Postcards from Spain
by George Scott
There is little wonder professional cyclists flee northern Europe in winter, swapping cold, wet weather for warm sunshine and good roads.
Pre-season training camps in mainland Spain, Majorca and the Canary Islands allow pro riders to log valuable miles ahead of a long campaign. Time to set-up base, ride without the concern of snow, driving rain and ice, and fine-tune leadout drills away from the chaos of the peloton.
Thousands of amateur cyclists from all corners of the continent follow in their footsteps and migrate south, be it for a different kind of training camp or a weekend's social riding. I joined Lotto-Belisol earlier this month at their final pre-season training camp in Benicassim, Spain, and took the opportunity to secure some valuable winter miles of my own.
Winter in the UK is a tough time to be a cyclist and the recent snow that has blanketed training roads across the country is testament to that. But sun soothes the cycling soul and renews motivation, providing the opportunity to kick-start training in January, when so many goals for the year are set.
Southern Europe is not universally warm through winter. Sunshine is not guaranteed: a cold snap can bite, rain fall and snow is not unheard of in the mountains of Majorca.
But the odds are in your favour, and while the winter months are the preserve of pro riders, most amateurs, whether they have their eye on making a name for themselves in the local racing scene, or nailing that big sportive, head abroad in early spring.
I was particularly lucky for my early January visit to Spain. The chilly early morning air was soon replaced by temperatures approaching 20 degrees. An opportunity to replace a softshell jacket, bib tights and thick gloves with a short sleeve jersey, bib shorts, arm/knee warmers and a light gilet. Blue skies provided the perfect backdrop to explore the countless miles of roads which run through the orange groves, or to ride into the hills which rise to 500m above Benicassim; countless climbs which just don't exist here.
Now I'm back under sullen skies, regularly checking the weather forecast to find out when the UK will be released from the icy grip under which its currently strangled.
But I've already given 2013 an early shot in the arm. There's light at the end of the tunnel, good miles already in the legs and spring is on the distant horizon. Thinking of booking your own time in the sun? Do it.
Postcards from Spain
Swap cycling under sullen skies for long climbs with sea view
Fast riding on flat roads through the orange groves
An opportunity to explore new roads
The mid-morning coffee stop
High in the hills above Benicassim