Having moved into my new apartment in France last Friday evening, I was up at 5am on Saturday morning, after just 6 hours sleep I may add, to get ready for a week-long training camp in Spain with the new team. By 7am, I was wedged into a mini-van and heading south with seven of my new team mates, who I’d never met before. Spending 10 hours confined inside an oversized tin can is definitely a good way of getting to know people, but it can also be quite uncomfortable when they insist on having the heating on so high that even Satan would have a sweat on.
By the time we arrived at our hotel in Rosas on the Catalan coast just after 5pm, me and Dave had already been assigned the nicknames Batman and Robin by the lads due to some miss-pronunciations of Dave’s surname. Unfortunately, I’m Robin (what does he even do?) but anyhow, I guess it’s a sign that we’ve been accepted into the group!
After unpacking and filling my face at the hotel dinner buffet, I was more than ready for my bed. Me and Dave have roomed with Nico all week, an Italian guy who moved to France a few years ago, so he appreciates the various challenges that come with a new country, culture and language. He also speaks English (brilliantly, I may add) so he’s been our translator; making sure we’re where we need to be when we need to be, helping us to communicate with the rest of the guys and also teaching us the useful French words and phrases!
After a much needed 10 hours kip, it was up and down for breakfast by 8am on Sunday morning. Once fed, changed and ready to ride, I headed to the hotel car park where I encountered the strangest, and one of the coolest, experiences I’ve had so far. On arriving at the car park where we’d parked the vans and cars (obviously), I was greeted by the sight of all the team bikes lined out on stands. Then, as I stood there like a lemon, the team manager, Joel, the team Directuer Sportif (DS), Guy, and the team soigneur, Harry (or Hareeeeee in French), ran about readying all our bikes for us; pumping up tires, tweaking gears and even filling our water bottles while we waited in the sun. I felt quite guilty just stood there watching them do all this for us, but no one else seemed to be giving it a second thought and over the course of the week I’ve come to learn that this is just the way things work over here.
The ride on Sunday morning was only supposed to be a gentle recovery ride, however 10 hours in the car had obviously made some of the guys very restless and after two hours in the strongest wind I’ve ever ridden in (50mph plus), which physically blew two of the guys of the road and into a field at one point, I felt far from recovered. Still, my ‘large frame’ did come in useful after all these years and some of the other (significantly) smaller guys appreciated the refuge from the crosswinds that my sweet tooth has come to provide. The windy conditions also provided me with many new words to add to my ever-growing French vocabulary, however few of them are suitable for mentioning in print.
After a pit-stop at the lunch buffet, it was back out on the road in the afternoon and off into the hills that surround the hotel. Unfortunately, a combination of all the hours I’d spent in the car over the past three days (23 in total, since you ask) and poor management of my food intake, I found the afternoon ride very, very challenging. Still, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and all that …
Monday’s training involved a tough six hour slog with an impressive 2600 meters of climbing. Again, strong winds made life hard but my condition was certainly much better than it was on Sunday. By the end of the ride, I was actually feeling OK and I was riding towards the front of the group on all the ‘little’ climbs along the beautiful, rolling costal road.
Tuesday was another ‘double-day’, using the same two routes as on Sunday. Again, my condition was better still however it was on Wednesday, yet another double-day, where my legs really started to reflect the kind of shape I had back in England before the move. In the morning, I was able to make two big efforts of approx. 20 minutes on both the two big climbs, before then staying out with two others and doing extra miles, and an extra climbing effort, whilst everyone else went back to the hotel for lunch. I then reconvened with half of the team in the afternoon for another two hours and 1000 meters of climbing. Fair to say I was cooked when I got back to the hotel, but I was pleased with the quality of training I had done. And I also had the bragging rights at the dinner table that evening, having done the most hours and miles (or kilometres to the Europeans) out of everyone in the team. Hopefully the team’s boss will have taken note of this commitment, and my improving form, and it will have quashed any doubts he may have had after my less than convincing showing on Sunday!
Finally, yesterdays training involved 4 hours at a brisk 20 mph despite a couple of testing climbs and the ever-present wind. It was also the first time we’ve ridden without the sun on our backs during the camp, the light rainfall and mild temperatures creating the feeling of a British summer and making me feel right at home. Again, my condition was an improvement on the previous day despite the fatigue now accrued in my legs and, after a big burn-up on the run into the hotel, I was more than ready to eat and put my feet up.
Unfortunately, we’re having to cut the camp a day short and travel home today as the wind is reaching speeds of 62 mph so it just isn’t safe to ride. While it’s a bit of a shame to miss out on a final days riding in this beautiful part of the world, it does at least mean I get a bit of a rest before my first race for the team at Chateaudun on Sunday!
All in all, this week has definitely been one of the best I’ve ever had on the bike and I’ve enjoyed every single second. Everyone in the team has made me feel exceptionally welcome, making great efforts to speak English when they themselves have a limited vocab, but also helping to educate me in the essentials of conversational French, even if not all of their teachings can be found in a school textbook! It really has been a laugh a minute with le garcons, and I genuinely couldn’t ask for a better bunch of guys to call my team mates! Additionally, the support we have as riders on this team is exceptional and extremely professional, from being passed cake out of the window of the team car, which follows us on every ride, to massages in the evenings!
Now though, it’s time to gather my things and head back to France. As I’ve mentioned, Chateaudun awaits me on Sunday and then after that I’ll be racing every weekend for the foreseeable future. You can see my race schedule here, but for now folks, it’s time to hit the road!