The Off Season

The sporting calendar isn’t quite over but almost every pro cyclist has stopped racing for the year.

A professional cyclist’s work is seasonal and if the work never stops from now until early 2016 the rhythm does given that the racing season is over. What happens in the off-season?

Nothing: Large parts of the year are spent idling in 2-star hotel rooms and airport lounges where sitting still isn’t always the same as relaxing. Some will go away on vacation for a week or two and leave the bike behind for a break. Having time off is good for the body, especially those who have had a heavy year on the bike or a backloaded season with, say, the Vuelta followed by solid racing since. The body takes time to recover from fatigue, especially the hormonal system. There’s the mind too, one the best ways to make something fun seem boring is to turn into a job and time off the bike means a mental break so that restarting again is fun. For some it’s a week off, others may try a month without cycling. It’s a case of each to their own with some doing nothing, others doing other sports from swimming to running, weights or, later in the winter, XC skiing before resuming bike training.

Joaquim Rodriguez

No Curacao: it’d become a tradition but the exhibition criterium on the Caribbean island of Curacao is no more meaning no more photo galleries of seaside antics and little else.

Eat: now’s the time to add a few kilos back and some of this comes via food and drink that would often be off limits during the season.

On vs off: the off-season is shorter than ever with more races later on the calendar and the season starting earlier with the Tour Down Under but also the Tour de San Luis. With this has come greater rider pay and rewards, it pays to spend the winter training. Pierre Rolland tweeted the other day his break was finished and he was back in training for 2016 already.

Ride: once upon a time a pro cyclist could take months off over the winter and resume racing in February, huffing and puffing their way back to form in time for Paris-Nice or Milan-San Remo. These days some are expected to perform at the Tour Down Under and that means starting a training programme now. But at least that is obvious and attainable, there is a more insidious trend of having to perform in pre-season training camps. Show up overweight and underconditioned for a pre-season training camp and the fear is a rider looks bad in front of their colleagues. Nobody wants to be the first rider to get blown out the back on a group training ride.

Domestic Chores: even if many are riding there’s still plenty of hours in the day. Clock up three or four hours and there’s plenty of time to take the kids to school or pursue those DIY projects that have been building up. For some domestic life takes on new dimensions and marriage is common in October.

Admin and team building: work goes on. Etixx-Quickstep, Giant-Alpecin, Katusha and Lotto-Soudal are meeting this week and gathering all their riders for 2016 in one place. We talk of teams yet they rarely assemble in one place together given sprinters and stage racers often go their separate ways. This week it’s small talk, introductions and induction rituals, the start of team-building plus measurements for bike fits and team kits.

Silly Season: We’re at the strange time of year where riders are joining their new teams but still salaried by the old ones until the end of the year. They will be issued with a new kit for 2016 but have to ride in their 2015 clothing for now and some have to stay on their old bike out of contractual obligations too. It’s said every year but still worth repeating that the pro contract that runs from 1 January to 31 December and this is daft given riders switch moral and practical allegiances to their prospective team now. It’d better for everyone if the contract duration ran from, say 1 November to to 31 October.

Cyclo-cross began as a means for road cyclists to stay sharp over winter. These days it’s a specialist sport and almost no pros in the World Tour will ride a major CX race. The same for track racing, once many a road pro would do a busy season of Six Day races during the winter but the calendar has dried up and remaining races tend to be the preserve of specialists. But in both cases established riders will try a local CX race or lap the boards. Romain Bardet for example will do some CX in central France while Giacomo Nizzolo will lap the Montechiari track.

Winter migration: others are not forced into this, many riders swap the looming European winter for summer in their home, whether Australians heading back Down Under, Chris Froome wintering in South Africa or Colombians returning home. Do they have an advantage? Perhaps although it does mean 12 straight months of road cycling and mentally that’s not easy.

94 days to go until the Tour Down Under.

