be doing higher intensity work whilst others with longer range objectives will be easing back. A six hour ride can be broken down into phases, it is not usually just a long loop. There are specific drills to practice, for example Team Sky have been practising their leadouts for Mark Cavendish, the technique of creating a successful sprint train. I sometimes thought the Sky train often hit the front too early last year, the world champion will want this fixed for 2012.
Climbers will also be working on their technique, doing uphill tests under supervision of the coaching staff, for example doing a timed climb with specific efforts or cadence. The time trial specialists will be doing their drills too, testing equipment like new bikes and clothing whilst doing short solo efforts.
There’s also other work like core training, stretching and yoga. Team doctors can check who is healthy and weigh or skinfold test all the riders. Oddly… or cleverly Radioshack-Nissan practised cornering basics. Plus there’s media work, for example filming clips with sponsors and the press are invited to attend and do interviews. There is also off-the-bike work of a different kind as riders get to mix and socialise, forming bonds for the season. These are the relaxed times before the pressure of racing and travelling start.
At the professional level cycling is very much a team sport. But for much of the year riders are training on their own. These early season training camps are a chance for most of the team to get together. We see the images of large group rides but often the cameras don’t show the more structured rides.