It was early June and there is a small gap in our race calendar that allows many teams to steal away to a training camp before our ‘Grand Tours’ kick-off.
Training camps allow focussed, supported training blocks and help foster team morale. Our team camp consisted of us staying in a picturesque mountain hotel tucked away in the Dolomites, Italy, and having the support of a team coach, mechanic, soigneurs and the hotel staff.
The goal up here was to train hard towards specific goals and reap the benefits of higher altitude and a support car following us on all our training rides, carrying food, drinks and our rain jackets as the mountain weather changes rapidly.
The company you keep
For me, the most impressive thing about the camp was the company I found myself in. Every day I set out on the bike alongside multiple-time Olympians, an Olympic medalist, multi-time World Champs medalists, WorldTour one-day or stage winners, grand tour winners, and countless national champions.
Needless to say, I am not the owner of any of these palmares but I am pretty chuffed to call them my teammates, learn from their experience and talent, and be pushed to my physical limits as we tackle the mountains together
Often mid-season training camps will take riders of similar abilities so that they can more or less train together, and usually are going to the same races – so we can train together for specific demands.
As you can imagine, a camp up in the mountains is perfectly suited to a team of ‘climbers.’ Now, women’s cycling in particular is dominated more by versatile, robust and ‘all-rounder’ riders, but there is no hiding when the road goes up and those with a better power to weight seem to get up the climb a bit easier.
The caveat is there’s no use having a lower weight if you can’t push the power or have a good amount of fatigue resistance to make it to the end of a race. In this camp, there was up to a 20kg difference in weight range among us, but due to different riders’ power output and strength, most of us could climb together without being too uncomfortable.
They say to surround yourself with better athletes to improve, I have always sought the opportunity to throw myself in amongst the best of the best, to see where I level up, even if it means metaphorically getting my head kicked in sometimes.
How each day is structured
Each day we wake up and have breakfast together, usually a different version of oats, granola, yoghurt, toast and coffee.
We then chill for a bit before going to the gym and doing some ‘muscle activations’ – we all do our own thing but more or less similar exercise, hip mobility, core activation, glute activation, hamstring stretches and the like before jumping on the bike.
Our DS maps out the plan for the whole 2.5 weeks but we all have different individual coaches so we can work our own training into the time allotted for the day. For example, we might do the Sella Ronda one day which was about 5 hours, but on each climb, we have different exercises depending on our current form and upcoming goals.
We also had some lactate testing days on Passo San Pellegrino, some team time trial training behind the motorbike and of course some days off the bike totally or a very easy ride on the Wahoo KICKR with FulGaz. We also had to respect the mountain weather systems which change at the drop of a hat, so some days we had two easy days in a row or swapped our routes to avoid the dark clouds. This is all part of being professional, being adaptable.
So is a training camp all rosy?
Not always so. It’s normal to want to compare yourself to others, and for me – at a training camp surrounded by athletes who for the most part, are just better – it can be a non-stop head noise.
There is a saying that goes ‘comparison is the thief of joy’ and it could not be more true when in the Dolomites with beautiful views and fantastic people, the only thing that could dampen the mood are the little cruel whispers of comparison.
How do I subdue these voices?
I like to notice my thoughts and ask, is the comparison helping or hindering? There is a fine and changing line – for much of the time it’s simply curiosity about how others perform and train, and also being impressed by their strength and experience. I then remind myself, well you can only do what you can do, I work hard as I can, I work within the scope of my life and my history – and if you can’t look at others’ data without negatively comparing yourself, then don’t.
Berating yourself for not being the same as this person is truly a hindrance, it actually does nothing. You can’t hate yourself for improvement. If you can look at it and be curious, or simply, wow! I am impressed!
Is it realistic? Does it affect me and my job in the race? Is there perhaps even an opportunity to learn from others here? These answers will vary depending on the point of comparison, and also on your current mood and self-esteem. These are all just factors to be aware of, not pathologies you have to fix or puzzles to solve.
I also like to remind myself that data is just that, data. It says nothing of my personality, my race craft, my passion, my skills or even how my data is applied in a race scenario. Racing is so chaotic and unpredictable so zooming in on one metric where I feel I fall short does not indicate my ability to be a good racer.
Remember, if you feel yourself falling into the comparison trap, don’t fret, we all do it! It is about being aware and having a little conversation with yourself to bring yourself back in line. Then carry on and continue chipping away at your craft.