63 thoughts on “The Off Season”

  1. i think i’m voting for going and playing with the dolphins like froomey does… 🙂 that looks like a fun and relaxing way to spend some time… 🙂

    on a more serious note, it has to be a tough call, especially for riders who were still racing now… if they are expected to be in fighting trim for the tdu, they really don’t have all that much of an “off season”… if they take more than a few weeks of downtime, it’s gonna be a bit of a tough go to be in “racing shape” in january…

    imo, all athletes require some downtime physically from their sport, and the great majority (if not all) need the mental break as well… they need to stay “in shape” during that downtime and not allow themselves to “betancur”… 🙂 but they also need to live like a “normal person” for awhile and decompress mentally, eat like they want to, and have a few beers… if i was a team manager, i would be strongly tempted to require that my guys stay off the bike for 3 or 4 weeks, just to get them away from it… then i would slowly bring them back into “cycling condition”…

    re: contracts… i agree, starting the cycling fiscal year on or about october 15 would seem to make a lot more sense… it would be beneficial to all involved, whereas the current system seems to benefit no one…

    side note: if the uci eventually goes through with shrinking team sizes (a “not so good idea”, imo), they will have to shorten the calendar, whether they want to or not… these guys, even the lowliest domestique, are incredible athletes (many people don’t appreciate quite how incredible they are), but they are still human, and there is only so much the human body can take…

  2. MTN Qhubeka are selling off team bikes on their website.
    New bike sponsor next year, or new models due ?
    It’s a great idea though and some good buys to be had if you have the €€€.
    Do any other teams do this ?

      • I wouldn’t mind Steve Cummings’ stage-winning TdF beast !
        A late surge at the traffic lights before the works car park and and I could re-live the glory 🙂

        • Man, those Cervelo S5 team bikes are the business too.
          Steve Cummings is listed on Pro Cycling Stats as 1.89m tall and he rides a 56cm. Boonen’s the same as well isn’t he, slightly taller and on a 56 also (least his Roubaix was) ?
          Then Daniel Tekleheimanot is 1.88m and rides a 58.
          I bet Steve Cummings will spend the off-season getting his back straightened again !

          • All of the bikes they ride look smaller than would seem normal: bike experts, what’s the reasoning behind the penchant for tiny-wheeled machines?

          • All else being equal, smaller frame = lower front end (which a rider will perceive as more aero). A smaller wheelbase (the distance between the two wheels’ hubs) also generally means nimbler cornering – the extreme example being a unicycle. If that gives you a bike which is too small to stretch out on properly, you can accommodate for that by having an extra long stem (which also has the side effect of making the handling a little more stable).

            I suspect most of this is fashion, though. Smaller bikes look pro, therefore the riders who want to look pro will have smaller bikes. As will enthusiasts who want to emulate the pros, at least as long as their backs have sufficient flexibility to take it.

            (The wheels, though, stay the same size except in the smallest bikes.)

          • Thanks Nick. Odd how the wheels looked smaller to me.
            Always amazes/amuses me that in over 25 years of watching bike racing, I’ve learned barely anything about the bikes: I actually had to google ‘stem’.

          • Pro riders bike fits must be one of the wonders of the universe.
            There’s all kinds of set-ups out there.
            All hail the team mechanic is what I say.

          • @nick… that’s a good explanation… and a good observation about wanting to “look pro”… i am a bit ashamed to admit it, but i will admit there is a part of me that wishes i could contort myself onto a smaller bike, just for the look… i’d be in traction for a month though if i even tried… 🙁

            @anonymous… good point… i would hazard a guess that most riders are rather picky about their bike setup… it is a bit of a headache even to fit a normal joe (who isn’t nearly as picky) correctly on a bike… and one can only imagine how meticulous the setup of a tt bike must be… i would not want to be a team mechanic…

          • Smaller frame means shorter tubes, which makes a stiffer frame.
            Probably more true in the heady days of steel, but in these days of nano-increments every little bit counts.

