Words and photos: Jordan Gibbons
Training camps are quite an odd environment. Lots of riders often crammed into small hotels, often in the middle of nowhere and often with little else but journalists to keep them company.
You can really see how cabin fever sets in over the course of a three-week tour with the pressure to perform looming over you. Thankfully the Italian national womens’ team was at the same hotel and seemed to provide some light comic relief with their terrible snowboarding tan lines.
The first training camp of the season provides an important reference point for the team. It’s the first important steps the riders take in riding together and practicing race tactics because receiving some power numbers over the Internet doesn’t give you the whole picture. It’s also the first time the older guys will meet the new recruits and teach them how it’s done.
This particular training camp took place with Lotto-Belisol in Valencia. Bert Ackaert, the team trainer, likes the location because you can go out and do 150km of pan-flat riding down the coast, or go the other direction and you’re ascending a Cat 2 climb within minutes. He’s also quite partial to Majorca, for similar reasons.
Note the phone in a plastic bag. Prevents sweaty pocket phonecalls – which is not a euphemism.
It seems that no matter how professional you become and how many races you ride, swearing with no hands on the bars is still hilarious. It’s also a strong reminder that some of these guys are barely out of their teens.
Looking at this you may think the roads are horrendous (or that my hands cannot hold a camera). I can assure you that unlike the surfaces we Brits endure on a daily basis, Valencian roads are fabulous. You might even go as far as to say that the roads are good enough to play snooker with. Unlike my hands, which are not.
Not long after this picture was taken we saw a man hot-footing along the dual carriageway at a pace I consider to be too fast for a leisure runner. Naturally I put two and two together and assumed he was running away from the scene of the crime.
One thing that may come as a surprise is just how much a professional will eat whilst out on a training ride. They don’t stop. If they’re not talking or drinking then they’re eating. Contrary to this popular belief that you shouldn’t eat on a sub-three hour ride, they take fuelling very seriously. So perhaps reconsider before you head off into the hills in freezing conditions for five hours with nothing but a jam sandwich for company.
You might also have a preconception that going on a training ride as a professional is a complete world away from your local club ride. Well, that’s not always the case; on this particular jaunt we took four wrong turns, spent a solid ten minutes riding in the wrong direction, spent a brief period riding down the wrong side of the road and had to wait at the top of one hill whilst somebody went back to collect the glasses they had dropped. What will come of no surprise is the pace: a quick look at the speedometer showed them tapping along at 45km/h.
I took this picture out of the open side door of a moving van and when the local police saw this they were less than impressed. They politely informed me that if we were seen doing it again (hanging out of the van, that is, not urinating by the roadside) that we’d be put on the first flight back home. Assuming that whatever flight they put me on was almost certainly going to be better than the one on which I arrived I decided to take my chances.