What do riders get up to at a ‘team camp?’ – well, it’s not setting up tents and cooking damper.
They are almost always pre-season or often when there is a break during the season; teams will gather to train, eat, sleep and live together with all the support of a race without the actual racing.
It is a good environment to have focused and consistent training together as a team as well as set some goals, establish some protocols for the upcoming season and test equipment.
Pre-season training camps are a bit different in that usually the entire team
(10-14 riders for the women and up to 30 for the men) will meet up so new riders, new bikes and new staff can get acquainted.
Depending on when the camp is held, the training focus will be slightly different. If the camp is held in December for example, riders will be doing long kilometres together to build a base but also strengthen camaraderie in the team.
In January or February riders might be split into groups depending on their race schedule and specialities. For the women’s teams, there are fewer of us so we all generally are at the same camp at once.
At the beginning of the season, there are also a lot of media commitments, such as headshots, interviews, presentations, sponsor appearances and filming. All these appointments can be tiring especially when you just want to focus on training and recovery, so many teams including mine run a seperate ‘media camp’ so that we don’t have to juggle too many commitments during our training camp.
Recently we had a Team Time Trial Training camp over 4 days, near my home in Girona, Spain.
The goal was to spend time with each of us improving our time trial positioning and then dialing in the art form of the Team Time Trial ahead of the Giro Italia Donne.
Last year we had hardly prepared at all for the TTT and we lost over a minute of valuable GC time on the first stage (a team time trial). In the end, our GC leader missed the overall podium by 2 seconds, so you can see the importance of prioritising it this year!
We all go to the Velodrome at Barcelona, (the 1992 Olympic stadium in fact). We each have a different time slot to test out our position and then have our bike and position altered each time by our Aero specialist Alex, who has travelled from Germany to help us during this camp.
His job is to help create the best time triallers In the world, what a niche area of expertise!
The first drill was a ‘baseline test’ and try to hold approx 45km an hour for 8 laps (2km). Our watts are measured and Alex takes some stills and a video of our position to analyse.
Two of our team mechanics are present and ready to make immediate adjustments to the bike as per Alex’s recommendations to improve aerodynamics. They raised my front end, lowered my saddle height and moved my elbow pads forward so far. While this is happening to my bike, another one of my teammates is on the track and Alex and I discuss helmet position. We snack on SiS energy bars, fruit and lollies in between sessions.
Most of us have made some really huge improvements to our position, mostly to do with closing off the frontal area and flattening and lengthening our bodies on the bike. However, the positions must abide by the UCI regulations.
That evening we travel to our accommodation, an intricate, maze-like manor in Catalonia. This camp we have a sports dietician Elsa who cooks us food for dinner. The best part so far is the vegan matcha cookies she has made for dessert!
It’s breakfast by our chef Elsa again, and I am grateful for the vegan banana pancakes, soy yoghurt and berries.
Session 1 on the TT bikes. 1.5 hours to get the feel for our new positions on the road, navigating corners, braking, climbs and descents might mean we feel something different from what we did in the controlled environment and make a few subtle changes.
Home for lunch, refuel with carbs and protein, and hydrate for the afternoon session which is more focussed on riding as a team and doing 3 circuits of a 22km loop. Our Sports Director and Aero coach are in the following car behind. We are fitted with race radios and wearing full our TT kit (skin suit and aero helmet).
After over 2 hours of practice, we are back home to shower, snack and have some time to ourselves in between massages before dinner. After dinner Alex gives us an in-depth presentation all about aerodynamics for cyclists. It’s fascinating stuff and I feel like I am in an engineering or physics university lecture!
A similar format to the previous except we have two focussed sessions with race simulation TTT practice. It’s demanding work on the body and brain, and takes a lot of tweaking, communication and break down to get the small things right like how to approach and exit roundabouts without dropping a rider. Similar to yesterday, there is an afternoon session of 2.5 hours. Perfect practice makes perfect!
That evening Elsa the dietician gives us a talk on fuelling for racing with specific reference to the amount of carbohydrates you actually need to perform optimally and the best foods for recovery.
Chocolate oatmeal, homemade buckwheat bread rolls and more pancakes on the menu for breakfast today.
Thankfully it was a big breakfast because we have a 4.5 hour endurance ride on the program…on the time trial bikes. The hard work is done but it’s still important to be able to focus and ride after hard days, after all that’s what a stage race like the Giro Italia Donne will demand.
We have the following car to keep us topped up with hydration and food all day.
After this we return home, grab a SiS recovery shake and head straight to the pool in our cycling kit, it’s the best way to cool off! Lunch is prepared and ready for us with a delicious rice salad, bean burgers for me and chicken burgers for the other girls. We get our last massage of the trip, and spend the afternoon hanging out, the mechanics are packing up until dinner. After dinner, we jump in the team van and drive into Girona’s old town for gelato.
So there is an insight into a team camp! A mix of hard work and long days, and fun, learning, and relaxation.