From France to Italy, Spain to England, I’ve been to many training camps in my time. I’d hate to think how many weeks of my life have been spent in average hotels with the sole aim of getting fitter. Granted, the numbers will be nowhere near those of the real World Tour pros, but I’d happily bet that it’s close to half a year of my life.
In this article, I’m going to take you behind the scenes of a pro training camp. What really goes on? I’m also going to look at some things that I could never do on training camps so you should make the most of it.
So, what is a training camp?
Training camps are typically done in the winter months and are a way of getting the full team together in a warm weather location for a few weeks of training. They have multiple purposes: team camaraderie, media duties, genuine training and also accountability.
Remember, unlike most other team sports which require you to train together each day such as football, basketball and countless others, pro cyclists are not restricted by where they live and can often even be a plane ride away from their closest teammate. There is no team base, so training camps are a great opportunity to get riders and staff together.
For most of the World Tour teams, more and more training camps have started to take place in recent years. A majority of these are altitude camps and are much more serious than the pre-season camps. Altitude camps are usually about two things: getting fit and getting skinny. However, a pro’s favourite camp is in winter. The richer teams will often organise “training” camps immediately after, or during off-season. The focus of these are media based, as well as building team morale too. From going out partying together, to doing the standard team building exercises, it all helps.
What happens at a pro-training camp?
Training camps are very simple when you’re a pro-cyclist. You get an email with a flight, turn up to the airport with a tiny bit of luggage (the team takes your race bike to camp) and as soon as you land you’re whisked away to a hotel. For the next 7-14 days, you are treated like a child and it’s bliss. You’re told exactly what to do and where you need to be at every hour of the day.
If you need laundry done, you leave it outside the van and it magically turns up to your room a few hours later. You have a massage each day, and if you get hungry there is a “food room” filled with healthy snacks and cereals.
The aim of the camps is obviously to train, that’s in the name. Each day the coach will provide something specific. Sometimes it will revolve around long and steady endurance rides. Other days it will be individual intervals but the days that are most fun are the things you do with the whole team. Whether it be lead out practice, full blown race simulation or the “go until you blow” style efforts, those are the days which we love most.
The other aim of a camp is to take all stress away from the rider. You’re not having to go to the shops, cook dinner or do other daily chores which add those little bits of fatigue. You can train perfectly, but they can also be very boring too. You’re just spending hours and hours lying on your bed. Even on the biggest training days, you are home by 4pm, and with nothing else to do it’s just endless Netflix time.
There is a sweet spot in the amount of time for a training camp. Last year, our camp was on the longer end of the spectrum. Team morale was through the roof in the first week, but the final six hour ride on the last day was deathly silent. The odd time you see riders get into arguments as they grow more tired and the camp wears on. I haven’t personally seen any fights occur though, but I’ve heard the rumours.
Do pros even like training camps?
This is complicated, and has so many factors to consider. Most pro riders understand the need for training camps, and especially pre-season enjoy them. It’s a great excuse to ride in the sun for a few weeks, have no worries and get a massage each day!
It is those mid-season camps which start to annoy riders. As a pro, you already spend so many days away racing and travelling. When the team asks you to travel somewhere else just to go training you sometimes question why. I just want to sleep in my own bed and lie on my own couch, I’ve often thought to myself.
There is no doubt that physiologically training camps are good for you, but psychologically they can sometimes be a little tough!
What can I do that the pros cannot?
The pros have it good, there is no doubting that. They start each day with a finely tuned bike thanks to the mechanics and the soigneurs have been hard at work the previous evening making snacks for the day's training.
But, there are some things that the pros cannot do. Let me explain:
- Experience the local culture
When you’re on a training camp, there are four places you will be. On your bike, on your bed, on the massage table or in the hotel dining room. It is only on rest days that you have permission to explore the local town, and maybe sample the local coffee.
If you’re visiting a new place with your bike, why not go and try the local cuisine and engage with the culture. Visiting restaurants and enjoying the area away from the bike is something all pros wish they could do more of.
On a training camp with my previous team we were staying in Tuscany, an area famous for its wine. The staff were enjoying numerous bottles every night of the local red wine, and however much we asked we weren’t allowed a taste. Queue the final night and the hotel owners crack open a lovely bottle of Varvàra Bolgheri for us. One glass of wine in two weeks of staying in Italian wine country? Criminal, but still appreciated. For my sake, please experience the local culture!
- Choose your ride
On a pro camp, it is the team coach that chooses what training that you will do, and where you’re going. Sometimes, if the coach knows the area then this can be a great thing. Other times, it is awful. I once did a training camp in Girona where the coach didn’t know the roads too well, half way through the camp it was us riders who took control of making the routes.
The beauty of being on your own camp is that you can choose exactly the route you want. Always wanted to beat the Stelvio, then off you go, with nobody to ask. Oh, and while we’re on the topic of epic Italian mountains, here are some of our bucket list climbs in the area.
Subscribe to the CyclingHero Journal
Don't miss out on the latest news. Sign up now to get access to the library of members-only articles.