there is little worse than that feeling of having missed out on something. even when you know that it'll be just as relevant if you get to do it later, there are mixed feelings of envy and disappointment that someone else got to do it and you didn't. even worse is the knowledge that you have little or no idea what it's all about in the first place, and this sense of missing out has been solely engendered by that selfsame lack of knowledge.
as is the nature of cycling, both in terms of transportational needs, heck this is fun sort of needs and most of all, in competitive terms, everything is cyclical, if you'll pardon the rather obvious pun. it's mudguards/fender time at the moment, coupled rather topically with freezing conditions in certain parts, but soon the big chill will give way to less chittery conditions and before you know it, we'll have dug out those short sleeve jerseys and bibshorts. it's unlikely the fun part is much of a respecter of weather conditions; tomorrow it is due to rain, so i'll go play on the 'cross bike in the woods, pretending to be jeremy powers.
and i doubt it's a factor of major concern in the competitive arena either.
competitively speaking, the road season almost doesn't finish at all. the tour down under has already been and gone, with few in the northern hemisphere actually paying as much attention as they might. but then it's unlikely that those who were in the mix in australia will show face again until the classics leap up and slap us in the face come late march, early april. so riding in the sun might be idyliic in one sense, but it's hardly a pointer to the remainder of the season. the idea of riding in the sun, however, provides much vaunted benefits for those who normally reside in less benevolent climes, a state of affairs that has fostered well-worn tradition of the early season training camp.
this brings us back to the part about missing out, or at least providing fuel for the fire that foments such concerns. the majority of us have no need of training at all, let alone a week riding in a smartly dressed peloton, holding up the traffic on obscure spanish roads, parts of nice, or more congestedly, the isle of mallorca. but the fact that the monthlies, the comic and several well-to-do websites have seen fit to place journalists in each or all of those locations, means that their opening pages are rife with photos that possess light and shade, brightness and contrast and densely packed shadows. all of these have been missing in action on this side of the channel since well before hallowe'en last year.
therefore even the majority averred to above, with no demonstrable need to improve their vo2 max, the big numbers on the screen of an srm display or even something often referred to as a recovery rate, either go ahead and book themselves on a week of purgatorial bliss, continually state that they're about to do so, or simply never shut up about it. it is the curse of the shaven legged. but does anyone actually know of what a pre-season training camp consists? could it be that the words and pictures are telling fibs; that it's not all it's cracked up to be?
the homeboys, even though they're nothing of the sort, have to be the guys from endura equipe pro road team. endura clothing are one of the few major scottish sponsors involved in pro cycle racing and, managed by former twice british road-race champion, brian smith, that black and lime green has a heart of tartan. in preparation for the 2012 season, smith, riders and the endura service course headed to mallroca for a two week training camp at the end of january, in the light of which brian seemed the ideal chap of whom to enquire just what a modern day training camp consisted and what it hoped to achieve?
"Years ago a training camp was a 'training' camp, especially in warmer climates. Now it's more of a 'gelling' camp, as riders do six hour rides together and spend days in a hotel with each other. So from 100% training i would now say it's split 50/50 between training and bonding. Riders are now pretty fit in late January and some have already raced. There's also the factor of bedding in new bikes and kit (endura have shifted from the look frames used for the past two seasons over to giant for 2012). All contracts run until the end of the year, so many are using new bike and kit in January, unless they've been with the team last season."
so a team training camp could be likened to the cup of coffee at the office in the morning before the real paid for work commences. rarely does any professional team retain the same riders year on year. some will have retired, some will have moved on, and others may have found themselves without a renewed contract. this all makes way for several new riders, some of whom will be well versed in the sport, others just at the beginning of their careers, and it's not too unseemly that they spend quality time getting to know each other and figuring out what it is that a sram shifter does that a shimano one doesn't.
but the training camp surely provides the team management with the opportunity to assess each rider 'au naturele' so to speak, consider what training plan may be appropriate and which race programme they'll be following? "A little bit of assessing, but pro teams usually know what their riders are capable of. Through testing facilities and talent spotting, most riders have their programme already by this time of year. For Conti teams it's a little harder, because they all need to be prepared at this time of year waiting for some invites to arrive.
