John Deering, co author of best seller “How to be a Cyclist” discusses the allure of Mallorca for winter training and trends for where pros ride in the off season.
We all know that birds fly south for the winter, but where can professional cyclists be spotted before the season gets going?
Ah, the winter training camp. Part hard yards, part team bonding, part leg tanning opportunity, but unquestionably useful and an unshakeable fixture in the annual lifecycle of the professional cyclist.
Since time immemorial, teams have settled down in the sunshine of southern Europe to ride together before the real business of racing begins. The professional cycling squad is a fleeting thing, even in the rarefied atmosphere of top level sport. To keep just the nucleus of a team together over a number of seasons is a massive ask in a world of ever changing sponsors and rosters, and even the most stable outfit will have new signings and neo-pros to integrate into the ranks. The winter training camp will be the first – and often only – occasion in the whole year that the entire entourage will be together. With the bigger top-flight squads bringing thirty-odd riders and up to double that number in masseurs, mechanics, sports scientists, coaches and directors, they need the few weeks they set aside after Christmas just to get on first-name terms with each other.
For those of us trying to mix a normal life with the demands of competitive cycling, the training camp takes on a more serious complexion. We haven’t got three or four weeks to sit lazily by the pool topping up our tans whilst getting to know the Ukrainian under-23 time trial champion who has just signed on for the coming season. We’ve been working away behind a desk all winter, just the odd Sunday ride since the last wet and windy autumn sportive we took on in November, not to mention the excesses of the festive period. We’ve got targets for the spring and we need to get something substantial under our belts to get ready for them – but we’d still like the sunshine and the tanned legs and the views and the beers in the evening if that’s ok.
The French Riviera and the Costa del Sol used to be the training camp destinations of choice for pros of old. Pictures of teams trundling along the Promenade des Anglaise in woolly hats and skiing gloves showed the folks back home that winter sun didn’t always mean winter warmth, but they looked happy enough. The traffic explosion in France’s fifth largest conurbation from the eighties onwards made it more and more awkward for large groups of riders to enjoy each other’s company without heading for the unforgiving hills behind the coastal strip. The growing influence of triathlon led to a rise in popularity for the Canary Islands as a training camp destination, but many riders felt that if you weren’t going to go swimming in the warm coastal waters – not often a cyclist’s favourite activity – then they’d rather not tackle the Atlantic winds that blow endlessly in those parts.
The rise of early season hot weather races like the Tour Down Under and the Tour of Dubai gave the global cycling village another option. If you want to be flying in March, you could winter in the southern hemisphere and race properly. For those whose primary targets lie later in the year, though, that’s a lengthening of a season that they could do without. They would rather stay off the start line and progress their form in a more controlled environment, in the sunshine, in a nice hotel, on quiet roads, on well surfaced mountain hairpins, on smooth promenades. For an increasing number of teams and individuals, that means one place and one place only: Mallorca.
Tour favourites going back to Bjarne Riis and Jan Ullrich have found Mallorca the perfect place to begin their year, but one man has moved it to another level. The roots of Sir Bradley Wiggins’ Tour de France and Olympic successes are all planted firmly in the dry soil of the Balearics. Once the package holiday destination of choice for Freddie Laker’s army of British tourists, Mallorca’s natural beauty and perfect cycling roads have been a magnet to Wiggins, so much so that he has spent as many nights on the island in the past decade as anywhere else in the world. It was here that he came to prepare for his early Olympic efforts on the track, staying at a wealthy British cycling enthusiast’s villa, then buying his own base on the island as his fortunes improved. In 2014, he is spearheading his Sky team’s attempts to stay at the peak of world cycling by leading them in an intensive Mallorca stay, whilst his co-leader Chris Froome takes the southern hemisphere route to fitness.
La Fuga have come to the same conclusion as Brad: you can’t beat Mallorca. The short easy flight, the superb roads, the varied terrain, the wonderful accommodation, the predictable warm climate, the friendly people, the forgiving traffic… they all add up to provide the ideal training destination.
When you’re planning and budgeting your sportive programme for 2015, start with your big targets: Marmotte or Maratona? Gran Fondo or Etape? Haute Route or Raid? Then with those dates in place, think about how you will arrive at those events in the right condition to be the best you can be. Kickstart your year in Mallorca with a La Fuga academy week and touchdown at home for a rocket-powered spring and a high-flying summer.