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Cycle training in the French Pyrenees

Situation. Envious of seeing all your cycling buddies posting pictures of their latest mountain conquest on Facebook? Wish you were there with them clocking up some beautiful, yet beneficial mountain miles. Signed up to a series of races or just want to improve your cycle form?

Problem. You don’t know where to start and don’t want to “do it alone” with your garmin, praying those maps you downloaded work.

Solution: The training holiday! They’re not just for the winter, and not just for pros.

Share the experience with like-minded women. Copyright Emily Conrad-Pickles

Growing in popularity year on year, there are so many choices when searching for a training holiday that it’s tricky to know where to start. The good news is you don’t need to be the next Lizzie Armitstead to go on one. Of course, if you are pretty nippy on two wheels and take your racing seriously then you’ll most likely be riding with a club who will organise a club trip who cater for riders at your level.

I recently spent a week on a training holiday in the beautiful French Pyrenees. We spent the week training in the valleys practicing strength and speed technique before tackling some of the notorious cols, which form part of the Tour de France each year.

Test your legs on those mountains. Copyright Emily Conrad-Pickles.

This year’s tour will tackle 4 climbs in the Pyrenees in one stage and it felt immensely satisfying to get a taste of what the world’s top cyclists will tackle later this summer. I’d even argue we enjoyed it more than they will, as Frome etc will whizz up the mountains at such a pace they won’t get the benefit of the views you see when you travel at a more sedate pace!

For me the benefit of going away on an organised training holiday, rather than doing it alone, was the opportunity to meet a bunch of like-minded people who all have a shared passion for two wheels. There was a real range of cycling abilities on the holiday and no-one felt out of their depth.

The group was split to allow people to cycle at different paces but no one was ever left behind, with plenty of expanses of open road where the faster cyclists could stretch out. Let’s not forget the regular coffee and cake stops, either!

There’s always time for coffee and cake. Copyright Emily Conrad-Pickles

As always, when you meet a new bunch of cyclists, the shopping list when you get back home will grow as the latest piece of must-have kit you never knew existed crosses your path.  Luckily, as Total Women’s Cycling grows there will soon be a bank of all the essential gear you need, with reviews and recommendations to help you along the way.

Sadly for us, we tested our waterproof jackets more than we’d expected for the end of May. It was definitely a reminder that having the right kit on your bike is crucially important, especially when you are cycling at altitude.

I travelled with Embrace Sports run by two great guys, Neil and Graeme. They offer not just cycling holidays but also running and triathlon holidays. I actually joined a triathlon week, but as we were in the Pyrenees it was predominantly cycling focused.

Home-sweet-home for the week. Copyright Emily Conrad-Pickles

A great website if you are looking to compare training holidays called Training Escapes. It can be a bit of a minefield trying to choose the right trip for you. My advice would be to work out what you would like to achieve on the trip, read the reviews from people who’ve been before…and look at the photos as they will give you a good idea of what it will be like. You wouldn’t want to end of on an Ironman training week if you just want to step up your mileage and enjoy training abroad!

And yes…you can travel alone. You’ll make some great new friends and be looking to book the next trip before you’ve even got home!

Happy camping!

Verdict: 

1. Training holidays are a great option for anyone, no matter your ability. Just pick the most appropriate one for you!

2. You’ll meet a great range of friendly, like-minded people.

3. You can go alone, or with a group of friends.

4. Push yourself on more challenging terrain, hone your skills and improve your technique.

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