Why go on a training camp?
There is no better feeling than riding with the sun on your back while the UK is still embraced by winter.
The winter training camp is a significant milestone in the season of professional and amateur cyclists alike. It's an opportunity to dedicate a long weekend or, ideally, a week to cycling, with the sole aim of clocking up high mileage ahead of a season of sportives and racing.
Training camps typically take place between January and May, with riders migrating south in search of warm weather, smooth roads and long climbs. If you're preparing for an event like the Marmotte or Etape du Tour, a training camp will allow you to ride climbs of a similar length and duration, while also benefiting from valuable hours in the saddle.
Countless tour operators offer organised training camps where all you have to do is book a flight and turn up with your bike (though many destinations offer bike hire) - a well-organised training camp is as close as you'll come to being a professional rider.
Most training camps will offer a variety of riding groups, with the distance and speed of each ride varying accordingly - but make sure you check to find a camp which works for you. Many operators also offer supported ride weeks where you'll still log serious mileage but without the intensity of a training camp.
You can also organise a DIY training camp by rounding up a group of riding buddies, choosing a location, and booking flights and accommodation. That way you can dictate your own schedule but may miss out on the structure and local knowledge of an organised trip .
Either way, knowing you have a training camp booked will kick-start your winter training and provide an added incentive - a light at the end of the tunnel - to ensure you arrive in good shape and ready to take on the additional mileage that comes with a week in the saddle.
But where to ride? Here are seven winter training camp destinations to consider.
There is no better place to start than Majorca - cyclists have long made the annual pilgrimage to the Mediterranean island.
Within a two hour flight of much of Europe, Majorca is the training camp destination of choice thanks to a combination to smooth roads, long climbs and an infrastructure built around cycling.
"If Disney was to build a theme park for cycling then Majorca would be the blueprint," says David Williams of Stephen Roche Cycling Holidays and Training Camps.
"Majorca benefits from kilometre after kilometre of good quality roads which are generally quieter than any other training destinations in Europe. Sometimes you hardly see a car for hours and when you do the local people are very tolerant of cyclists."
Majorca's terrain varies from flat coastal roads, to inland plains and high mountain passes. The Serra de Tramuntana mountain range runs parallel to the north-west coast and the longest climb on the island, the Puig Major, rises to 854m over the course of 14km, while the infamous Sa Calobra climbs 668m at an average 7.1 per cent via 26 hairpins.
"Temperatures average 10 degrees warmer than most of northern Europe," says Williams. "If you want to rub shoulders with the pros head to Majorca in January, February and early March."
Weather can be changeable early in the year, however, with rain not uncommon and snow occasionally falling in the mountains. March, April and May offer more consistent weather, with temperatures in the 20s, and are more popular as a result, says Williams.
Pros: Wide variety of training camp operators, varied terrain, cycling infrastructure, spot a pro, easy to reach from UK
Cons: Unpredictable weather early in the year, regular visitors may be ready for a change of scenery
Tenerife hit the cycling headlines as the island where Bradley Wiggins laid the foundations for his Tour de France triumph.
"It’s the only place in Europe that you can stay at over 2,000m in the winter and train from the hotel door," says Jeanette Caldicott of Polka Dot Cycling, who has helped Team Sky with logistics during spring training camps.
"The team (along with a lot of other pro teams now) stay at the Paradores Hotel situated in the old crater right next to Mount Teide. It’s the only building there, there are no shops and no internet, so it helps the riders to get away from it all and just focus on their training and recovery."
Mount Teide dominates the island and rises to 3,718m, while the summit of the climb peaks at 2,100m. Wiggins first came to Tenerife in early 2011 and used Mount Teide to work on specific intervals between 1,500m and 2,100m after struggling at altitude during the 2010 Tour de France.
"Tenerife hosts the longest continuous climb in Europe (in terms of height gain) from sea level to - 2,200m in one hit," says Caldicott.
"There is very little flat in Tenerife, but generally the main climbs are very steady, around five to six per cent in gradient, so it’s a great destination to get some good aerobic training."
But Tenerife isn't only a destination for professional cyclists. The largest and most populous of the seven Canary Islands, Tenerife, which lies 300km off the coast of Africa, is dubbed the Island of Eternal Spring thanks to its southerly latitude and moderate climate controlled by the trade winds. It offers reliable weather year-round, not least in January and February when training camp destinations further north are liable to periods of poor weather. Tenerife's good weather, however, is a four-hour flight away.