      • @inrng… yea, i bet those bikes have pretty much served their useful life… be cool to have as a collector’s item (if you were into that type of thing), but they have got to be beaten to heck by the time they get rid of them… heck, i take good care of my bike, and i’m not sure i’d want to buy it when the day comes that i get rid of it…

        @special eyes… i like that idea!! 🙂 sadly, late surges at traffic lights around here would likely get you smooshed… 🙁 the combination of people running red lights and others jumping the green light makes for some “interesting” intersections… i love where i live, and ain’t moving until i retire, but it sure would be nice to have some roads to ride on without lights and stop signs…

      • On this topic, do you happen to know if pros generally get to keep their bikes at the end of the season? I understand brand loyalty is important while riding for your team, but do riders have favorite bikes? do they get to ride their own bikes in the off season? do they have to return shoes, bibs, jerseys as well? how does it work? I often wondered, especially with older pros, what do they do with their gear. I’d love to have a quiver of pro-level bikes in my basement.

        • Some keep their bikes, what often happens is that a race bike becomes a training bike and then they’ll keep this at home and don’t have to return it. Many don’t care though, it’s a bit like having a laptop provided by an employer, many people in the world might want a machine like this but it’s become a tool and nothing special. Erik Zabel is among those who collected them and I understand he’s got a basement that’s a museum with his old machines.

        • Cervelo have already tweeted that they are looking forward to having Cavendish ride their bikes in 2016 so would imagine that this will be the case.

          Worth remembering that a) Cav rode Pinarello during his sojourn with Team Sky and b) his pronouncements on the Venge he rode this year were not exactly of the type which lent themselves to the marketing department of Specialized doing a direct cut’n’paste of them onto their spanking new promotional poster.

          • Given Lefevre had expressed his opposition to Cav riding on the track on non-Specialized bikes, I had guessed that British Cycling’s switch to Cervelo and MTN’s use of them might have been a factor in him signing there? No conflict between bike sponsors if he wants to try and ride in Rio.

  3. Are there rules governing WT pros participating in other disciplines? As far as I’m aware on the road they’re not even allowed to take part in Sportives (barring one per year with their own name…). Some that do track or cross seem to compete for different teams- whilst others ride in what looks like their road jersey?

  4. The season is way too long. It seems the temptation to add ever more events onto the front and back end of the season is just too great. On one hand we have those whining about the fact the big stars rarely compete against each other while at the same time the season’s so ridiculously long that not even Eddy Merkcx could have remained competitive from beginning to end. Again pro cycling’s following the (bad) example of F1 and MOTOGP – by the time those champions are crowned far too many are saying “Oh, is that STILL going on? I thought the season was over already.”

  5. who cares about the pros… what about you Inrng? Surely you need a break to freshen the fingers and mind after keeping us entertained and informed all year… what will you be getting up to?

    • The racing stops but there’s plenty more happening, the TDF route is out next week, there are teams joining the World Tour, plus it’s time to look back at a few highlights of the year more things to look at. It’s more restful as race previews are the most work, a lot of info to gather from checking the course out to finding TV schedules.

  6. I would imagine that Inrng could tour around the world for almost free with the support of all his/her fans. We would be dutiful domestique’s in his care and feeding.

  7. Still got the 2.HC Tour of Hainan, 2.1 Tour of Taihu Lake and 1.1 Chrono des Nations (Mens and Womens). And a host of .2 rated races across Africa, Asia and America Tours. Cycling season never stops these days!

  8. Is anyone really expected, or aiming, to be in peak form for the Tour Down Under or San Luis? Some races are destined to be ‘warm up’ races and these two fall into that category. For me the season starts at Het Nieuwsblad and fully gets into gear at Milano-Sanremo, anything before that is just a pointer.

    • San Luis is still a training race although it’s a major goal for some locals, for example it’s landed Fernando Gaviria a big pro contract with Etixx-Quickstep. As for the TDU there are World Tour points on offer and so some do train hard for it, but far from everyone.

      • Yeah, the TDU is probably a nice training race in summer weather for most participants. But Het Volk, Strade Bianchi, Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico aren’t real races for you, Larry? There’s a lot of suffering and serious racing going on in those. And if it was only meant for training there would be definitely nicer places to do this than the f#*~ing cold Massif Central or some snowy col in the Abruzzo in March.

