Last weekend my team, Eiser Hirumet, had planned a team training session but the weather forecast for the Basque Country was terrible. So, after a flurry of messages on the Whatsapp group late on Friday night, we came up with a plan. We decided to meet up earlier than normal and drive south until we saw the sun.
By 8am on Saturday morning, tightly packed into the van and team cars, we were on our way. We had decided to go to Estella, in Navarra, where we could recce a race the team has planned later in the season. But when we got there the weather didn’t look any better. Our next stop was in Tafalla where there is an indoor velodrome which is a popular destination when it rains because it is open for use on road bikes. After a bit of debating in the velodrome car park, largely in Basque so it went straight over my head, we got back in the van. The guys had decided to push on another half an hour to the town of Sangüesa and start the ride from there.
Teams are always keen to make the most of group training sessions. You can go out for a steady ride or do specific efforts whenever, but having everyone together provides an opportunity to work on other things. Any first year U23 riders are taught the basics, they learn to call the team car forward before dropping back, to ask teammates if they need anything to be taken to or brought from the car and always go to the driver’s side. These are things that soon become second nature in races but are very important to remember.
When I was in Caja Rural two years ago, I had to learn about this side of the sport. At the time it seemed a lot to remember. I was told to only stop on right handside of the road if I had a a mechanical. Also not to stop with a the team leader if he punctures, unless he needs a my wheel because the team car can’t reach him. But instead, to wait in behind the last car in the convoy then drop back for him as he approaches then help him back into the bunch. Even seemingly simple jobs like getting bottles from the team car come with a lot to remember. Enough even, to merit its own blog post.
As well as the basics, the team were keen we worked on our communication in the bunch to prepare us for racing together. We were asked to split ourselves into two equal ability groups of 8 in order to do some efforts in the crosswinds. Each group was to elect a captain who would be in charge of organising things. For the final effort, two riders from each team would be timed in a team time trial style race meaning they were to save their energy for the final few kms. The key point here was that we were told to organise all of this amongst ourselves, while riding. This started as pure chaos; riders would pipe up with their ideas before being asked to repeat themselves by people who didn’t hear, the other guys would shout to clarify what was said but often they had misheard too. The shouting in English, Basque and Spanish left everyone frustrated and confused.
One rider at the front brought the group to a stop so we could all speak more clearly but the team director insisted we kept moving and organized ourselves on the go. When we got rolling again we had all realized we needed to be much clearer when communicating on the bike. One guy suggested we make a rule of using someone’s name before addressing them, for example, “George, you’re in group 1”. This helped. Then we decided to keep the communication in Spanish and only translate to the English riders at the end when everyone was clear.
At 24, and having come second in one of the most important Basque races last year Benat Etxabe is the most senior rider on the team. He called me forward and said we were to be the team captains, he had chosen me because I could easily translate. He explained the teams to me and we pulled off the front to roll back through the bunch, telling each rider whose group they were in.
With the groups all sorted and an important lesson learned in bunch communication, we got onto an exposed stretch of road and began the efforts. We rode through and off, forming two lines of riders and rotating positions to share the workload. As we changed directions we adapted our changes into echelons. Echelons:
With 4 hours of riding including 3 hard team time trial efforts, we stopped to refuel. The team decided we were going to ride to finish the day off by riding up a long climb at ritmo medio, a steady tempo. Most people had done enough team camps to know what this meant. We were going to start at a steady tempo but halfway up the climb we were going to be told it is a race to the top. Sure enough, about 2km into the 6km climb, the team car pulled up alongside us and told us to go full gas. The group exploded. We eventually reached the top of the climb in ones and twos.
After the final effort up the climb we rolled back to the team cars, with 5 and a half hours and 170km in our legs the thought of 3 hours sitting in the car going back to Durango seemed quite inviting. On the way back I joked that I was hoping for terrible weather the next day. Snowstorms and tornadoes, just to make sure we couldn’t train in the Basque Country, meaning our 13 hour round trip would prove worth it!
We have another team training day planned this weekend before the first race next week. Thanks again to the Dave Rayner Fund for the support this season, I can’t wait to get going!