For professional cyclists, training camps are a part of their existence and lifestyle - a bit like a very important business trip, riding a solid block abroad is part of their job. For amateurs, a training week away doubles up as a holiday - but many of us still want to get the very best from our week that we can.
We asked Dame Sarah Storey to give us her top tips for making sure that we get the very best from a week away - both physically and socially!
Fourteen time Paralympic champion Dame Sarah Storey certainly knows her training camps. Here's her advice...
Pack and Unpack Your Bike Carefully
The 'how do you pack your bike question' is a big one - no one wants to arrive full of excitement, and unpack their bike to find out it's not as it went in. Storey gave us her advice: "We use hard case boxes as the soft bags are not generally reliable enough. Everything is taken off, including the rear derailleur and pedals, it's just not worth the risk. Use a drop out guard to prevent compression of the forks and rear drop out and always use padding where the bars turn in over the frame."
She added: "A golden rule of packing a bike is never to take a short cut, the few minutes you spend being thorough save a lot of time and expense putting right any damage."
Take Spares and Watch Your Kit
Yes, there will be tubes and food at your destination - but when riding on foreign roads it's best to keep some variables constant. Storey told us: "Pack extra spares including tyres as well as tubes and a pump, you need to be confident you are on familiar tyres if you are unlucky enough to puncture and damage the tyres too."
For more serious riders, she added: "If you're an amateur racer, or a racer at all - pack your nutrition product in your bike box in sealed containers with extra tape round so you can see if anything has been tampered with. There's been numerous positive tests in amateur TT's so you still have to be careful about getting spiked."
Treat Helmet and Shoes with Care
It's easy to forget just how important your helmet is when you're in a rush to pack - but you do so at your peril. Storey advised: "Most bike boxes have room for your helmet so that's usually a safe place, never pack a helmet in a soft kit bag for the hold in case it gets a smash and you don't realise."
On the 'shoe debate' - she added: "There's a lot of discussion about where to pack shoes, if you pack them with your bike then at least they turn up together and you have the option of flying without a second piece of hold luggage. If you have a second piece of hold luggage and put your shoes in there, but that bag goes missing and your bike doesn't then you still can't ride! The only true safe way is shoes and a set of kit in your hand luggage if you have space [so you can hire a bike and still ride]. Some airlines are very stingy on the weight allowed for hand luggage."
Plan Your Days with Care
Your training schedule will vary depending upon your goals - but Storey outlined the best case scenario: "Ideally, try to go for a 10 nights/11 days stay with day 1 and 11 as travel days and an easy spin, then your middle day would be a rest day. This is possible with just 5 days holiday [taken from work] if you use the weekends either side."
She added an alternative for those who can't manage wangle 10 days off work - saying: "The best way to plan a 7 night/8 day trip is to try and find flight times that allow for an easy hour or two on arrival and an easy spin before brekky on departure day (unless you have a last night party planned) - then train days 2, 3, 4 rest day 5, train 6 and 7. The thing that's worth bearing in mind is how many extra hours you can do on the 5 main training days. Add up the total for the week and you will still have a big week and have a day off too!"
The Bike Comes First (but Swimming is Nice..)
On a cycling trip, your primary form of physical activity is probably going to take place on two wheels - but should you mix it up a bit? Storey says: "When I am at Club La Santa the best bit is having access to core strength & relaxation classes as well as three 50m pools. There's also an incredible gym. I don't do anything other than ride and stretch on big training days, but use the pool and core classes on rest days. If you only have a week then prioritising riding in good weather is the key though."
Break Rides into Groups by Ability so Everyone Gets the Best Training
If you're going with a group and you know you're all at different levels of fitness, it's best not to skirt around the issue - waiting until tempers rise on the ride. Storey's advice was to ensure everyone gets a chance to ride at a pace their comfortable with: "Groups with big ability differences can arrange the longest days by setting off at different times and agreeing a meet point. Slower riders will often prefer a head start on the longest days so they don't feel under pressure. There's also the option of adding a longer loop home for everyone to consider after the lunch stop so riders can assess how they are feeling."
She added: "The key to not getting lost or feeling let down is to set out everyone's expectations the night before the ride, discuss honestly how everyone will get what they want out of the day. Also make sure the stronger riders sit on the front and shelter their companions. It's also a good idea to agree a point everyone can have a free-for-all and meet back at base or the last coffee stop."
Watch Your Eating if Weight is Important
I've known club riders go away on a training week, returning 1-2kg heavier. That can happen to pro riders too. Sometimes it's just a part of putting in the miles, sometimes for amateurs it's also just a part of being on holiday. Regardless, it's important to have a 'plan' to avoid unnecessary weight gain if it's going to ruin your vibe on returning home.
"The big training camps we do make it impossible to gain weight but with alcohol and a more relaxed training holiday the temptation to over eat is easy. It's important to look at what you eat across the whole day, from brekky to cafe stops, pre-dinner munchies and the alcohol intake," Strorey says.
For those thinking 'cycling holiday' over 'training camp', Storey commented: "Also decide if your well earned break from work is worth restricting your food for. Prioritise what you want from the week away and set a plan for either riding more to burn off all the cafe stop cakes and beers or decide it's more important to enjoy yourself and not worry."
Finally, she added: "[Many training camp hotels have buffet dinners, where it's easy to overeat] - a trick for the buffet is to avoid pasta and other starchy carbs, fill up on protein and salad or veg instead. Pasta often comes with calorie laden sauce too and its also something you could make yourself at home so nothing special."
If You're Part of a Team: Work on Team Dynamics
If your holiday is part of a wider plan to set up a new team, now is the time to discuss potential issues in racing and get to know one another, according to the well qualified Podium Ambition team manager who told us: "Trips away always give you a good idea of whether you are in a group you could survive a season with. Everyone needs to remember that everyone is entitled to their opinion and ultimately actions speak louder than words. If you are discussing issues that happen in pro races regarding etiquette then there's likely to be people who think such a body should/shouldn't have waited on the chain-gate issue.
"Work out what's important, if you need to work as a team to get a good result but someone doesn't believe a rider should do any work early on in a race in case they can't get a result for themselves then you may have a problem when the season starts. Getting people on the same page requires mutual respect and relies on people treating others as they would wish to be treated."
It's also a good time to practice working together: "Working on training drills like TTT efforts or lead outs is a great way to create a bond as well as doing other types of challenges during the trip - conquering every mountain or riding the Ironman route in Lanzarote and so on."
If You're With Friends: Make Sure it Stays Fun!
If your holiday is primarily about having fun with friends, it's important not to forget that that's the case! Storey said: "Training holidays need to be balanced with family time and down time too, so you feel like you had a holiday. Decide on how you will divide your days and what other things you want to do or see. Plan rides so they finish in time for other things or agree to meet family members somewhere out so you can have a ride but also see the kids on the beach or in the water polo tournament an so on. Training camps and holidays are more effective if they are balanced anyway and even as a pro I ensure I get sufficient time with my daughter around training."
Dame Sarah Storey's Training Camp Recommendation...
Location is of course a huge consideration - and Storey provides her own recommendation: "My favourite venue for training is Lanzarote and staying at Club La Santa. The best ride from there takes me to Mirador via Tabayesco and Haria and then to Orzola before climbing Tabayesco again. If I want to make it a bigger day I will head all the way to Uga and Yaiza to return over the Fire Mountains."
Here's a glimpse at that you'll get at Club La Santa...
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