Last month we introduced you to Les Pegler, Murray Cox and Laura Cook, the three Cycling Plus readers taking on L’Étape du Tour in July as members of Team Alpecin. In late March they were invited to an intensive week-long training camp in Caldaro – or Kaltern am See – in the Italian South Tyrol. It was fun, sort of…
I hadn’t done a lot of riding this year so the week in Caldaro was tough initially. The setup was impressive, and it was great to get advice from ex-pros Jorg Ludewig aka Lude, Mauricio Fondriest and Mario Kummer.
The team supported each other, particularly if someone was struggling, which I was at times! It felt like a real insight to how the pros are treated – we had support on the road, if there was an issue with the bike you gave it to the mechanic and it would be fixed. We were treated as equals by the former pros, they could see our passion and enthusiasm, and that we were all trying, no matter what our level of ability.
I felt like a rock/bike star, which was reflected when we were out riding. I enjoyed spending time with my teammates – sharing stories and giving and taking advice. I’m no expert, but it was good to impart some of my limited knowledge to Laura and Arne [Hulstein from Holland], both new to cycling.
This much I know now…
No matter how tired I was, I had the mental strength to carry on. On the second day Lude was with me on a climb and asked if I could make it to the top. I said I’d grind it out, which I did. The Mendel Pass on the last day was a real challenge too, but I didn’t want to not reach the top.
I need to do more focused training in certain zones/levels. Our coach Florian Geyer has provided detailed training plans using heart rate and power. It’s going to take self-discipline as I have a tendency to just go out and blast it!
Ex-pros are experts but until I saw exactly how good bike handlers they were, how fast they go and how confident they are in large groups, I didn’t realise just how good they are.
The week in Caldaro confirmed for me that cycling is the best sport! It’s something you can do on your own, with one or two others or in a large group. It unites people, no matter where you come from.
It was an amazing but overwhelming week. The highlight was learning from the ex-pros – their combined palmarès are impressive: multiple completions of the Tour de France, Olympic gold medals, Milan-Sanremo wins, and a professional World Road Race win.
I’ve spent hours watching the pros on TV, but having them critique my riding was a totally different experience. I’ve been riding bikes for years, but my general ease and comfort is light years away from theirs. They are the embodiment of man and machine in harmony.
The pros were surprisingly, and endearingly, down to earth and their enthusiasm for riding was infectious. Their goal seemed to be passing on nuggets of knowledge that would help us all enjoy the sport that bit more.
It was a revelation to see what a big deal it is being part of Team Alpecin. We are fortunate to be the first international cohort joining the Germans on the team – in Germany people know all about Team Alpecin, and the prestige associated with pulling on that jersey.
Every detail has been thought about to get us ready to do the jersey proud at L’Étape – nutrition, recovery, training, equipment and clothing. None of that was hinted at in the competition entry, so the reality of our good fortune dawned over the week.
Our group riding skills were drilled hard, which meant I got to chat with a lot of people from different cycling backgrounds. I may have been riding longer than many, but that hasn’t translated into greater fitness. I live in a flat in Central London and probably ride my turbo trainer more than I do outside. I was struck by how few of the Europeans had turbo trainers, preferring to wrap up and brave the elements and, in fairness, those elements are often more extreme than the typical mild rain of London.
I am gluten intolerant, and lactose/diary free. The hotel was great because they tried to cater for my intolerances, but that meant gluten free pasta twice a day. At home I tend to eat a higher protein, low carb and veg-rich diet, so I found the transition to a more traditional cycling diet quite tough. A couple of days I ate more than I typically would and felt a lot better on the bike as a result, but I also got it horribly wrong and bonked more quickly than expected because I wasn’t used to the quicker-burning fuel. I need to nail the nutrition. I’ve previously resisted sports nutrition products on the basis they’re “just sugar”, but I think it’s time to figure out what to do for the best.
I’ll also take away from the week the value that’s attached to base miles. Florian has us riding at low intensities to make sure we get time in the saddle. I’ve never had a coach before or followed a structured plan like this, so the emphasis on going slower to get faster is new. From previously doing CrossFit and riding Sufferfests on the turbo trainer, I’ve bought into the mindset that says the higher the intensity the better. Our training programme will get more intense, but at the moment it’s about laying down a good foundation.
This much I know now…
Pros really are different from the rest of us, but the gulf between us doesn’t mean we can’t learn from them. Mario Kummer was like my personal cadence coach – faster is better, but you can go too fast!
Pros carry far less kit in their pockets than us mere mortals. I had real back pocket envy as mine were stuffed with kit I didn’t use trying to cater for every weather eventuality. My goal is to be more pro when filling my pockets, and harden up a bit…
Traditional approaches like carb loading and low intensity base miles still have their place. I work in tech and always want to know what’s next, but a lot of what we already know and have do the job for us perfectly.
Nothing beats playing about on bikes! One day we went to the Safety Park (a driver instruction circuit) to practise bike skills and help people become more confident. Riding in circles, doing slaloms, track stands, picking up water bottles and more. The hours passed so quickly and everyone had big smiles on their faces.
The camp was intense. We were in the fitness studio at 7.30 every morning doing exercises. Stretching, circuits, core strength and using Blackroll foam rollers. We tried out a variety of warm up/cool down exercises.
The riding was hard. My fitness levels from running for years are good, but I’m still a beginner when it comes to cycling, which might have been forgotten occasionally. As a new rider, I think the training week was a bit back to front and better suited to more experienced riders. We received useful instruction on things like handling and braking but not until the last couple of days. On the penultimate day, the team went to a circuit for skills training. I think this would have made more sense earlier in the week. I know from talking to some of my teammates they had their confidence knocked due to this, one even questioned what they were doing there as it all seemed a bit too much.
The first two days on the bike were hard, the average pace was quick from the start and the climbs were intense, including the 14 per cent Coyote Pass on the first ride, although I had great fun hitting over 40mph on a descent on the Wednesday. The intense riding did cause me problems. I was suffering a lot of pain in my hip, especially on the climbs, and I got a bad cold so had to rest rather than ride. By the last day I was feeling pretty low and worried that people felt I wasn’t worthy of my place. But, I got back on the bike and rode with Mario Kummer who did wonders for boosting my morale, making me feel that I’d improved and should be in the team.
I have to thank Florian and Sandi, our physio, for sorting my hip pain out. I had no pain at all on the last ride, which felt like a miracle. If I’d had more time to get this sorted out earlier in the week, and the ride intensity for newer riders had increased more gradually I’d have happily given that 14 per cent climb a really good go.
I learnt so much and gained a lot of experience in such a short space of time, and now feel a lot more confident handling and maintaining my bike. The week contained a lot of firsts for me – riding in a peloton, highest climb, total amount of climbing, fastest descent and the furthest I’ve ridden in one go.
This much I know now…
Riding in a group is hard work if you’ve never done it before, it takes a lot of concentration.
When you have pain, of any type, it severely hinders your ability to ride.
I have to get used to bike maintenance. I’ve been lucky and not had a puncture (yet) so being talked through removing wheels, tyres and changing tubes was really useful.
Layering is essential. The weather was changeable so choosing the right type of clothing was tricky. If you get too hot you can’t ride as hard, too cold and it’s no longer enjoyable.
I don’t like pasta! After a week of eating it for lunch and dinner every day that will be enough for a while.