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Training Abroad: Of Friends and Rivals

Every winter, teams from all over the world travel to warmer climates to train for the coming races. For 10 to 14 days, the riders spend every hour of the day with their teammates: they eat together, ride together, and even share hotel rooms. In fact, there are few solitary moments when they aren’t with a teammate. For most teams, this is the only time of the year where the entire team will be together in one place.

After the camp, the squad will be fractioned off into different parts of world. Of the 20 to 30 riders on a team, groups of six to nine riders might be racing in three different countries at one time. There’s a chance that some teammates may never see each other during the racing season, as they’ll have entirely different race schedules — the riders who focus on the early-season one day races may never ride with those building towards the Tour de France. For others, it may also be the only time that they’ll train with their teammates, as each rider will travel to the races from their home base. So, out of necessity, some riders’ closest training partners wind up also being their rivals at the races. Needless to say, there are few team sports where rival athletes will train together between events.

On Sunday, riders can be elbowing each other and screaming obscenities as they race towards the finish, and then on Monday, they’ll be pedaling through the countryside side-by-side, chatting like old friends.

A good training partner, whether a teammate or a rival, will help improve performance, as it’s easier to simulate race conditions on a cold and wet day when there’s someone to ride with. Basically, it provides extra motivation to go out to get the work done. Of course, a ride with a partner or group is also less mundane when there’s someone to converse with. The competitive instincts also improve the session; riders can play off of each other’s strengths and weaknesses in order to progress. On a weekday session, two rivals might sprint for a hilltop, and on the weekend, they’ll likely be sprinting for a finish line. Every professional cyclist becomes accustomed to training with his rivals but, of course, it isn’t ideal. Cyclists find training partners who have complementary and similar abilities, have compatible personalities, and live in close proximity. In Girona, Spain, where roughly 75 professionals now live, the group rides are a mismatch of riders from different teams. On the 10:00am group ride, which usually leaves from a café or at a meeting spot in the centre of town, there are usually riders from Garmin, BMC, Team Sky, Trek, Saxo-Bank and Lotto. It’s no different in Nice, Monaco, Rennes, Lucca, or Brussels. In Monaco, Philip Gilbert trains with Simon Gerrans. Last year in Italy, Taylor Phinney trained with Mark Cavendish.

Of course, the chatter on the rides is often about the races and performance, but little is shared that will affect the outcome of a competition. Even though it may not be part of the conversation, it’s always apparent who’s flying fit, who’s out of shape, who’s injured, and who’ll be a contender. On these rides, cyclists are constantly gauging each other’s pedal stroke, weight, level of comfort, and power.

Garmin tried to make it mandatory for every team member to live close to the team headquarters in Girona, but it was hard to lure the Europeans from their hometowns. If team budgets continue to grow, though, teams’ management will start demanding that their riders live in close proximity to the team headquarters, like most other sports, so that they can keep an eye on them. This ensures that training will be organized, young talent will be guided, and the team can train together daily. Team Sky is already moving in this direction with their new base in Nice, France. Before long, cycling might look like most other professional sports, where the athletes always train in a team environment and they aren’t allowed to go out for a spin and a friendly chat with the competition.

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