In thirteen years, the season of the professional cyclist has progressively become the cycle of my life. Years and months are broken down into a race program in which we plan goals, training, rest and time with our families and friends. Our year begins in November at the first team meetings and ends in late October as we cross the final finish line. As is custom with most team, Team Sky was together in January for the second training camp of our season. After a hard week of riding with my teammates, where we accumulated 35 hours of riding, my commitment is as it was over a decade ago. But, my perspective has changed as maturity has given me appreciation, experience and understanding, which have replaced a neopro’s angst.
Each morning at the training camp the team gathers around the mechanics and massage therapists who prepare our bikes, bottles and food for the day’s ride. As we zip up booties, strap up helmets and fill our pockets we chat about the route and the prescribed efforts. Inevitably we leave the hotel a few minutes after our planned departure as someone struggles to adjust his position or requires another layer of clothing. Without panic we wait and then roll away together in our small peloton.
We pedal with ease through the eerily quiet Mallorcan coastal town before reaching the open country roads. The seasonal population migrates north in the winter and returns as the temperature rises and sea is warm enough for swimming. In contrast, for us the winter sun and empty roads are what bring us here and what we need to get our work done.
As we ride through the shuttered condo communities and then into the open farm fields we settle on our saddles and into formation. Paired in two parallel lines and tight against the road’s shoulder, the speed becomes constant, and conversations continuous. Slightly bloated from a large breakfast I feel uncomfortable. Two hours into the ride I’ll feel the urge to eat, as breakfast will have burned away. We’ll pull over in the shoulder at the top of a climb to bundle up for the descent and refuel. Like birds feasting on road-kill, we’ll pick around the trunk of the team car for bars, Paninis and drinks before flying down the mountainside.
The ride will take us over roads only the farmers use. Flocks of sheep will scamper across the tarmac as we approach. Watchfully, their shepherd looks on. The locals are now accustomed to professional cyclists, as Mallorca has attracted teams for decades.
We cut through olive groves, which are walled by kilometers of ancient stone. As the group snakes through center of the small towns, school kids gaze and old men stare. Our colorful uniforms, carbon bikes and polished team car brightly contrast the historic beige stone buildings that surround the plaças. In the towns’ peripheries, the abandoned half finished concrete apartment blocks tell the story of the current economic climate in Spain. On occasion, we’ll stop at a café for a short break midway through the ride. Despite the fact that cycling is now a job, we’ve retained the social aspects we learned on the local club rides as adolescents. The café stop provides a short reprieve from the ride and breaks up the hours on the road. Pastries are devoured, coffees are sipped, we chat in the sun and then we are off.
A dozen kilometers later the sugar and caffeine take effect. The speed increases. We carry our momentum over the rolling hills with our pedals firm under our feet. Our power is consistently intense. With a surge we sprint for a town sign and then again, settle back into our formation, each taking an equal turn in the wind on the front of the group.
Behind our peloton, the directeurs guide us on our route. As the new season arrives they quickly fall into their roles behind the steering wheel. In the back seat the mechanic has resumed his spot with his toolbox open and spare wheels stacked up. They see the things we can’t: how we move as a group, how we look on our bikes, and if we’re fit enough to perform in the races. During the camp they’ll see a transformation in bodies. As the hours pass the extra weight from Christmas feasts melts. Some riders will fatigue with the strain of the work while others will blossom. A good director can see what we might not even feel.
With a structured training program the intensity of our efforts progressively increases. A viscous effort will induce the burn of lactic acid and leave a taste of blood in our mouths as our lungs have been stretched to their limit. At camp, we become accustomed to the sensations we haven’t felt since the last races.
At the beginning of the camp the additions to the roster sit nervous and quiet. Like the new kids in the high school class they sit on the periphery and observe until what is foreign becomes familiar. On our bikes, in conversation, and at the table they slowly become a part of the group. As we accumulate time in the saddle there is a slow transformation in the team. The common feeling of accomplishment after completing a difficult day on our bikes bonds us. We have suffered together and shared something unique. This will prepare us for what is to come.