Ben writes … It’s mid January, it’s Britain, so you can be sure of a few things. Most people will have given up on their New Year’s resolutions, the economy is still a mess, and it’s cold, and wet and windy.
From Ben Greenwood of the Vanillabikes.com team
The weather is something which for most people isn’t too important except for deciding which clothes to wear, and whether it’s a suitable day to wear Ugg boots. But for a cyclist, the weather is everything, because it determines what sort of day you are going to have, be it good or bad. When the temperatures drop, there’s a few things you can do. Man up and get on with it, get on the turbo, not bother training, or if you can, get away to somewhere much nicer for a training camp.
Training camp is a somewhat misleading title, as it generally doesn’t contain any camping. Though occasionally when involving British people with less fashion sense than a homeless person, the word camp is still applicable. Though to be fair, wearing compression tights with shorts over the top is inexcusable whatever your sexual orientation.
Training camps are similar to a military boot camp in that they involve lots of hard work and make you very tired. What they certainly are not is a holiday. This fact is often incomprehensible to most non cyclists, as they consider anything involving a plane and the sunshine as a holiday. Trying to explain that if you ride your bike five hours a day, then it can’t be a holiday, usually falls on deaf ears. Maybe these people are onto something though. If everyone’s holidays were like a cyclist’s training camp ‘holiday’ then perhaps the UK wouldn’t be in the obesity crisis it is now.
At this time of the year, training camps are vitally important. Not only do they mean improving your tan lines in the vain hope that they will still be there when you finally stop racing in leg warmers in three months time, they also provide riders with a chance to compare their form against other riders including their team-mates.
Has the five pints of beer a night been bad for the form? Should you have ridden your bike more in November? Will your benchmark level of which women you find attractive drop over the course of a week spent mostly with men? These are all questions which you are desperate to find out. The bluffing is over, and your true fitness levels will be revealed.
One of my favourite aspects of a camp is the interactions between team-mates, many of whom might be meeting each other for the first time. It’s at this time of year that allegiances start to form formed, enemies are made, and hierarchies are decided. The alpha males of the team, a bit like big silverback gorillas, start making a lot of noise, trying to get the other riders takes notice of them. Meanwhile the quieter more nervous members of the pack keep in the shadows, avoiding revealing too much too soon.
On the bike, the posturing is even more intense. Each rider wants to show the rest and more importantly the team manager, that they are the top dog. Team selections can depend on training camp performances so every ride is taken seriously, every opportunity to make a team-mate look bad is taken.
At least that’s what a normal team camp is like. For the last two years I’ve been on unofficial team trips to Lanzarote, which have been a bit more relaxed, and I’ve found to be much more enjoyable. Generally, on official team trips you stay in hotels which resemble a prison, with little to do except for the highlight of the day, getting a coffee. What excitement! The reason for this I assume is to keep the riders out of trouble and mischief with no distractions for them in the evenings. The reality is that riders end up getting demoralised and bored and start wishing they were at home.
So for my last few camps, I’ve made sure I’ve had a good time with some walks in the evenings and even the occasional beer or two. While old school managers might think this is the work of the Devil, I find it’s good for your head to forget about bike riding for a few hours after being out on the bike all day. A happy rider is usually a fast rider, while an unhappy riders rarely rides well.
The training camp, is a chance to train hard without all the worries of everyday life. You just ride your bike and recover, day after day. And you can ride without mudguards, and with no need for gloves and skullcaps. It’s a chance to bond with your team-mates and enjoy a bit of warmth and sunshine. And most importantly, it means the season is just around the corner. That the talking is about to stop, and the racing is about to begin.
So if you can, get yourself away on a training camp. Just try to pick a good location where it isn‘t going to start snowing when you are at the top of the mountain. Don’t deprive yourself of fun and enjoyment and end up going on a bender involving way too much drinking. And if you’re from the Isle of Man and your brother rides for Sky, don’t put your passport in the washing machine and get refused entry to your flight…
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