Archive for the Training Category

November 25, 2013

Derrière Moto

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A cyclist, especially a racing cyclist, is constantly looking for a reprieve from the wind, to save energy, to gain an advantage, and to move faster. The wind is often our nemesis. We battle it. Sheltered from wind, we find our wings. In the belly of a flying peloton we pedal freely while eating up kilometers; tight in the slipstream of a motorcycle or car, we can easily double our speed. Not only do the riders and vehicles increase our speed, but they also become a carrot, drawing us beyond our perceived limits.

The discipline of motorpacing is over a century old. It has been a part of cycling since the late 1800s, when motorcycle paced races were popular on both the velodrome and the road. Before motorcycles were used, tandems of up to five riders paced cyclists to go farther and faster than the individual could alone.

Each rider teamed up with a pacer who could push up his speed. The motos roared around the track, often without mufflers and with flames flaring from the exhaust. The races, called Demi-fond, covered 100-kilometer races, and the riders completed in just over an hour. Read on. 

 

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October 29, 2013

Time Off

By mid August, the professional peloton begins to yearn for the off-season. The Tour de France is over and the rest of Europe is vacationing in coastal towns or mountain chalets. But while the fatigue from the racing and travel sets in by late summer, the final finish line of the year isn’t crossed until October.

Now that it’s here, the riders will let loose for a few shorts weeks filling in their time off the bike with everything they were unable to do during the racing season. But after a brief moment of reprieve, and jamming as much forbidden food and drink in to their bodies as possible, they’ll then climb back on their bikes to prepare for the first training camps just before Christmas.

The off-season months should be one of the most enjoyable times of the year. Training sessions are less structured and the riders can settle into a routine at home. With a few friends, they can ride for hours each day to rebuild the foundation of fitness. Most importantly, the off-season should provide a mental break where the riders don’t have to jump aboard planes and spend countless nights in foreign beds. But for the modern peloton, those months of rest at home with family and friends are quickly slipping away.  Read on.

October 21, 2013

Work or Play?

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To most people cycling is freedom. When asked what their first memory of riding is, they’ll likely recall the joy they felt as they took their first pedal strokes or when they coasted down their first hill. In those moments, they became free from their parents’ grasp and free to move fast and see the neighborhood alone.

In a similar way, the sporting experience should be one of personal growth and development. But for many amateur athletes, it isn’t. Their sense of freedom becomes blurred. Instead, the playing field or race course becomes a feeder system to the professional ranks. The joy of play withers under the external pressures of performance, business, entertainment, and ego. Physical and mental health become secondary to achievement.

In the documentary Senna, the World Champion Formula 1 driver Ayrton Senna was asked to identify the driver who gave him the most satisfaction as a competitor. Read on…

April 22, 2013

Early Morning.

At 5:40 a.m. the group met, in the parking lot of the 24-hour grocery store. The city streets were void of the parked cars that line the curbs each day as their owners run into neighborhood shops to grab a loaf of bread or a coffee. Behind the darkened store front of a bakery, a light glimmered, and the aroma of baking bread wafted outside. Although the air was below freezing, my body still held the warmth of my bed. But I knew that 20 minutes into the ride the cold would begin to bite, before the increased pace restored the warmth in my hands and feet.Image 4 Several months had passed since I last rode my bike outside, the longest break since my childhood. The Canadian winter, bitterly cold with ploughed snow piled high in the streets, incited no desire to look at the bike and I didn’t miss riding that much. Instead I ran, I played hockey, I skied; sports I hadn’t practiced or played since I was a schoolboy. As a boy I embraced every chance I had to ride. I couldn’t get enough of it. As a professional my life became singularly focused. Now that I was retired, I sought more balance, I didn’t have to ride, or be concerned with my fitness, as I had been since I was a teenager. No longer was it my job to upload training data, weigh myself daily or ride up and down a hill repeatedly at a specified wattage.

Outside the grocery store, an employee had left a case of water and a bunch of bananas for us, knowing the daily routine of the club. It was a simple welcoming gesture. A few riders chatted while we waited for others. Within minutes, their lights flickering like fireflies in the night, riders came from all directions. In a flash there were 40 or 50 of us who were ready to ride.

In the early morning, the city of 5 million people seemed our own. The streets that would be jammed with cars and irritable commuters in just a few hours were serenely empty, a contrast that made everything obscured by the daytime bustle more noticeable.

 

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We started slowly, still waking from our sleep, pedaling, chatting, coasting in the wheels of the large group, our lights shining on each others’ backs and casting shadows on the black tarmac. A half an hour passed and we were at our destination, where we would repeat loops through a neighbourhood and up and down a hill. It was here I would again feel the burn in my lungs, legs and arms only a cyclist knows.

