Archive for the Training Category

December 1, 2010

On the Bike Again

A professional cyclist is rarely off of his bike in the off-season for more than a month.  Progressively, through the months of November and December I slowly ease back into the routine of training. With time, the distance and intensity of the rides increases. As the morning fog lifts with the chill of the damp night air, we meet at a café to plan a route over cortados and pastries. In the warmth of the café we linger and socialise. The races are months away, we know our fitness will come so for now we can simply enjoy the ride, the camaraderie and the environment.

Catalonia, and specifically Girona, is magnificent in the autumn and winter. The streets, which were once crowded with tourists through the summer are now spotted with locals who chat under the Christmas lights. The sun lies low in the sky creating long shadows and setting before the children arrive home from school.

We’ll ride for half of the day in a small group. There are no intervals pencilled into our programs or specific goals to meet. We rode as we did when we first started this sport ages ago. As David Millar wrote in the foreword to the update edition of the book, Le Métier,  “What was once the worst time of the year for me is now my favourite; Winter is now the time I enjoy most. During the Tour de France, Michael and I discussed how much we were looking forward to our December training rides. It’s then we get to meet in the morning and ride our bikes for fun, with an appreciation of our good fortune.”

Here are a few photos from a recent ride. Dominique Rollin is wearing the Cervelo clothing. Dom will ride for La Francaise des Jeux next season. Jordi Cantal, a local fireman, took many of the pictures and rides with us often. He knows the smallest roads and trails. And, he teaches me a little Catalan and Spanish as we ride.

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August 23, 2010

Bite The Dust, Then Reach For The Stars

In the moment everything seems lost. I skidded along the ground, sliding on the tarmac as if I were seated on a sled but with only a thin layer of Lycra between skin and rock. The initial impact was brusque and jarring — similar to what a driver feels when rear-ended by another car. Then came the impacts every professional rider expects: Riders crashed into me from behind, colliding with my torso as if a thug was kicking it with fury. The riders whom I had crashed into, who were on the tarmac before me, would have felt the same impact.

For months, we had all trained meticulously, sacrificed, dieted and focused to be ready. A slick road, a nervous rider, a careless maneuver can end a dozen riders’ goals. Seeing riders fall in front of me, I feared it could be over. The fear is momentary.

On the ground, I feel the burn of torn skin. But before I look at the damage my body has sustained, I am looking for my bike. I get up, realize it is broken, look for the mechanic who is running towards me with my spare bike, adjust my torn jersey and prepare to climb back on. A dozen riders around me do the same.

The team cars have stopped in the middle of the road, unable to pass due to the crash, as the directors and mechanics look through the bodies and bikes to find their riders. A few lay on the ground holding their arms or shoulders while bleeding profusely. Their faces grimace with pain. From past experience I know that I will see most of them back in the peloton in half an hour. Riders will continue with broken, pummeled, bleeding bodies. Their will is too formidable to give. The sacrifice to prepare for the race has been too concentrated to resign to the pain of injury.

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August 16, 2010

Girona, Spain: Riding in the pros’ backyards

Several people have asked me about cycling in Girona, Spain. Below is a travel article I wrote for  Canadian Cycling Magazine. I have also included some photos which my wife, Dede Barry, and friend, Jordi Cantal, took.

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June 22, 2010

Up and Down in the Alps and Pyrenees

The month prior to the Tour de France, Team Sky organized a small training camp in the Alps and Pyrenees for us to ride in the high mountains while also previewing some of the key Tour de France mountain stages. For us, Brad Wiggins, Steve Cummings and me, the camp also provided us with a good training block as we had been recovering from the Giro d’Italia and required a few good days of training to kick-start our fitness again. In the five day camp we rode roughly two or three key climbs every day. The set-up was ideal as we had a small group of riders, a support vehicle to follow us, and a camper to meet us on the mountain peaks. In the camper we could layer clothing for the descent and grab a quick coffee or tea to keep warm.

Our team coach planned the routes and organized the day while Sean Yates, our team director drove behind us. Pre-riding the climbs and breaking them down into sections is key, but it is just as important to know the run-in to the ascent and the technical aspects of the descent. Positioning before the climb is crucial while knowing the descent is also vital as time can be won or lost depending on how confident and comfortable a rider is in the corners.

