Through January, Team Sky will be in Mallorca for training camps. The team is split into two groups: the Classics riders who will aim to be in top form for the spring races and the other riders who have targets later in the season. I am with the Classics group, which includes World Champion Mark Cavendish, Bernie Eisel, Christian Knees, Jez Hunt, Ian Stannard, Davide Appollonio, Salvatore Puccio, and Juan Antonio Flecha.The three to six hour rides include interval sessions where we ride at a higher intensity to simulate racing and often, a motorpacing session to finish off the training at a slightly higher cadence. Not only do we build our fitness, but by training and living together, we also build the bond that turns us into a team. Here are some photos Kurt Asle-Arevsen took from the team car which was driven by our Directeur Sportif, Servais Knaven. Race Coach, Rod Ellingworth is riding the scooter.
Each autumn professional teams gather before Christmas to train for the coming season. As the racing season has grown progressively longer the importance of the camps has increased as we are now required to be in race condition by early February, and for those racing in Australia, January. In mid December Team Sky met in Alcudia, Mallorca. Each day we rode for three to six hours at a steady speed with few intervals. To refuel and socialise, we stopped mid ride for a coffee and pastry. The rides usually ended with a heated sprint. Here are some photos from the camp.
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.
|Recently, several riders have come down from northern Europe to train in Girona. During the last week of November my teammate, Edvald Boasson Hagen, was here to accumulate kilometres to build the foundation for the coming racing season. Irish National Champion, Matt Brammeier from HTC-High Road and Craig Lewis were also here to rebuild. Amazingly, we lose an awful lot of fitness during the short break we all take at the end of the season. Through the autumn, before we all head off to team training camps, we ride for two to six hours at a steady speed with little intensity. As the hours in the saddle pass we slowly become comfortable on our bikes again while regaining our strength and agility. The time away from the races passes quickly. In December we are already at training camps with our teams and in January we need to be ready to race. For now, we can enjoy the countryside while socialising.|
Away from traffic and deep in the countryside, riding on the dirt roads is a unique experience. In the province of Girona, Spain, where I live, there is a large network of dirt roads which go through some incredible countryside. Each autumn, as I start training again after a short break, I try to discover some new roads and countryside on my cyclo-cross bike. My good friend Jordi Cantal, who is a local fireman, joins me on most of the rides. Like me, he is always hunting for new routes. A Catalan, he teaches me about the history of the area and their culture. The bike, a Pinarello, has mudguards, tough touring tires and lower gears than my standard training bike. The position is identical to my race bike. The video was taken on one ride: from Girona to Rocacorba-Mieres-Sant Aniol de Finestres-La Barroca-Amer-Pantano de Susqueda-Osor-Angels-Sant Gregori-Girona. Music: Mr.Rager by Kid Cudi.
The group settles into formation meters after leaving the café. Like the table manners learned as children the formation is innate to us. Two abreast, tight against the curb we form two lines. Cars pass us with ease as we pedal out of town and into the countryside. The pair on the front increases the tempo as soon as we are out of traffic and onto the rural roads. From experience they quickly find the rhythm of the group. On the rural roads, we’re in synch. Knowing how to ride properly in a group is taught and learned.
I was introduced to cycling as a boy. On my first group rides, I was taught how to ride with others appropriately. As we pedalled along with our club mates, my father explained ride etiquette to me. On open roads, the group stays close to the shoulder. To allow cars to pass and to benefit from the riders’ slipstream, the group stays compact. It is often easier for cars to pass a group of cyclists who are riding two abreast near the road’s shoulder than a group, which is single file and much longer. We must be aware we are sharing the road with other traffic.
Each pair pulls off the front sharing the workload with the others. To peel off the rider on the right moves right, the rider on the left moves left, reducing their speed gently to let the others pass. The pair who has been following slice through the pair to take the lead with the rest of the group in their slipstream. The two who have just finished their turn on the front, move back into the slipstream at the back of group rapidly to avoid being in the way of the traffic for long.
Within the group riders should always be paired up. Two abreast is acceptable, three is not. In an odd numbered group, the single rider sits at the back. Each rider has his or her turn being alone at the tail-end. In a group, everything is shared.
A group is concerned with others’ well being. We point out obstacles in the road, we signal directions and we take care of each other. A rider who is struggling is sheltered from the wind and given food and drink. We wait for those who have punctured and help them repair the flat. Every cyclist has a bad day. A group will get you through the bad moments.
