28th February, 2017
It is often hard to fit winter miles in around life, work and of course the variable UK weather, so a winter or spring training camp allows you clock up some serious mileage before your racing season or sportive season starts and get some much needed vitamin D!
Whatever your cycling goals the extra hours in the saddle early season will certainly help and if you are aiming for a big sportive like the Etape du Tour you will have the chance to ride climbs of similar length, which we just don’t have in the UK.
I have recently been to Lanzarote for some winter miles and although the roads were smooth and the sun shone I certainly found the windy conditions, for which the Canary Islands are well known, hard work!
Hundreds of options exist for organised training camps where everything is done for you, the real pro experience! Just book a flight and pack your bike (or even hire one there) and everything else is taken care of.
David Butcher, Owner of 700 in Windsor and organiser of Training Camps in the Costa Blanca, says “Motivation is the biggest driver. When it's dark and miserable in the UK it can be difficult to find the motivation to ride, that can affect endorphin levels creating a negative feedback loop. The allure of different roads and warmer climes, even if only for a short period, can help restore motivation and reinvigorate your training.”
For the last 4 years I have visited 45 Degrees North, in the French Alps who offer a luxury chalet with a hot tub, delicious food from a professional chef, a Level 3 Performance Coach, complimentary sports massage, a bike mechanic, homemade energy bars, laundry facility and a full support vehicle to carry extra layers, tools, food and drinks (and riders who fancy starting part way up the climb or a lift home at the end of the day!). They asked me recently what I thought of their trips, you can read the interview here.
I asked Chris Sellings at 45 Degrees North how a rider should choose a training camp.
“This depends entirely on you, your budget, what you want to get out of your training camp and absolutely the time of year. For example, if you are looking for an early training camp in the mountains, you can rule out the Alps, but could find several in Mallorca, Andalucia or even South East Asia. This depends on your race calendar and targeted events. Generally, athletes will attend a training camp early in the season (February to May for UK) to improve their base fitness before the season really kicks in. Athletes targeting races later in the season (August to September) can absolutely benefit from a training boost mid-season (June to August). Some people go for camps run by big name coaches and for others it’s about taking the opportunity to explore a new location. There are a plethora of training camps out there to meet every budget and time restraint. The key is to think about your race season and whether you want to attend a training camp to lay base fitness or to peak for an important race. This determines the time of year to aim for. Next think about the type of fitness you need for your race. There is little point heading to the mountains if you are targeting flat, fast crit races and vice versa. Then it comes down to your budget. If you can afford to attend a training camp run by a famous coach and staying in luxury accommodation, then get in fast and book. Otherwise seek out a good quality camp that offers great value for money and the more beautiful the rides on offer the better!”
Often riders are concerned about their ability to participate or concerned they might be the slowest and hold the group up. David from 700 advises “choose your camp carefully, if in doubt don't be afraid to ask questions and be honest about your abilities when discussing pace. Why not encourage those you ride with to join you? It's not a race! It's also easier to ride in a group you know”.
Chris agrees “We all have to start somewhere and any self-respecting training camp will recognise this and cater for weaker riders. There are a variety of ways to do this. Weaker riders will generally ride together with an experienced guide. For longer more challenging rides such as sportive routes, they may be set off before the faster groups and even from a point further along the route. There will be a no drop policy in place so you don’t need to fear being left behind and becoming lost. Sometimes vehicle support will be offered. This means, if you become too tired you can climb into the vehicle and be driven home. This said, you should have a reasonable level of fitness before attending a training camp and be able to comfortably meet the minimum requirements set by the training camp. If you are not sure, seek guidance either from a club coach or the training camp operator prior to booking.”
Most training camps will offer a variety of riding groups, with the distance and speed of each ride varying accordingly. Helen from Twickenham Cycling Club, who make an annual pilgrimage to Majorca, feels “setting expectation of the groups, advising people which group they should be in and having enough group leaders to ride with the slower riders” is key to a successful week.
At Hotel Dory in Riccione, Italy, the 4 routes for the following day are posted up on the notice board in the bar with the distance, speed, profile and estimated time. Riders sign up for the one they would like to complete the following day and the hotel allocates the appropriate number of ride leaders to each group. The convenience of having the lists in the bar means that should you find yourself still in the bar at midnight with another glass of Italian red then you can quickly cross your name out on the 150km mountainous ride and swap to the 40km flat tourist ride!
Alternatively, how about a DIY training camp with your friends, you can then choose everything yourselves and decide your own schedules and rides, but you may miss out on the support, structure and local knowledge of an organised trip.
There are also plenty of cycling holidays to choose from the difference according to David being “A training camp is more focused, concentrating on building an aerobic base and while a cycling holiday may be guided and cover the same ground, it might not be as beneficial for those looking to improve. Cycling holidays are generally more relaxed and an excellent way to explore new terrain without the pressure to perform. Decide what your goals are for the year, if you intend to race or you're targeting some big sportives then a training camp will be beneficial. If you're simply looking for motivation to get back on the bike and rediscover your cycling mojo, or purely for enjoyment of being on the bike, a cycling holiday is the way forward.”
Just booking a training camp can be the incentive to get out and train in the winter, it gives you something to work towards and look forward to when you are slogging it out in the gloomy UK winter. It will reinvigorate your training, boost your fitness and up your motivation levels, what’s not to like!