It’s snowing in the Dolomites, Alps and Pyrenees. It’s impossible to train in Scandinavia, Britain is freezing, and Canada is just a world of its own. If you happen to live in the Southern Hemisphere, or one of the few European getaways that pro cyclists frequent between November and February then you’re in luck.
It’s not easy to be a cyclist in the winter months. The old saying “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing choices”, may have some truth to it, but we all know that even with all the right clothes, it can be tough at times. The indoor trainer can become your best friend and apps such as Zwift become much more popular. That is, unless you’re a pro cyclist, and you have the freedom to travel someplace warm.
Life as a pro-cyclist in December is chilled out - unless you’re racing Tour Down Under. There is some intensity slowly returning to training, but your fitness levels are on the rise too so that’s not an issue. You’re not as stressed as you were just a few weeks before and you’re starting to feel like an athlete again. The off-season is well and truly in the rear view mirror, and now only consists of stories that you tell to pass time on long endurance rides. Cafe stops are still commonplace too, and what’s not to like about that?
Just like a flock of birds migrating to warmer climes for winter, professional cyclists across Europe follow the sun. The beauty of being a pro is that as long as you have the bike and some good roads, the world is your oyster.
The south of Spain is the hotspot, Calpe to be precise. If you were to hop on a plane to Alicante today and make the short drive across to Calpe, I can guarantee that you’d see a whole host of pro teams. In fact, there are probably more pro riders in Calpe currently than at an average World Tour race. Almost every team uses the region as their base for team camps. It’s out of season, so you get the hotel to yourself, flights are cheap, the roads relatively quiet and weather good.
I can understand the pull to the region, mostly for the weather. I’ve spent a few weeks there on training camps over the years, and it’s nice. There are incredible mountains, plenty of flat routes and a good infrastructure to support your cycling needs. For a week or two, I’m all for it, but basing yourself there the whole winter, or even the whole year? Forget it if you ask me.
I’m a Girona resident myself, so I’m obviously going to be biassed to this small Catalan town. The weather is no way near as good as the south of Spain, but if you're looking at spending multiple months in one place, it’s the perfect choice. I’m starting training most days in “light” winter kit. I’ll always be wearing tights or leg warmers, have to take a jacket and will often roll out wearing gloves, but it’s the off-the-bike life which makes Girona the winner for me.
If you head to Calpe, you are there to do one thing and one thing only: ride your bike. You’re often stuck in big hotels, and there is little to do away from training except go to Cafe Tango on the beach for a coffee. Although a small town, Girona has a tight community which means there is always something to do, or someone new to meet.
What does training look like exactly?
If you’re a World Tour pro, you’ve already had at least one training camp where you’re getting your hands on the team's latest equipment from the sponsors. You’ll go on at least one other after the new year, maybe two if you’re lucky. These camps are slowly starting to build in seriousness, and you can’t turn up completely unfit and overweight like you could in the old days, but you still have a little bit of wiggle room if you’re not quite there yet.
For the rest of us, training simply consists of self-motivation and trying to stay as focussed as possible. Usually, focus isn’t too much of an issue. We all had our big blowout at the end of October, gradually found our feet in November and December is the time for knuckling down.
I’ve gone through a lot of change this winter, and I’m still not exactly sure what my racing plans look like for 2023. I wrote all about it in a small blog here if you’re interested! I’ve changed coaches and will soon be on new equipment too. One thing remains the same, I’m still focussed to becoming the best athlete I possibly can!
Also, while it might seem like I'm living the dream riding my bike around Catalonia in the sun, I will be heading back to the UK over Christmas. Given that the UK is going through one of its coldest, iciest Decembers to date, I’ll be eating humble pie trying to get my training done at home!
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