Like bragging at a dinner party about wealth, nobody appreciates a rider who constantly forces the pace to prove his strength. Half-wheeling, the term used to describe a rider who is constantly pushing the pace half a wheel in front of the others, is an insult not a compliment. Group rides are not races. Good riders are in tune with each others’ abilities and the groups’ objective. At the right moment, when everybody is ready, the tempo will increase, the group will splinter, the strongest will surge ahead, and then only to regroup again at a designated spot.
A group ride should be challenging but also pleasant. Experiencing an achievement is often richer when shared. On the bike, each pair of riders converses as if they’re across from each other at a dinner table but in the fresh air the conversation is often more animated. On the roads, societal hierarchies are muted. A CEO is just another wheel to follow. A professional cyclist is just another face glistening sweat.
Together, a group of eight eats through the hours. In nearly six hours, we’ve seamlessly devoured mountains, cut through valleys and popped through towns. Even our stop at a café failed to break our rhythm. On the terrace, everything continued to flow.
As we rolled off the start line in Beijing, my legs ached from flying half way across the world, or from fatigue, or both. In early October, after eight months of racing, training and travel, I was worn out along with rest of the peloton. The nervous energy that sparks the barrage of attacks for the first hour of the race was absent.
From experience, I knew that within an hour my legs would again feel normal. The power I had during the finales of races a few weeks earlier would still be there. An uncomfortable start, some suffering, would force everything to run smoothly. Once my mind was free of late-season complacency, and jetlag, the power would return.
In the outskirts of Beijing the racing finally began. Two dozen riders attacked incessantly on a massive highway, in an attempt to break clear. Another team controlled the race to ensure only a small group that they could reel in with ease escaped. Everyone else sat in the slipstream, being sucked along at over 50 kilometers an hour. Like mystical mirages in a city congested with towers, the mountains appeared through the thick smog as we reached the outer limits of Beijing. The landscape was completely foreign to most of us. But we swiftly settled into a routine we know: the race. The European peloton in its entirety had been transported to China. On the road, the red jerseys of the Chinese National team were the only anomaly.
The contrasts to Europe were notable. Lured to the roadside by the government with packed lunches and brightly colored shirts, spectators enthusiastically encouraged us with pompoms and drums like trained high school cheerleaders. They were held back from the road by kilometers of barriers and caution tape. In areas where people were given more access, they crowded at the roadside in the thousands. But there, the eyes of uniformed policemen and military officers monitored their movements closely.
The roads were closed to traffic and policed as if the president’s motorcade was rolling through town. Every hundred meters or less a uniformed officer patrolled the course with his back to the race. Occasionally, I caught one turning his head to catch a glimpse the blazing peloton. But most kept their eyes fixed away from us as if the road they were protecting was a king’s castle. Everything seemed to be orchestrated with precision.
The courses were the safest we have ridden all season. There were no parked cars on the roads, the corners were well signalled and the retaining walls around dangerous corners were padded like a madman’s room. The tarmac was as smooth as a car track. The peloton sped along, virtually incident free. Only the chaotic charge for the finish brought crashes.
On wide-open multiple lane roads, the peloton surged to the line in a mess of movement. The selection that occurs after one team forces the tempo and thins the peloton into a line didn’t occur. The variables that usually force the peloton into a line were missing. There was no wind, no technical corners and the wide roads allowed complete teams to move to the front in seconds.
Without the buses, which are normally our rolling locker rooms, we crowded around vans after the stages. Although the peloton flowed freely over the smooth routes, the effects of the poor air quality were evident at the finish. With our bags piled on the curb, the team staff wiped down the thick grim on our faces and legs, as journalists asked questions and fans reached for used water bottles. We coughed up thick dirty phlegm, our eyes were bloodshot and each rider complained of a burning in his chest. The thick smog affected us all. The locals knew better. While on their bikes they wore dust masks.
In small towns cyclists transporting loads of sticks, bottles, mattresses or a multitude of other equally awkward and heavy cargo stopped and watched the race. Like in Europe, the race’s arrival momentarily suspended daily routines. Their smiles and cheers were enthusiastic.
In a country where everybody seems comfortable on a bike, the race was still something unique. The blur of color, the carnival-like atmosphere, drew people to the roadside. It was in stark contrast to the utilitarian cycling they know. Like the grandmother who rides to the market in France, they could identify with the emotion of riding a bike, which is what can lead to a profound understanding of the difficulty, the speed and the thrill of the race.
Twenty kilometres from the finish of the first stage, as we stormed towards the line through a tunnel of cheers, my legs felt good again.