        • NO, they’re not. And this from someone who has seen live-in-person Strade Bianche and T-A multiple times. There’s an intensity lacking in these compared to the REAL races starting with MSR and ending with Lombardia. And yes, I’ve seen those live-in-person as well as plenty of others so I think I have a reasonable perspective, but I understand others have differing views.

          • I’ve never been to Strade Bianche, I’ll take your word that some of the field aren’t at full tilt and most arent in top shape. But it definitely means something, the finish between Stybar, GVA and Valverde this year was fantastic. And its probably the most beautiful race of the year.

      • Hi Larry, I guess I’m a TdU fan because it’s the only major race we get in our time zone here in Australia (although if you get the chance to catch Cadel’s Ocean Road Race last year, it was a cracking little race and hopefully next year’s will be just as good). The atmosphere is truly excellent – riders are in a great mood, you get to ride back form the race with them, there’s a party atmosphere everywhere and almost all the “fans” are actually out riding to and from the stages in glorious weather. I have ridden most places in the world, and followed many races, and I can assure fans from overseas that it really is a terrific week to bring your bike to.

        I am torn on whether TdU should be WT – if it wasn’t, the field wouldn’t be as strong, but I’d be the first to admit that it is not deserving of the same status (in points terms) as, say, Paris Nice. I’d also like to see some more local squads allowed in (Avanti’s production line of phenomenal talent just keeps on delivering) to give the big boys a shock every now and again.

        • Don’t misunderstand – the races that happen before the REAL racing season starts are certainly worth something, I just don’t consider them real races that the big stars make a huge target in the way they do the REAL ones. I love to watch them just the same, especially Strade Bianche which we’ve gone to see a couple of times now. I guess it’s more of an attitude thing as when someone brags their fave won one of these and then suggest it means they’ll be very competitive when the “real” season starts, I always discount it since so many are riding these races for training purposes rather than for victory. I consider “races” like the “California Vacation” or “Toasted Sandwich Classic” to be in the same category as TdU. This includes the first big-time pro event I ever saw in-person, the 1986 Coors Classic with Bernard Hinault – who was there for… for the World’s in Colorado Springs.

    • I agree. It was a shame that Stybar won’t be riding this winter, it comes to something when a recent world champion prioritises training for the 2016 road season.

      In an age of specialisation it is nice to see riders flitting between disciplines. In the UK the recent National Trophy round was a good race between Ian Field the crosser and Graham Briggs the road pro. I guess the problem is that all the money is in road cycling.

    • The main problem with CX is indeed the lack of money compared to road racing, due to the fact that while road became more and more international, CX became more and more local (more and more flemish).
      It’s a pity, because it is a brilliant discipline and many races are really good shows. The worlds that Stybar won in Holland to Sven Nijs also proved that a rider that specialized himself in road racing can make top appearances in CX without disturbing to much his prep.

      • I haven’t watched much CX, but it seems that there’s very little in the way of tactics involved. It seems to be much more straight-forward: the strongest person wins. That’s why it doesn’t engage me like road racing does.

        • So all the people that complain about Simon Gerrans’ wins would like it. 🙂

          I’ve seen a lot of boring CX, when someone gets away early and it’s all over. But I’ve also seen a lot of exciting racing, multiple attacks, etc. And then there’s just the wonder at the skills. Plus, if you’ve done a few races, you can really appreciate someone on the limit for and hour.

  9. Way back I remember most French riders went for a three week holiday in Mauritius. Every November/December you could read long articles with large images about it all from the Miroir du Cyclisme.

  10. LMAO at that Lefevere interview on the Twitter link.
    Do Cycling Team Managers not get fined for ‘bringing the sport in to disrepute’ or such like !?
    Kittel’s departure from GA sounds acrimonious to say the least.

  11. I’m a sucker for all those stories of guys like Hinault back in the 70’s and 80’s who would basically prop the bike up in the garage and live the good life for three months, and then turn up for training in the new year and kill themselves to regain fitness.

    A part of me would love Froome to take that approach! Alas, the world has changed.

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