"Tenerife is an all winter destination," says Caldicott, who says the best time to visit the dryer, warmer southern half of the island is December to April. Rain typically falls on only three days a month during winter.
"You see cyclists all through the winter here. We’ve cycled in many European destinations in the winter and spring months - Majorca, Nice, the Alpujarras in the south of Spain, Cyprus, Sardinia, Corsica - and all have great cycling and wonderful scenery, but they don’t have the winter weather Tenerife has.
"In Tenerife we have ridden every day during the winter not even thinking about the weather. You just get up assuming you are going to ride.
"Most people think of the Canaries as barren volcanic rock, but unlike some of it’s neighbours, Tenerife has a really varied landscape from prickly pears to pine forests. There are some stunning views as you climb from the coast up to Mount Teide.
"Ninety per cent of the roads in Tenerife are very well surfaced and are very quiet. Some need repairs, but they are easy to avoid. The locals are extremely patient drivers when it comes to cyclists and they will often sit behind you on a climb for five minutes until it is really safe for them to overtake."
Pros: Longest continuous climb in Europe, year-round sunshine, ride like Wiggo & Froome
Cons: Four-hour flight, mountainous terrain provides little respite
Lanzarote is a another popular training camp destination in the Canary Islands and shares many of the benefits of Tenerife, namely year-round sunshine.
Lanzarote can, however, be very windy and it's volcanic landscape, while dramatic, may not appeal to everyone.
While Tenerife is dominated by Mount Teide, Lanzarote's terrain is more varied, though there is no shortage of climbs.
"The terrain of the island is very varied so Lanzarote is the perfect place to train, with mountains that rise to 600m - including the steep climb of Fémes in the south, and beautiful, 10km ascent of Tabayesco in the north - as well as plenty of undulating roads," says Claire Dyson of Club La Santa.
"Lanzarote is warm and dry year-round thanks to its proximity to the north west coast of Africa. The best time to visit is between December and March, when it's not too hot, there are less tourists on the roads and and it's still cold in the rest of Europe.
"There is excellent support for cyclists on the island, with bike shops and mechanics. Traffic is low and the road surfaces are, on the whole, very good."
Pros: Year-round sunshine, established training camp destination, varied terrain
Cons: Four-hour flight from UK, can be very windy, barren landscape
Majorca may be Spain's best known training camp destination but Andalucia has hosted numerous WorldTour teams in recent years, including Movistar.
After years of organising training camps on Majorca, Wheels in Wheels moved back to the mainland four years ago in search of better weather, earlier in the season.
"We visited the area before the 2013/14 season and knew it would be an excellent place for training camps," says Graham Temple of Wheels in Wheels. "It brings with it the opportunity of better weather, quiet roads, exclusive accommodation and cheaper costs for clients."
Andalucia boasts more than 320 days of sunshine a year and Mojacar, the training camp destination of choice in the region, is blessed by more than 3,000 hours of sunshine a year.
"This part of Spain is classed as semi-dessert with only 40 days of rain on average per year and winter temperatures rarely below 10c even on the coldest days," says Temple.
"The area is predominately hilly and has limited flat rides but they are available. It offers ideal training for the Etape du Tour and other mountainous European events as the area has several climbs over 2,000m. There's outstanding scenery, good road surfaces and virtually no traffic."
Pros: Reliable weather, long climbs, popular with WorldTour teams
Cons: Two-hour transfer from Alicante to Mojacar, limited flat terrain
Girona is home to countless pros and for good reason. A combination of superb roads and a laid-back lifestyle make the Catalan city an ideal training base.
"An increasing number of pro riders are using Girona not only as an in-season base but also as a winter training location as well," says David Welch of Bike Breaks Girona.
"Girona has low winter rainfall and relatively high temperatures meaning you can ride all year on the same quiet mountain roads as in the summer."
However, Girona's location in northern Spain means that riders seeking warm weather are best advised to wait until spring. The average daily high rises from 13 degrees in January to 18 degrees in April and 22 degrees in May.
"Although Girona is a year-round destination, the most interesting times of the year to visit are the spring and early summer (March to June), and autumn (September to November), with temperatures perfect for riding and the roads empty," says Welch.
