We probably all have an idea of what an early-season, cycling training camp should include; a mix of tough riding, year-round reliable weather and a few beers at the end of a hard day in the saddle likely all feature in most ‘shopping lists’.
It also helps if there are loads of other riders there already – ideally pros – so you can crib their routes from Strava and find out where the best cake is in advance of your arrival. If you pick a destination for your training camp with all of the above, you can be fairly sure that it’ll be a success.
This tick-box approach to choosing where to go does have its downsides though: you’ll find yourself in the same old places, with the same sort of people, and things may begin to feel a little bit formulaic.
This is not to say there’s anything wrong with going somewhere popular – these spots are beloved by many for a reason – but for some of us, there may be a hankering to ride our bikes somewhere a little more adventurous.
For riders who want to get off the beaten track a little, there are some pretty incredible options just waiting to be explored. Take these seven, for example...
Looking for a training camp location that’s truly left-field? You can’t get much more out-there than Morocco.
With the High Atlas mountains within striking distance of Marrakech, there’s plenty of tough riding to keep the legs working and the mind in a perpetual state of ‘this is awesome’ wonderment.
Then there’s the coastal paradise of Taghazout, which offers access to smaller, but no-less wondrous foothills of the Atlas, as well as spellbinding coastal roads.
Riding in Morocco has the added bonus of average temperatures that never dip below 13°C, meaning you can leave the fleece-lined bib shorts at home where they belong.
Cyclists are a relative rarity, compared with the busy roads of Calpe and Mallorca, but reports from riders out there give the impression of a considerate, if slightly bemused car-driving public.
Emerging in recent years as an alternative destination for training camps, the Flanders region of Belgium has virtually none of the characteristics you’d usually look for.
The weather is, at best, dour, and often much worse than that; the scenery is not exactly show-stopping; while the food – well, put it this way, if you don’t like frites, forget it.
Try doing a hill rep, interval session on the Koppenberg though and you quickly realise why they call the men and women of Flanders, ‘lions’.
If you want to get strong there are few better crucibles in which to forge yourself some seriously powerful pins.
Plus, there’s the added bonus of riding in an area that is absolutely mad about cycling, steeped in history and boasts plenty of post-ride activities to keep you occupied – as long as you like drinking very strong beer.
While we’ve all heard of (and probably been on) training camps in the pro-team hotspots of Spain - Mallorca, Alicante, Denia and Girona - what about the oft-overlooked northern regions?
Cantabria and particularly Asturias are blessed with some punchy long climbs, weather that is far better than Britain (if not quite sweltering all-year round) and stunning scenery.
The Picos de Europa National Park comprises plenty of tough ascents to test your mettle, many of which have been featured in the Vuelta in recent years.
Then of course there is the fabled Alto de l’Angliru, with its reputation as the toughest climb in professional road cycling. If doing that every day before breakfast doesn’t get you ready for the season, nothing will.
The Lake District
Home of Coleridge, Wordsworth and Southey, the Lake District is world-renowned for its wild and haunting beauty.
People from every corner of the globe travel here to experience it and we’re incredibly fortunate to have it on our (relative) doorsteps.
What most tourists who come for a trip around the Lake District won’t do, however, is turn a pedal in anger while they’re here. That’s because as far as terrain to ride bikes on goes, the north-western corner of England couldn’t be more challenging.
There’s simply no let up in the action when riding in the Lakes and that means your legs will be in incredible shape after an intensive week of training here. No sooner have you safely negotiated a precipitous descent than you’re pointing up another climb with gradients in excess of 20 per cent.
Of course, the Lake District’s weather is as notorious as its beauty is famous, but that shouldn’t dissuade you from coming to take it all in. Just make sure you pack your waterproofs. And possibly your snorkel.
Sticking close to home, the mountains of Snowdonia in Wales provide another amazing opportunity for a unique training camp.
Fearsome climbs, majestic views and plenty of food to keep your engine fuelled. Simon Warren, the doyen of digging deep and author of cult climber’s bible The 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs, described Bwlch-y-Groes (Hellfire Pass in English) as “arguably the hardest section of relentlessly steep tarmac in Britain".
If that doesn’t have you booking an AirBnB for a week at the foot of it, nothing will.
A country that produces top-class climbers at the same rate Mr Kipling produces Cherry Bakewells, Colombia is the place to go if you are really serious about training at altitude.
The nation’s capital, Bogota, sits at an elevation of 2,600m above sea level. That’s the same as the summit of the Galibier.
Then, if you head north-east into the Boyaca region, you’re in the home province of Nairo Quintana, while if you head north-west it’s not long before you reach the Antioquia region, home to the Heñao brothers of Team Sky and Cannondale’s Rigoberto Uran.
There’s even a story of the great Italian campionissimo Fausto Coppi being laid low by the altitude in Antioquia, so riding here is certainly not for the faint of heart.
It’s always tempting to do as the pros do, so what better way to tune up the legs for the season than by visiting the Gulf region?
With much of the early season’s racing action taking place in the consistently warm and (usually) rain-free climes of the Persian Gulf, there’s no reason why your training camp shouldn’t do the same.
Oman is a beautiful country, with its own professional race and a wealth of interesting routes to ride, but amateur road cycling here, as with many of the countries in the region is still very much nascent.
We say go now and enjoy it, before everyone else arrives to ruin it.