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.
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.