Girona is surrounded by superb climbs, including the renowned 13.8km ascent of Rocacorba, which has an average gradient of 6.5 per cent and sections of 10-15 per cent. Since being paved in 2006 it has become a popular test of form for Girona's resident professionals but is only one of countless climbs to tackle in the area.
"Girona is a fairly unique place situated between the high mountains and the sea," adds Welch, "meaning you have access to all types of riding, from the high mountain passes made famous by the Volta a Catalunya to stunning coastal rides along the beaches of the Costa Brava."
Pro cyclists choose to make Girona their home not only because of the superb cycling on offer but also because of what the Catalonian city has to offer in itself, according to Welch.
"Girona is not a mass tourism destination," he says, "so unlike Majorca, Girona does not close up in the winter. Girona is a buzzing university town all year round with many restaurants and bars for when you've finished on the bike."
Pros: Varied terrain, lively city, close to Barcelona, spot a pro
Cons: Chilly early in the year, less training camp options than more established destinations
Nice combines the cosmopolitan French Riviera with stunning cycling and, like Girona, is home to plenty of professional cyclists, including Team Sky duo Geraint Thomas and Luke Rowe.
"The weather is good all year round and the airport is very close so the riders have an easy connection to get to races," says Claire Blackie of Cycle Cote d'Azur. "The area offers their wives and partners a good lifestyle, too. In fact most riders base themselves in Monaco for the tax benefits rather than Nice itself."
Nice is only a 90-minute flight from London and, according to Blackie, offers some of the most beautiful cycling in Europe.
"The airport is right at the end of the promenade you can be on your bike less than an hour after arriving," she says.
"It’s where the Alps dip their toes into the sea. In winter you can ride along the coast into Italy, or into the L'Esterel National Park to the west, which has flatter roads. You can still climb to 1,000m in winter as the snow stays high, so you can ride the Col de la Madone (926m), as well as other cols such as Col d'Eze (502m)."
The Col d'Eze is Nice's calling card. The Paris-Nice race finished with a time trial on the climb every year between 1968 and 1995 (except 1977), before returning in 2012, when Bradley Wiggins sealed overall victory in 'The Race to the Sun' as part of an annus mirabilis in which the Brit also won the Tour de Romandie, Criterium du Dauphine, Tour de France and Olympic time trial gold.
The climb rises straight out of the city, climbing for 10km at an average gradient of 4.7 per cent, but with long stretches of between seven and eight per cent, providing panoramic views of Nice. In reality it is only one of countless climbs in the region.
"You can ride all year long in Nice but spring and autumn are particularly special in Nice as the weather is fantastic and there are less tourists. " In winter the temperatures are around 10-12 degrees and sunny and it's not unusual for this to rise to 16-18 degrees."
Pros: Good international connections, cosmopolitan city, varied terrain, spot a pro
Cons: Chilly early in the year, high mountain passes subject to snow in winter
Overseas training camps are popular for good reason - namely the warm weather, long climbs and varied terrain, and the focus that a trip abroad brings - and you can't beat a week in the sun to boost your fitness.
But if you are unable to jet off to warmer climes then you can still benefit from a staycation in the UK.
While we may lack the high climbs of Europe, the hills and mountains of Wales, the Peak District and the Lake District present a substantial challenge in their own right and are within driving distance of most of the UK.
"If you are unable to have an extended period in the sun, gains can still me made by taking the time off work to concentrate on training at home," says Tom Kirk of Custom Cycle Coaching. "Whether a weekend in the mountains of Wales, or just taking advantage of the bank holidays and a few days annual leave to string together a solid week’s training at home, you can reap the benefits.
"If you are staying at home try to use the same principles as if you were away, turn on your ‘out of office’ message on the emails and don’t be tempted to get drawn back into work stresses and concentrate as fully as possible on training and recovering."
The sticking point is, of course, the weather - and that can never be guaranteed at home. A staycation training camp, particularly if you are heading to the wilder reaches of the UK, is best saved for later in the season. A few days focused riding in May will still pay off if preparing for a big European sportive in the summer.
Pros: More affordable, within driving distance, stunning scenery across the UK
Cons: Lacks the long steady climbs of Europe, the weather, the weather, the weather