As cycling continues to grow in popularity, so too does the number of companies offering trips for those of us wanting to feel a little bit ‘pro,’ even if just for a week.
Though once the preserve of professional cyclists and high-level amateurs, a spring training camp is now firmly in the calendar of many recreational riders keen to unmask pasty limbs kept covered throughout our cold, dark winters.
There are a great many ready made trips available in popular destinations, such as Mallorca and Lanzarote. Often organisers provide accommodation, led rides, coaching, back up cars, recovery massages – all the bells and whistles that come, generally, with the expected price tag attached.
Purpose designed training camps can be great if you want to forgo the admin and live like a pro for a week or two. However, when considering my own options this spring, time constraints, budget and a desire to do things a little differently led me down another route. I decided to travel and ride independently; tailor-making my own training camp from scratch for a one off experience that would suit my own criteria and me.
The benefits of going alone were numerous. I was free to choose my own start times, sometimes opting to ride in the afternoon if the weather looked better later in the day. I was able to select my route based on how my legs felt after the previous days riding. I could push myself as hard as I wanted without worrying about ‘blowing up’ later on the ride and then struggling to maintain the pace of a group, stopping when and where I wanted and blasting on through when I felt on a roll.
The obvious disadvantage to going alone is that you have to be somewhat disciplined and self-motivated if you want to get the most out of your time on the bike. As I’ve just mentioned, I enjoy pushing myself really hard without worrying about getting home but the flipside of that is that you’re free to stop when you want. Riding in a group makes it easier to ride greater distances and can encourage you to try harder than you would alone.
The other downside to organising your own training camp is the amount of time it takes to plan, so if you’re cash rich and time poor, you might find an all-in-one trip preferable. But if you’ve an independent spirit and you’re interested in creating your own DIY training camp, read on to find out how I did it.
First, pick your location
Long time home of the pros (and once the base of the disgraced Lance Armstrong and Floyd Landis) Girona was my first choice of location. Lying on the River Onyar, the cities beautifully romantic Old Quarter with its cobbled streets and splendid medieval architecture captured my heart on a previous trip to Catalonia, when I vowed to return with my husband in tow. But it was Girona’s location and superb cycling that really drew me in - nestled on a plain between mountains and sea, the city’s mild weather, spectacular climbs and quiet roads make it a cyclist’s dream.
When choosing your own location, check the riding first: is it flat, or are there some major climbs? The best option is somewhere with notable climbs but plenty of flat lands to recover over. You'll also want to explore the availability of bike hire and bike shops, the likely weather conditions over your chosen travel period plus the length and cost of travel.
Book your travel
Short flights mean fewer headaches and more time on the bike. Within easy reach of speedy, low cost flights from the UK and a brief transfer from the airport, Girona’s location makes it a winner for the time pressed. Girona’s own airport is served by numerous airlines such as Ryanair, BMI and Thomson or if you prefer a chartered flight, nearby Barcelona airport is served by British Airways. Other popular locations that can be reached via a fairly short flight include Mallorca, Tuscany, Lanzarote, and Tenerife.
Consider hiring a bike
Some airlines (Ryanair, I’m talking about you!) charge astronomical fees for transporting bicycles, so if you’re going for a short visit it could be cheaper and easier to hire a bike at your destination. We hired carbon Cannondale Synapse 105 bikes from Girona Cycle Centre for €120 for five days, and loved the speedy simplicity of the whole process – all you need to bring is your pedals.
What you decide to do on this front is a personal choice. Taking your own bike can cost more than hiring, and means you’ll need a bike box and the patience to pack and unpack your bike at each end. You’ll also need to trust the baggage handlers - but with a good, solid box you should be ok.
The drawback of hiring is that you’ll be riding many more miles than you would usually at home, on a bike that might not be set up quite right. To avoid problems with this, take your own pedals, and saddle, and make sure you take measurements of saddle to bar reach and crank arm to saddle centre on your own bike, and replicate this on the hire bike.
Find a place to stay
Bike security should be your first consideration when choosing a place to stay, well, that and your desired level of comfort and luxury. Look for somewhere with a locked bike shed (or somewhere that will let you keep a bike in your room!), ideally bike washing facilities, and a bike shop close by.
You’ll also want to think about catering. Since you’ll be riding a lot of miles, you may want to choose somewhere with a buffet breakfast and dinner option so you can simply sit down and fill up as and when. However, if you want a bit more control over your diet, then choosing somewhere with a small kitchen so you can stock up on supplies and cook your own is a good idea.
We went for Girona’s Hotel Gran Ultonia - it has a secure bike room complete with bike washing area, bike parking and a full set of tools and fresh, modern and comfortable rooms from €75 per night for a double room. The breakfast, obviously of huge importance to us cyclists, is vast, varied and delicious.
Plan your rides
When organising my DIY training camp, I spent the bulk of my time researching routes and planning rides. Back in the UK, I spend a lot of time training with Heart Rate zones, but taking my cue from organised training camps, I decided to focus on longer rides with some harder intervals in the form of climbs.
I found the bulk of my routes on Map My Ride, Strava and Wikiloc and carefully studied the distance, elevation and average times before plumping for those I felt most suitable and downloading the GPX files to my Garmin for a step-by-step route guide. As back up, I took my iPhone and a paper list of the key roads and turns.
Do exercise caution if you intend on following routes you’ve never ridden before as you could be surprised by the difficulty of climbs, find roads in a bad state of repair or end up on very busy roads.
The best way to get inside information and double check your routes is to talk to staff in a bike shop, hire centre or café. We had plenty of help from the team at Girona Cycle Centre - the lovely staff told us which climbs to avoid in inclement weather – Rocacorba, as its surface is poor - and gave us helpful hints and suggestions. They also sell detailed route maps, hire cycle computers and have weekly ‘shop rides’ that all can join. Their Strava account shows some local loops - so check out the centres near your own destination and see if you can get something similar.
Eating well on a training camp is of huge importance and not only for refueling those tired muscles - the café stop is a great morale booster if you’re feeling exhausted.
Bike café, La Fabrica is a popular hangout for Girona’s professional and amateur cyclists alike with brunch and cakes that are second to none. Churros Singulares in Barri Vell (the old town) serves up hot strips of fried dough for dipping in hot chocolate so thick that you can stand a spoon up in it.
When it comes to the all important dinner, we were well served by local favourite Draps and its huge portions, UDON with its big plates of noodles and Indigo at Hotel Carlemany which dished up fantastic calamari, tuna tartare and tempura.
We were pretty well served, and it made all the difference – so make sure you check out what’s available at your chosen location before heading off. That, or just join the dots and head to Girona, where I’m sure you’ll have a great time!
Looking for more training camp info? Check out these...