May 9, 2011

Training for the Giro d’Italia Team Time Trial

Three days prior to the start of the Giro d’Italia the team got together in Turin for a few days of training. The opening stage of the Giro was a team trial so it was important we become accustomed to riding with one another in formation and refine our technique. Bobby Julich, who is a coach with the team and was a time trial specialist and Olympic Medalist, was there to guide the team and give us advice. During the race he sat in the passenger’s seat of the team car and relayed all of the key course information to us over the radio.
To me, the TTT is one of the most beautiful events in cycling as it not only requires complete sacrifice from every rider but also selflessness. To ride fast everybody needs to be constantly thinking of their teammates as any sharp acceleration, poorly taken corner, or bump in the road can have a detrimental effect on the whole squad. Rhythm, fluidity and a constant steady speed will ensure that a team carries the momentum to travel as fast and efficiently as possible. It is also the only event where the whole team can stand on the podium together and celebrate the victory.

Here are a few photos of the team training before the start of the Giro d’Italia.

February 22, 2011

The Season Begins

From the drop of the flag I felt right. After five days of racing at the Tour Med in southern France, my body was adapting to the effort after months of off-season training. Like a musician who has just joined an orchestra, my transition back into the group wasn’t immediately harmonious. On the last stage, I noticed a change in my physique had occurred: I had gone from rider to racer. In any transition there is a moment where the change is marked and noted before it is accepted and becomes familiar. I had found the rhythm of the race.

After two solid weeks of racing at the Tour Med and Volta ao Algarve in Portugal, the unique sensations racing had returned. My legs ached from the stress of the workload and the repeated attacks and accelerations. My lungs felt ripped from the rapid and fierce exchange of oxygen. The wheel in front, the finish line ahead and the surging speed of the peloton allow us, force us, to drive our bodies in ways we can’t simulate in training. The grimace of pain on a cyclist in a race is unique. We dig in, hold on, and push the pedals and the wind until we see tears, then stars.

The stimulation of a race is unparalleled in any training session. Races condition the body to produce the required power to attack up a climb or into the wind.
In February the peloton lacks the fluidity it will develop as the season gains momentum. Riders seem uncomfortable with the chaotic surges and lulls. Many overreact or take uncalculated risks.  Training alone or in small groups during the off season has dulled our skills in the peloton. Within the group there is a jittery nervousness as everybody is keen to prove themselves, eager to race and full of vigor after the off-season. The weight and fatigue of a season of racing has yet to set in.

We have returned to the routine of the nomadic cyclist. Suitcases are packed daily. Racing from town to town we live in a world of industrial park hotels, buffets, intermittent internet connections and long distance phone calls. In the evenings, we’ll walk around the car park to digest the feast, breath cleaner air, note the temperature, and talk about the past race and those ahead.  Before returning to our single beds in a shared room, we’ll tell stories from the race as the mechanics lock up the truck for the night. The days, which are broken down into a structured schedule, pass quickly. The gaps in the schedule are filled with moments of relaxation where we hope our bodies will recover: the bus ride to and from the race, the half hour after breakfast before we leave for the race, the massage, and the evening hours where we can converse before we doze off.

The mental adaptation to the race is instantaneous. Although we’ve been away from the environment for months we settle like schoolboys returning to class after summer break. I find my place in the peloton, where the chat takes place in over a dozen languages. After a lifetime at the races it is all familiar: the aroma of the embrocation on legs, pinning toxic smelling new race numbers to the jersey, the voice of the M.C. as he introduces the peloton to the spectators who hang over the barriers waiting for our arrival or departure. The surrounding environment is never constant but there are things in the peloton that haven’t changed in decades.

But the peloton’s approach to gaining fitness has changed. Twenty years ago riders would ease into the season, letting the fat gained through the off-season melt in the races, which were slow and controlled. Now, every team is eager to make an impact early so we arrive at the first race lean and in shape. The average speeds through the season remain constant. For those who haven’t trained properly through the off-season, there is no mercy. Every finish line counts.

This year we will each race roughly 90 days. We know our roles, strengths, skills and weaknesses. The routine is the same but in our constantly changing environment nothing else is static. On the bike, our lives are uniquely colored and never mundane.

Michael and Sean Yates (Directeur Sportif)

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.

October 11, 2010

Flying or Ragged

Throughout the Tour de France photographer Scott Mitchell followed Team Sky as he is working on a book with my teammate Brad Wiggins. Based on the work I have seen the book should be fantastic. Scott sent me some photos recently which I have posted below. I find it odd seeing photos of myself as the mental image I have is often far different from that which is captured in the photos. At times, I feel ragged but in a photo I look healthy while the opposite is also true as I can be flying on the bike but the dark rings under my eyes tell a different story. I find this interesting and it is one of the many reasons I wanted to write a book with photographer Camille McMillan.  In our book Le Métier,  we worked to tell the complete story of the cyclist’s life from both perspectives.

