The early season training camp

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.

16 thoughts on “The early season training camp”

  1. Ya gotta hand it to the new boss’ at RadioSchleck – working on a big weakness right from the start. Don’t much know how Mr. Speedplay qualifies as an expert in cornering, I would think they should have hired ex-Discovery guy, Paolo Savoldelli aka “Falco Bergamasco” to do this, but maybe he’ll come later? They probably don’t want Andy Schleck soiling the chamois of his new team shorts right away. I’m surprised teams don’t come down to Sicily, it’s pretty nice down here right now, rarely do we need more than knickers and long-sleeved jerseys, though of course the locals are bundled up like it could snow any minute! I think it’s nicer here than the Tuscan coast or further south in Terracina. Paolo Tiralongo’s from Siracusa so maybe we’ll see some of the Astana boys on the roads around here?

  2. Richard Bryne (“Mr. Speedplay”) was an excellent criterium and track racer. One of the considerations when he designed his pedals was to maximize cornering angle/clearance, to allow for faster cornering.

  3. Looking at the make up, do you think that the core of the Tour squad is currently in Majorca? Thomas is flicking it for the Olympics, poss Dowsett and Eddy B-H, but those boys have been out there a while now, with Wiggins recently joining and Porte arriving imminently.

  4. Larry T: Basso has been on Etna already this year and I’m not sure about Kreuziger and others at Astana but they’ve used it before.

    Winton: sounds like it, with Rigoberto Uran and Kanstantin Siutsov for the mountains too. There is probably a long list already which will get shorter during the season with performances, form and injuries.

  5. Touriste- thanks for the Mr. Speedplay info, though I doubt the Schlecks are doing any crits or track races, but it’s a start. They oughta get Il Falco and take the boys to a challenging descent and drive them back up after each time they go down until they get the hang of things. I have particular interest here as a) my skills as an ex-pro superbike moto pilot come in handy b) it’s the only part of actually riding the bike I’m any good at. I’ve always cheered the daring descenders like Chiappucci and Pantani as well as Savoldelli and Nibali and can still remember feeling a bit sad during the last Giro that Basso won when Vincenzo had to repeatedly wait for the old man on the descents when he could have easily dropped him – but of course team orders mandated he guide “Grandpa” down. If The Belgian can get the Schlecks to descend well and (more importantly) race well against the clock, he just might be able to get lil’ Andy to that top step on the podium in Paris…though I’ll still be cheering for Evans.

  6. It’s got to be the most envious time of the season for those of us struggling with freezing energy drink in cold icy conditions seeing photo ops of pros gloveless in the sun 🙂

  7. I’ve always been fascinated about teams choosing to base themselves out of Calpe in Spain… mainly because I happened to be in Calpe one January (2001?) for a professional road team to be at the same time. (unfortunately I wasn’t into bikes at the time, so NFI who they were).

    As such, I’ve always wondered, why Calpe, or why any particularly location.

    Ho hum.

  8. Thanks for this information. To me, as someone who has tried to train with teammates, it just seemed to result in the fact that nobody is happy overall with the result. Either it was too hard or too easy for their own specific training purposes. Now, some of this was due to the fact that as amateurs, our schedules in real life would dictate training. Some used the weekends for only long, slow recovery rides, as most intervals were week nights. But for others, they needed the weekends to really hammer it or do some FTP work.

    While there is not the same issue with the pros per-se, there is the issue with the fact that the some riders likely have about a month before Het Volk and the Spring Classics heat up. Now, if I am one of those riders, these team training camps are not exactly going to be as beneficial to me as compared to the rider trying to build form for the Giro as the first major race (as you stated above). But that would, if I were a classics rider, kind of put me off that I am forced to perhaps alter my training plan for photo-ops and longish rides which are not necessarily about building form.

    Finally – whenever watching these teams train along a mountain pass or climb, they are always together. For anyone who has ever done much climbing knows, staying in a group is not easy on a climb….which always makes me wonder (aside from a few photos), whether the climbers and stronger riders feel this is (for media purposes) a waste of a day.

  9. Cat4-in the PHOTOS they’re all together, that’s why the photog snapped the photo. At these “company picnics” they want ONLY photos that glorify the team spirit, show off the new bikes and kit and show everything in a positive light. Any photog that snaps and distributes photos not promoting those issues will not be invited next time and quite often they’re asked to go away when/if things get grim during training. Since most of the folks running these things have many years of experience, they wouldn’t waste the time, money, etc. on them if they weren’t deemed useful for the team.
    While the ONLY thing I share with any pro is that I also pedal something with two wheels, I’ve found camps like this enjoyable and helpful with early season fitness, including the rides I’ve done down here in Sicily so far – when I can find some other guys wanting relaxed paced rides for a couple of hours. Riding along, sharing (in my case trying anyway) conversation, etc. makes those miles roll by in an enjoyable fashion – totally different from solo efforts. The pros who need the extra sharpness for important early season races are RACING already at TdU or now in Argentina, while the rest are still in the training phase of their season, a place where I stay all year!

  10. CAT 4 – back in the days I rode for a GS3 team (lowest ranked pro team). During spring training camps we (about 20 riders) rode 90% together because all you do is getting in the base miles. The stronger guys just lead a little more but it’s all about time in the saddle. Every three days there would be a specific workout where we would do ITTs or SFR (salita forza resistenza, gig gear climbing) and those would be done at the individual’s effort level.

    Amateurs nowadays worry way too much about certain training intensities instead of just going out and ride. At the end of the day it’s the racing anyway that gets you in shape.

  11. Thanks Uli for clearing that up. Training camps were taking on a whole new meaning here and there is a lot of misconception as a result. Information is good but too much can be misleading and camps were starting to look like a PR watt & polar circus. There is too much over coaching out there these days and cyclists are not learning the basics, the traditions and can’t seem to train without a computer of some sort. Camps are about teams putting the miles back in the legs and cranking up the intensity. Sure there is all the other stuff but they are there to ride long hours together, period. The training benefits you get from a camp you can’t get from training alone. Not all photos of pro riders training together are staged, that’s utter nonsense.

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