World Tour teams have more structure. A training camp is often split between Classics specialists and Grand Tour riders. It's important for the Classics team to be fit at this time of year, but for the Tour de France it's not so important. Gone are the days when Lemond would turn up at training camp overweight. There may be general tweaking of programmes, but in general all is set, with reserves in case of illness or injury. Many riders now have their own coaches, so a training camp will give general training without too many specifics to individual riders. It's more bonding than full-on specific training."
so we now know pretty much what's on the cards for those in lycra, the chaps who'll be at the coal-face in a matter of weeks, but what about the blokes in short-sleeves. what about those who'll spend much of their year sitting behind the steering wheel of the team car, handing up bottles and gels while being ready to stash armwarmers and rainjackets when the tempo increases? is this also something ironed out at the training camp, or are those deatails already written in carbon fibre? "Most of the staff planning has been done in November and December. Training camps are all about the riders, giving them good training, good place for interaction and showing them the season's plan."
team endura equipe takes its name from the title sponsor, based in livingston, near edinburgh, scotland. company and team owner, jim mcfarlane is the man who has dipped deep into the corporate pockets over the last few seasons to place the endura team right where they are today, all in the name of product development and publicity, along with an insatiable passion for competitive cycling. is jim's role simply that of the guy who signs the cheques, or does he take a more hands on' approach when it comes to these early season rides in the sun? "Sadly I have nothing to do with the training camp, as it is far too much like a cycling holiday (for me) and I am instead chained to my desk in the office trying to earn the money to send others out to Mallorca instead. Funny how things work out...
"Everything is managed by Smiffy and Winnie (Julian Winn). I failed to attend either this year or last year due to time pressures in the business and lack of direct flights from Scotland at this time of year."
as brian mentioned above, for a continental team, there is a degree of apprehension to be endured, waiting to see where the race invites will come from for at least a part of endura's season. how dependent is he on receiving these invites to plan the racing year? "There is a new UCI rule which asks all 1.2 and 2.2 races to invite the top three ranked Conti teams in their area. Endura are lying 2nd in the UCI Europe Tour. These races are good, but a team like ours has goals of achieving Continental Pro status, so we need to try and perform in 1.1 and 2.1 races.
"It is highly competitive to gain entry to these races and Continental teams receive the last invites, and always last to know, something which is often difficult to manage. The UCI are trying to make cycling into a global sport, but race organisers will always look after their own country's teams first. Realistically, we need more UCI events in the UK to help more British teams gain access to the better races across the world. Where you are ranked in the UCI points system is now very important for all categories."
moving up from uci continental to continental pro is a step that will involve an appropriate increase in budget, one that needs to be spent judiciously. is jim mcfarlane content with providing endura's share of the budget, safe in the knowledge that he has a management team to ensure productive spending of the money? "I look at the budget at the start of each year and very closely at the proposed race schedule, riders and equipment, but after that's signed off, the team gets on with it with little involvement from me."
considering the degree of trust and budget with which brian smith and his peers are charged, it seems there may be a tad more flexibility and skills required from a team manager than acquiring a triangular tan line on one arm. just what is it that the team manager does and is responsible for? "The General Manager looks after the running of the whole team and its sponsors, from race programmess, public relations, staff, performance, future partners, sponsorship... it's a long list.
"The Sports Director looks after his staff and riders at their particular events. They will also look after certain riders away from racing. They are also responsible for planning every event and are the ones making all the tactical decisions. From time to time they will need to look after sponsors and guests."
while we're on the subject of sponsors, the team has parted company with french concern look, on whose frames they have raced for the last two seasons, and made the move to that of giant bicycles. each rider has a race bike, a training bike, a spare and a time-trial machine. presumably, in order to see that all is well in the land of carbon cycle frames, giant took the opportunity to attend the camp in mallorca too?
"Most teams are visited by all their sponsors during the training camp. Our main sponsor is obviously Endura Equipe and so is already well looked after. It's entirely up to the product supplying sponsors to visit the team. At World Tour level all sponsors attend, but at Continental level it's sometimes not always necessary. In my opinion Giant, as our new bike brand, should have been represented at the training camp but they chose not to, deciding to leave us to it, which most often works for the rest of the team staff. Giant, however, have tried and tested products used by the Rabobank team, so I completely understand why they decided not to attend."
endura's pre-season two week training camp in mallorca is, of course, now at an end and there are the coming month's of racing to look forward to. i would assume, race entries permitting, that brian smith has a cunning plan for the season? is endura set up to turn on a tanner (a scottish sixpence), if the season looks as if it may be straying from the ideal path? "As a Continental team we are set up to make immediate changes to whatever we need to do. Our race programme is pretty much set for the first half of the year, and I am confident we have the agenda to gain the relevant exposure in the areas where Endura need/want to be. We would, of course, like to do a couple of bigger events, but it's difficult to get in due to the level we're at and what the UCI rules say.
"I always have a plan B...."
it seems only constitutionally fair to ask the man behind the desk just how he sees the year ahead. what are jim mcfarlane's hopes for the season, both competitively and promotionally? "The main change this year will be to dominate in the UK. Last year we put too much of our efforts into the overseas races and didn't deliver in Britain as we perhaps should have. This year we are strong enough to do well both in the UK and in Europe."
that has either sated your appetite for pre-season training whether you need to or not, or it has you searching the sporting tours website to book for next year. probably the principal difference is that the riders on endura equipe will now, not unnaturally, be expected to repay their two weeks in the sun by way of results. you and i, on the other hand, are perhaps more likely to simply have a more impressive photostream on flickr.
posted friday 3 february 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................