Here are some of Scott’s fine photos:

July 3, 2010

Team Sky Living The Dream

The team of eight riders singled into a line in front of me as we entered the cobbles. As the surface changed from smooth tarmac to uneven stone with patches of grass growing in the gaps, our bikes shuddered and our bodies shook.

In that moment we lifted our speed like a driver might suddenly accelerate on a sinuous mountain road as he feels the thrill and anticipation of a challenge. In racing and training, we are constantly pushing ourselves both mentally and physically to not only improve and win, but also because we are thrilled by the challenge and love to ride.

Prior to the Tour de France, the nine riders who would be competing in the race pre-rode the cobbled sectors we will race over on the third stage. Rural cobblestone roads punish a cyclist leaving him with blistered hands and sore muscles. Despite the discomfort, the team was inspired as we bounced over the stones. Like the mountains we will climb, the ancient roads are monuments in the sport of cycling. The great champions who have ridden, suffered and won on the roads have created the history, which inspires nearly every cyclist whether professional or a tourist.

Cycling’s rich history

Cycling is not only about the victory but also about the journey. The more challenging the journey is, the more fulfilling the achievement. With an understanding of the sport’s rich history that sense of achievement becomes more profound. After riding, the second sector of cobblestones, Bradley Wiggins, our team leader, looked over to me as we rode along and said: “I forgot how much I love riding the cobbles. It is a fantastic feeling.”

Bradley hadn’t ridden the cobblestones since the spring of 2009 when he rode the one-day Classic Paris Roubaix. We chatted for a few minutes about what the cobbles mean to cycling and how few Tour de France contenders now ride the early season Classics for fear of crashing. Decades ago, the sport’s icons rode all the major Classics and won. It was evident he wanted to be among them.

Brad has an encyclopedic memory for cycling history. Like me, he has absorbed everything relating to cycling he could since he was a young boy. Not only is he a Tour de France star but he is also a fervent fan. Amongst a generation of young riders who disregard the history of the sport his passion is unique. He understands that we are all a part of something greater.

Flecha leads the way

Over the cobbles Juan Antonio Flecha led the team, with Bradley tucked tight in his draft. Flecha is a Classics star. Yet his story is exceptional as he is one of the few Spaniards to ever shine on the cobblestones. His childhood dream was to race among the protagonists in the Classics and despite coming from a nation, which produces climbers who perform in the heat, he persisted with his goal and is now one of the top Classics riders. Despite spending his adolescence south of Barcelona, he floats on the Belgian and French cobblestones and attacks when a cold wind blows off the North Sea. Like Brad he knows that in every major pro race, he is part of something richer and greater than just a sporting event.

Our team is full of individuals who have that same passion. Dave Brailsford, our manager, raced in France as an amateur as did our coach Rod Ellingworth. Each of our directeur sportifs has raced professionally. The team has combined that passion for the sport with Formula One technology and resources to build an environment, which is not only nurturing and understanding, but and also well organized and structured.

As we begin the Tour de France there is an electric ambiance within the team. We are prepared, committed to our goals and relaxed but we are also excited as we appreciate and understand what the Tour means. Cycling is our profession but we are also living a dream.

June 26, 2010

Alps/Pyrenees Pre-Tour Training

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.

April 9, 2010

Paris-Roubaix Pre-Ride Video

Three days prior to the start of Paris Roubaix the team drove to the Arenberg forest to ride the course. From Arenberg it is roughly 100 km to the finish. Each of the 17 remaining cobbled sectors is separated by less than 10 km of tarmac. In Arenberg the race becomes relentlessly difficult—the 100 km that follow the forest are perhaps the hardest 100 km in professional cycling. The vibrations beat the cyclist’s body, his muscles are torn from the effort and his eyes burn from the dust.

The cobbles were relatively dry when we rode them although there were a few muddy sections where puddles had formed or tractors muddied the road. In the video, you can see the riders slipping and sliding on the slick sections. The crowds were already gathering in anticipation for Sunday’s race and the media was out to photograph the protagonists testing their legs and their equipment on the cobbles.

The countryside the course crosses is grim but comes alive for on race day. The video captures the fields that are open to the wind. The grey clouds which blow in from the North Sea look ominous. The spring air in northern France is damp and cold.

In an ironic twist we ended up finishing our ride with Saxo Bank, as we were both out on the parcours at the same time. There are few sports where rival teams will chat in training three days prior to the big event. In cycling, rivals are friends and there is a shared respect that somehow transcends the race. And, despite those friendships we will battle with them until the bitter end on Sunday.

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.

April 5, 2010

Flanders, Paris-Roubaix

Here’s a gallery from the past few days. You will find a few pictures from before Flanders, and then the task of prepping tires for Roubaix.