Sean was known as one of the fastest descenders of his generation. When he was asked by a journalist why he became so good at descending he responded that he couldn’t climb so he learned to catch groups on the descents. He told us a story where he bridged a five-minute gap to the front group on a long Alpine descent. The Colombians he had dropped on the way down caught him ten kilometers up the next climb. To many of the guys on the team Sean is not only our directeur sportif but also a childhood idol. Since he retired he hasn’t gained an ounce and he still rides daily and looks the same on his bike as he did when he was winning in the Motorola colors in the early 90’s. His work ethic, and quality as a domestique, was remarkable. He is a hard man who simply loves to be on his bike.

The following video is of one of the numerous climbs we did during the camp. The climb is the Port de Balès, a beautiful ascent in the Pyrenees. The road leading into the climb cuts through gorges and winds its way through pastures before opening up to some of the most beautiful countryside I have ridden through. The descent is fairly technical and, as the stage will finish at the bottom, will influence the outcome of the race.

June 14, 2010

Recovering

I was pedalling at a consistently higher tempo on the stationary trainer but my heart rate was not increasing at the same rate as three weeks before. Tired from one of the toughest races I have ridden, my heart no longer responded quickly to stimulus. Three weeks of weather extremes, challenging and varied courses, intense racing and nonstop travel were draining. Electronic music, blasting through my headphones and blocking out the noise of the whirling trainer, got my mind racing but failed to stimulate my legs. They ached as the pressure increased. My warm-up complete, I stepped off the trainer knowing the final time trial of the Giro d’Italia wouldn’t be an easy one.

Grand Tours are unique in every sense. No other sporting event is as taxing physically and mentally. During the three weeks we rarely relax as the pace of our lives is relentless. We seem to be in constant movement as we are never in one place long enough to fully unpack a suitcase or feel remotely settled.

The team lives in a bubble blown around the race environment. Stage numbers replace days of the week. Results pages replace newspapers. The race moves around the countryside as one. We escape the bubble momentarily when we walk outside the hotels in the evenings, step in a store, or turn on the television at night to catch a few minutes of the news. But, our thoughts never really leave the race. There’s always an imminent goal.

Then the tour ends and our bodies shut down. Accustomed to the rhythm and tempo of the race we learn to persist, and cope, mentally and physically within the race structure. Once that pressure is released an tiredness takes over. The week after the finish, I feel an overwhelming lethargy. Each step I take through town, or up a flight of stairs, seems laborious in comparison to the thousands of kilometres ridden in Italy.

To recover and rebound to a higher level, I let my body rest and eat well. I ride intermittently during the week following the race, to keep from completely shutting down. The rides are at a tourist’s speed and just as short. Afternoons become nap time.

A coach once suggested that I base my training on the mathematical sequence by the Italian mathematician Fibonacci (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fibonacci). If applied to training two days of hard training would require one day of recovery. Following the sequence, 21 days of stimulus requires thirteen days of recovery. From experience, I know it requires at least ten days for the body to regain its normal rhythm and for the desire to ride to return.

A Grand Tour etches the body. Friends who I haven’t seen in a month comment on my weight loss and the dark brown tan line. Like a tattooed punk, a fit professional cyclist looks out of place in a crowd of townspeople.

Racing reaches levels unobtainable in training. If a cyclist recovers carefully from a grand tour, he will be rewarded his finest form. The extremes of the race mentally and physically, make cyclists comfortable with the abnormal.

The rest worked. Nearly two weeks after the race, I can feel the power I’ve gained in my pedal stroke. The return of the sensation of flight is the moment to resume training with consistency and intensity.

The effects of a Grand Tour are sweeping. Efforts can be sustained for longer periods, climbs seem shorter and shallower and the bike moves in harmony with the body. With so many hours spent in the saddle in a period of a few weeks, it is on the bike that a fit cyclist feels most comfortable. In any other realm, we again feel displaced.

And, it is during the rebound in fitness that I will specify my training again to ensure it is pointed towards the next objectives. For a week, I will train in the Alps and then Pyrenees with two teammates to ride the key Tour de France stages. It will be a week, where we will rediscover the routine and almost singular focus of the cyclist’s life.

May 10, 2010

Giro d’Italia TTT Training

In preparation for the Giro d’Italia Team Time Trial we were training as a team outside to find our fluidity as a team. After a few efforts we were moving well. The key to a TTT is that the speed is consistent without any hard surges as they will split the team. The strong riders need to pull longer and progressively bring the speed up while the weaker riders must do shorter turns on the front and get off before their speed drops. It was clear Brad is flying as his turns were long and quick. As the french would say, he has a ‘sacré coup de pédale’ at the moment. He looks good in pink, as well.

