The pre-season training camp traditionally takes Britain’s top teams to warmer climes and 2012 has been no different.
In January, Team Sky and Endura Racing set up separate camps in Mallorca, while Team UK Youth trained at Gran Canaria. This month, Team IG-Sigma Sport will travel to Tuscany and Rapha Condor Sharp will return to Spain to build on foundations laid during their first visit in January.
The training camps provide the first opportunity for many riders to work with their new teammates. Team Sky’s gathering in Mallorca was clearly time well spent if judged by Mark Cavendish’s success in Qatar. For an experienced professional like Cavendish, the pre-season training camp will have been a familiar staging post. For the newest recruits to Britain’s most successful teams, however, the overseas gatherings represented a new experience and a significant step towards fulfilling their ambitions of success at cycling’s highest levels.
Felix English and Oliver Rossi, two riders signed before Christmas by Rapha Condor Sharp as part of the team’s stated goal in 2012 of developing under-23 talent, spent two weeks last month in Lanzarote working with more experienced teammates including Dean Downing and James McCallum.
Brighton-based English raced on the road for the Science in Sport team in 2011, and on the track for Ireland, both at under-23 level. Ilford’s Rossi raced as a junior last year, and in 2012 will make the jump to senior level by racing against some of Europe’s most experienced professionals.
For both riders, recruitment to the ranks of Rapha Condor Sharp, winners of last year’s Tour Series, has represented a step into the rarified world of the elite cyclist. Rossi describes “surreal” visits to Condor Cycles to be measured for a custom bicycle and to Sheffield’s private Claremont medical facility for physiological tests. They are refreshingly enthusiastic about the opportunity presented them. “I was ecstatic,” Rossi recalls of an unexpected phone call from team manager, John Herety, inviting him to join the team. English talks of “running around the place” after receiving a text from Herety while on holiday in Mallorca.
Both, however, are serious, realistic, and unmistakably focused when quizzed on the year ahead. Rather than sit back and congratulate themselves on their good fortune, the immediate response of either to Herety’s unexpected communication was to get back on the bike.
“I trained a lot,” says English of his pre-Lanzarote preparations, while Rossi talks of “four to five hour rides, three to four times a week”.
The Southern-based pair flew to Lanzarote from Gatwick, meeting teammates who had travelled from Manchester at the team’s hotel. English describes the focus of the fortnight on Spanish roads as more technical than physical. “Just riding in a group was quite a challenge, particularly in the strong cross winds,” he says. Both agree on the camp’s primary goal: to gel the team as unit. “The main thing John Herety wanted us to do was not to attack each other on the road. The whole point was that we would ride as a team. That was the biggest thing,” says Rossi. English concurs: “We just looked after each other out on the road. If anyone wasn’t feeling great, we’d adjust the pace.”
A good team spirit is a by-product of a successful training camp, an intangible that cannot be created through any amount of drills on the road. “It was the first time I had been away with any team where everyone got on really well. It really showed, off the bike and on. The two weeks just flew by,” says English. “We just go on with everything,” adds Rossi. “They were just really nice guys.”
English will start his season at the Tour of Taiwan, while Rossi begins his career in the signature black and pink of RCS at the UCI 2.2 category Tour de Normandie. “That will be my first race as a senior,” he says. “It’s eight days and I’ve never raced for more than three or four days. It’s going to be a huge learning curve for me. If I’m getting through and feeling ok, that will be a huge achievement for me.”
He is equally focused on domestic events, targeting top 10 finishes in events on British Cycling’s Premier Calendar, and developing his abilities against the clock. “I think I’ve got a shot at the national under-23 Time Trial championship this year. I can definitely medal, but I would like to have a shot at winning,” he says.
English will be seeking to build on gains made last year in what he believes will be “quite a big learning year”.
“I would like to finish in the top five at [UCI] 1.2 and 2.1 races. There’s pressure to do well in the Tour Series as the team was so successful last year and the television exposure is great for our sponsors.
“I think the team will be underestimated a bit this year because of the younger riders. However, I think the team is still really strong.” He points to the experience and results of teammates Cuming, House, Downing, Handley, Lang, Grenda, and Jennings. “They all have some really good results.”
As a member of Ireland’s track team, Olympic year holds additional excitement.
“It’s going to be a brilliant year. It’s so much more exciting to be involved when you get to know the guys competing. I trained a lot with Martyn Irvine, who’s pretty much secured his qualification for the Olympics. Coming from two years ago to being involved now, it’s really exciting.”
Rapha Condor Sharp’s riders will return to Spain for a second training camp later this month. 2012 will be an interesting year for a team accustomed to success, and for English and Rossi, will present an opportunity to display their talent at a level far higher than any at which they have previously competed.