Camps and Cancellara

You’ll notice as of late a lot of professional teams are in training camp right now putting in the kilometers for what they hope will be a big 2017 season. The camps look so glamorous on the internet. Nice scenery, beautiful weather, amazing location, lots of laughing, but it is not always this way! Today I want to talk about what goes on in these camps, are they necessary, do the pros like them and what I noticed over the years of riding with Fabian Cancellara.

Personally, I wasn’t a big fan of leaving New Zealand just prior to Xmas and heading to a training camp. In fact I remember year after year Jesse Sergent and myself would be whining in the room together as to why we had to travel so far for a short camp! For 6 of the 10 days we would be so jet lagged and complaining non-stop like a couple of school kids. We would be in bed anytime from 7pm and sometimes awake at 4am. We were zombies and would laugh at anything due to the tiredness we both felt! It seemed that after about 7 days though we would start to come alive, be much happier and then all of a sudden we were chucked back on a plane and heading home to yet more jet lag over Xmas! For me I didn’t really see the point in travelling so far, but I did come to love aspects of training camps for many other reasons.

I remember being so wrecked after the first few days of training. Day one would always be about 3hrs, day two would be 4hrs then typically a rest day and then the real training would start. Day one and two felt like a war after 36hrs on a plane and these were the easiest days! I remember walking and riding in those first few days feeling like a zombie. I did come right though, and as much as I liked to complain with my roomy, I knew it was my job and one I loved and was so grateful to be do doing.

Training camp is a busy time for every team though, especially the December camp due to trying to fit 12 days of training and related activity into 10 day. In December the focus is normally on building a good base in a relaxed atmosphere but over the years teams have now started training harder in this camp. It’s in this camp we get new bikes for the season, we receive new clothing, we meet new team mates and we start putting some kilometers in the legs building towards the 2017 season. We would always do some on the bike testing to get zones and would be bike fitting for what seemed like hours on end. We always split into groups at camps dependent on what your strengths were and my group was always the classics one. Our groups training was often dictated by Fabian Cancellara and rightly so because he was the leader and the guy that had to win for us in April. The guy really in charge on the road though was Yaroslav Popovych, also known as Popo. Popo was the man! He was full of stories and a really respected rider in the peloton. It was often Popo that made the kilometers pass quickly for me. From his up bringing to how he became professional, all the stories would make any ride go fast.

In January the team camp totally changed focus though. There was not so much off the bike stuff but on the bike everything was intensified. I didn’t have to attend many January camps due to clashing with our NZ road nationals and Tour Down Under but the ones I did attend were nasty. Let’s just say there wasn’t much smiling! In this camp the training is very structured. We would have core in the mornings, stretching in the afternoon and very intense days on the bike with every hour accounted for. It’s in this camp that we were getting ready to race and it is treated like a race with very little distraction off the bike so that we can really push hard on the bike. Three-day blocks of 4-5-6hrs are very common with intensity throughout – but I like this style. It’s safe to say that in the January camp everyone sleeps like a baby!

Looking back now though I see things much differently to what I saw back then. I wanted to train hard, I wanted to see the kilometers tick down fast and I wanted to be tired after each session. That’s what I thought was needed for me to improve. But now I wish I trained another way. I saw the way Fabian used to train in the early years and how he always trained to his heart rate. Fabian didn’t mind getting dropped in December, in fact he would be one of the first dropped time and time again. He was never pushing though. For sure if he did push he would be there and doing damage to others but Fabian was base training according to his heart rate so that he stayed fresh enough in the early months but did enough to grow his aerobic base even bigger. The bigger he made that, the better he would go later. This took discipline though, knowing his body and trusting in his plan. In the earlier years this way of training never failed him. He won at whim in the classics and always in impressive fashion. I put this down to how he trained in the early months of the year. He was aerobically gifted due to the amount of time he spent in this zone and this zone is needed in just about all forms of cycling.

The last two years of Fabians career he started to change his training and in my opinion this wasn’t the best for him. Whether it was due to the pressure of the management and sponsors or perhaps himself due to a few seasons of bad luck, he started training harder earlier. All of sudden Fabian was now one of the strongest in December and absolutely flying in February and March. By the time the big classics week was kicking off in April though I felt he was tired and he wasn’t as fresh as he was prior. His results showed this too. He still had fantastic results, but the big Tour of Flanders win, or Roubaix wasn’t there no matter how hard he tried.

If I could go back and do my career again I would train in a different way. Cycling is an aerobic sport no matter which way you look at it unless you’re a track sprinter. Track sprinting is 100% anaerobic and that’s why they train much differently to the rest of us. For every other discipline though, its more so aerobic than anaerobic. For sure at times we use anaerobic fibers in aerobic events, but the less we use them, the better we will go.  Of course anaerobic training still has its place, but not as much as I once thought. Aerobic muscle fibers are much stronger and tire less than anaerobic. The bigger the engine, the better you’ll go. To develop the engine you have to train the aerobic system. Do this and you’ll have fresher muscles for the when it matters most. This is the type of training I would do more of if I could it again. In the old days though training base was boring, mind numbing stuff that not many could endure. I’ve learned now that there are other ways to develop it whilst still keeping your power high and still keeping sane.

Now that I have more time on my hands I’m doing more research, more reading and a lot of things I saw and experienced when I was a rider are really starting to make sense now. It’s amazing what I’m discovering and it’s so motivating for me as a new coach to learn even more. Through the training camps I am planning in the near future I hope to share my knowledge with everyone that wants to come along. I’m planning U17/19 camps and I’m also in the process of planning a two-phase Masters camp that will align with the age group nationals. I really feel that this style of intensive training camp will suit many riders wanting to gain the knowledge and training required to improve their performance on the bike.

I’d appreciate any feedback guys. A new like button has been added to the blog page so if you like what you’re reading let me know. I wouldn’t say it is effortless for me to write about this stuff and I don’t know even know if this is what you want to hear about and what you call a blog. But I’ll learn as I go and even more so with your feedback. There’s also been updates to the packages page notably an U19 option for training and I’ve adjusted the minimum contract from 6 months down to 3 months.

Thanks guys,

11 replies added

  1. James December 19, 2016 Reply

    Love it Roly. Awesome site and I know you’re going to do well!

  2. Malcolm December 19, 2016 Reply

    Awesome stuff, very professional website. Def got me thinking…

  3. Stu December 19, 2016 Reply

    Hey real interesting article and makes sense to me, I’ve seen a few pro riders “going slow out training and then flying in the races”. Question: A lot of people I know find it hard to get a good base because of their lifestyles eg kids/work/illness etc-whats the answer ?

    • Hayden December 19, 2016 Reply

      Good question. I don’t think base has to be that boring slow like it used to be. A recovery ride is for that. I don’t think it should be too hard either though. Illness is caused by stress. Too hard too soon = too much stress.

  4. Jeff December 19, 2016 Reply

    Awesome Article and insights.

  5. Scott December 19, 2016 Reply

    Good stuff to consider Rolly…think a lot of people want quick results and the older ways which take more time went out the window. Some of Arthur Lyd methods still hold true.

    • Hayden December 19, 2016 Reply

      Yeah I agree! Everyone wants it quicker, whether that be weight loss with a crash diet or a result on the bike. It’s amazing when I think back to Cancellara and how he trained, even how he ate. Smart cookie had a very long career.

  6. Debbs January 8, 2017 Reply

    You have a history that is more than worthy of sharing and one that many NZ cyclists will enjoy reading and learning from. Looking forward to more blogs. Great work Rolly and all the best in your new venture

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