The footage captures the flat fields, the windmills, and the tulips. But, it doesn’t capture the howling wind we were battling.

The Team Sky Giro roster is: Bradley Wiggins, Steve Cummings, Chris Froome, Greg Henderson, CJ Sutton, Michael Barry, Dario Cioni, Mathew Hayman and Morris Possoni. Two cameras caught the footage–a GoPro on the hood of the team car which followed us, and a Flip camera which I taped to my handlebars. Notice the impatient driver who throws a water bottle at us. He hit Wiggo with the bottle. The rest of the drivers encouraged us and even stopped to take photos.

April 6, 2010

Training, The Photo Tour.

Here are some pictures from this weeks training leading up to Paris-Roubaix. I’ve also included a few pictures of Flecha’s Roubaix specific bike, notice the seatstays.

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March 26, 2010

Back In Belgium

The Tour of Flanders course is extremely technical and for riders who don’t live near the course and know the roads well, a reconnaissance ride prior to the race is vital . The fight for position before the cobbled sections is as crucial as a rider’s skills on the cobbles, as the peloton splits on the small roads due to bottlenecks and crashes. Most teams ride the final 100 km of the course prior to the race to preview the stones and find the smoothest and quickest line. We rode the course the day after Dwaars door Vlaanderen–a midweek semi-Classic.

Most of the boys were tired from a hard and well fought race while Edvald Boasson Hagen and I had fresh legs from a few days of rest post Milan Sanremo. The weather was abnormally warm for Belgium which made the countryside all the more beautiful. This weekend will be big: E3 Prijs-Vlaanderen-Harelbeke and Gent Wevelgem. The team is prepared for a tough battle–rain is in the forecast and the temperatures will drop.

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February 19, 2010

More shots from training camp

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February 18, 2010

Valencia Training Camp

Professional teams organize training camps not only to increase the level of fitness but also to build the bond between teammates. Daily we spend hours together on our bike. On the road we chat while we cruise along, we tempt each other into races on the climbs, sprint for signs, ride in tight pacelines, practice our team trial training and, most of all, spend a lot of time getting to know each other as cyclists, as workmates, and as friends.

Almost each waking hour of the day is spent in the company of a team member. We share hotel rooms so even when we are asleep there is a teammate about two feet away in an identical single bed snoring away. It is at the camps we learn to live with each other, trust each other, and respect each other. And, where we learn to deal with each other’s quirks. There are few other working environments where people are together constantly for weeks—at all meals, during almost the entire day, and then in shared rooms.

A friend of mine who is a fireman told me the firefighters spend hours together, even when off duty, because when they’re deep in a fire they need to know they can trust and rely on their workmates to save their life. Although, we are only riding bikes, knowing a teammate, being confident that he is committed to the goal of the team and will sacrifice, makes the difference between winning and losing. And, it will also make the ride, the race, and the journey that much better. Which is why we are here, riding together as a team in Valencia.

Oddly, it is on the coldest days in the harsh weather that the bond grows strongest. When faced with adversity we push each other to get through it together, and in the end, that is what it is all about. Early in the week we were faced with lousy weather. We set out under cloudy skies, which soon opened up and became rain and then snow. Frozen we persisted. We stopped occasionally to fill our bottles with hot tea and our pockets with bars and cakes. A coach once told me, “You might as well get out in the bad weather and ride—you’ll have to race in it.” Our bodies adapt to the conditions—the hardest part is getting out the door and into the rain. As the hours wore on, we hammered away to keep warm and as we reached the fourth hour the skies cleared and we rode home on dry roads. When we completed the work, there was a sense of accomplishment within the group when we returned to the hotel.

The camp is not only intended for training and bonding but also gives us time to test new equipment, adjust our positions, and have the physios and doctors take care of any physical problems.  While we rode, the coaches and technicians analyzed our performance, gave us the results, and provided advice on how we could improve. Team Sky has specialists in each specific aspect of cycling and if a question can’t be answered they’ll seek out advice from professionals beyond cycling. Nobody pretends they know every answer. The openness to new ideas not only allows the riders to improve but will also push the sport of cycling in a new, more progressive direction.

By this coming weekend, the team will be racing incessantly for the next eight months. Clearly, we will continue to build during throughout the year but it is now we must lay the foundation.