In the group, there was a jovial and almost juvenile atmosphere; we had snuck out early to steal the early hours of the day to do something that gave us a sense of liberty few in the dormant city knew.

On the neighbourhood circuits the group splintered, as we each found partners who could push a little bit harder. The small group of six, which included me, fractured and regrouped with the undulations on the circuit. Riders attacked and chased from behind. I had forgotten the feeling of being on the wheel, in the wind and back on the wheel: the relief, the surge and the relief. The fun ended as the sun came up and the streets began to clutter and congest with cars. Like the bell sounding the end of recess, a rider called out the time and we all regrouped for the short ride home. Once back with our families, we would dress our children for school, shovel down mouthfuls of food and race off to our responsibilities.

I arrived home just in time. Sleet began to fall from the sky, again. I stepped off my bike and could feel the effort in my legs, a weighty sensation I had missed.

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March 17, 2012

Juan-Antonio Flecha Descending the Cipressa. 2010.

December 8, 2011

Head for the Hills

Recently, I did a day long ride in the hills from Girona to the Mediterranean and back. The route took us down to Tossa de Mar and back over Les Gavarres to Els Angels. The ride was only 120 km but 80 of it were on dirt. In total, we accumulated roughly 2500 vertical metres of climbing. It was a great day out. Other than the climbing it was similar to many rides I did as a boy on the dirt roads north of Toronto.

March 1, 2011

Around The Block

At first, my cycling world was the length of the gravel driveway. After I rode up and down it countless times and gained experience, my parents allowed me to move up to the sidewalk. While retired neighbors watched from their porches, I raced my friends along its stretch of concrete until we knew every crack, diversion and driveway. At the end of the summer day, the grey concrete was marked at either end with long, black skid marks. As the sun dipped behind the row of houses, parents hollered “dinner” and we had one last final sprint for the garage.

As I grew older, my limits were again extended. Our skills increased, we gained confidence, we raced around the block, stopped to check out anthills and garage sales. We were constantly discovering. We could escape into our own world where we had independence and freedom. On our bikes, there was a sense of liberty. Exploring the world broadened our horizons and developed our maturity.

The bike took me everywhere.

Our experiences weren’t unique but perhaps they were rare. Despite living in a large, diverse city, few of my classmates had seen much beyond our gentrified neighborhood. After class, I was riding through the suburbs and into the countryside.

The bike continues to take me to places I never imagined I would travel. And, even the local routes I ride evolve daily, never becoming mundane. Within the silence of a dormant forest in the winter to the electric buzz of a vibrant coastal town in the midsummer our senses are constantly engaged in a diversity of contrasting stimuli. The emotion I felt on a bike as a young boy hasn’t dissolved with maturity. It’s what keeps me riding.

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January 19, 2011

Eat, Ride, Sleep…

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.

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January 10, 2011

Mare de Deu del Mont

Surrounding Girona there are some fantastic climbs and descents. The views are magnificent from the local peaks as the Pyrenees tower to the north and the sea lies to the east. Between the two there are lush valleys, pastures and rolling hills. While out training the other day Dominique Rollin and I took some footage of the descent of Mare de Deu del Mont. At the summit of a climb there is a monastery, restaurant and radio towers. There are often hang-gliders jumping from the edge while hikers snap photos. The climb is roughly 30 km from Girona and towers over the town of Banyoles. Dominique Rollin rode for Cervelo last year and will ride for La Francaise des Jeux this season which is why he has a mix of clothing on. The song is Arcade Fire, No Cars Go.

December 27, 2010

As a Team

At the end of December the team was back together again. In Mallorca, Spain, away from the snow that paralysed the UK and slowed Northern Europe, we were able to ride for what seemed to be the entire day. We left the hotel just after breakfast and returned as the sun was setting.  Our rides lasted between four and six hours  and we accumulated roughly 32 hours in the week long camp. Rain didn’t hold us back; together we pushed each other to persist and complete the day’s work. The atmosphere was relaxed. After meals we chatted around the table until the waiters urged us to move on so they could clean-up and get home. From the dining room we moved on to the chess board and lounge chairs. The ache in my legs from the distance ridden gave me a feeling of fulfillment while the day’s effort induced a schoolboy’s slumber.

My roommate, neopro and new Team Sky recruit Alex Dowsett, told me that after a few long rides  with the team he went from feeling like an alien to a teammate. The point of a training camp is not only to build the foundation of fitness but also to build the foundation of the team. As we log the hours and as the ride gets tough, the group becomes one.