Every winter and spring, UK cyclists make their annual migration south for a warm-weather training camp.
The idea of a week's cycling, clocking up high mileage under a blue sky, on smooth, traffic-free roads, and with long climbs on the horizon is hard to resist for professional cyclists, amateur racers and sportive riders alike. In fact, we've recently been behind-the-scenes on Team Dimension Data's pre-season training camp.
But you don't need to head to South Africa, like Mark Cavendish and co, to get some quality training in. Majorca, Girona, Nice and Tenerife are just some of our favourites destinations closer to home.
A training camp is a seemingly simple proposition - what can be more difficult than riding your bike in the (fingers crossed) sun? But there are common pitfalls to avoid, from choosing the right camp and packing the right kit, to structuring the week's riding to ensure you leave ready to tackle the rest of the year head-on.
So we caught up with Wheels in Wheels boss Graham Temple to find out how to get the most out of a training camp. Here are his top ten dos and don'ts.
DO... choose a training camp which suits you
Training camps are like cyclists and come in all shapes and sizes. Picking the right training camp is vital to ensuring you get the most out of your week, says Temple, and you'll get more out of a camp by riding with cyclists of a similar ability.
"There's a big choice out there," he says. "What do you want out of the camp? Ask the right questions before you choose. What are the speeds of the ride? Will it suit someone who's a beginner? We can create a bespoke week for group of beginners, or we can have a group of fast sportive riders or racers."
DON'T... go into it blind
A training camp is the chance to lay the foundations for the year and arriving in reasonable shape will allow a rider to make the most of the opportunity on offer by completing long miles on challenging terrain. Temple also recommends that riders arrive with a goal for the week ahead.
"Most people want to hone their skills on something or other, whether that's improving their endurance, climbing ability, or even descending," says Temple. "Riders in the UK rarely have the chance to learn how to descend."
Temple sends his clients a questionnaire to assess their ability in order to structure the week's riding. "If your camp doesn't send you a questionnaire on what you want then you should be concerned," he says. "Most people arrive with a goal and it's important to let the camp organisers know what that goal is so they can cover it as well."
DO... ease yourself in
The temptation when arriving at a training camp, with the sun shining and thousands of kilometres of roads to explore, is to head out on the first day and open the week with a century ride at full gas.
But there's a long week ahead of you. A training camp is likely to represent a significant increase in mileage and that means an increase in the stress places upon your body. Ease yourself in to get the most out of your time in the saddle.
"We always insist on a rest day," says Temple, "with a 30km ride to the beach and back. That's it. It's a nice refreshing day and allows the body to catch-up. If you want to build your endurance then there's no alternative to bashing out the miles but don't overdo it."
DON'T... leave completely exhausted
It's a long week and you don't need to train like every ride is your last - listen to your body. Just as it's easy to get carried away on day one, it's easy to overdo it and return home ill, injured or in need of a week of the bike to recover from the fatigue.
It's also important to factor in the effect of travelling, Temple says. "The travelling is tiring full stop. You might have to get up at 4am to catch an aeroplane. You've got to build that in, otherwise you might arrive back in the UK, where there's another change in climate and you come down with the cold.
"You don't want to arrive home on your knees, tired as anything - you want to arrive home in good condition ready to take on the rest of the year."
DO... structure your week
It pays off to have a structured approach to a training camp in order to strike the right balance between easing yourself in and leaving in good shape, while ensuring your make the most a dedicated week on the bike and not just sitting outside the cafe working on your tan lines.
That structure is dictated by the riders but Temple's week-long camps typically start with a low-key 60-70km 'assessment' ride to gauge the group's ability and to allow riders, who may not know each other before arriving, to get to know each other. "On day two you can start pushing people," he says. "Day three is down to the group, day four is a rest day, day five is a another big day and day six is a taper down day."
An organised training camp is likely to take care of the week's agenda but the same principles apply to DIY trips.
DON'T... assume the weather will be kind
While the weather is likely to be better on the Mediterranean than in the UK, and every cyclist dreams of riding with the sun on their back under a blue sky, sunshine is still far from guaranteed early in the year and conditions can be unpredictable, so be prepared.
We were rained on in Calpe with An Post-Chain Reaction, while the pro teams who headed to Mallorca even experienced some snow this winter; a reminder that 'unlikely' does not mean 'impossible'.
Temple recommends a kit list which, as well as the warm weather essentials (including suncream), include arm, knee and leg warmers, a long sleeve jersey, a pair of thin gloves, a gilet and a lightweight waterproof jacket.
"All of that has still got to be packed and hopefully you never use it," says Temple. Some camps, Temple's included, will have a car to follow riders on the road.
"If you start with arm warmers but you get a little warm, then you can just take them off and drop back to the team car," he says. "If you're self-reliant then you have to carry everything yourself like you would on a club ride at home."
DO... ensure your bike is in good condition
Cycling becomes the 9-5 at a training camp, with the open road as your office and your bike as your desk. Your bike will be a near-constant companion through the week so make sure your faithful steed is in perfect working order.
"Have your bike serviced by a good mechanic before you leave," says Temple, who performs a quick safety check on each of the bike that arrive at his camps to ensure they're in a roadworthy condition. "If necessary, put my tyres and tubes on, perhaps a new chain or cassette, that kind of thing. Then you've got one less thing to think about."
Established training camp destinations are likely to have road bikes to hire and that eliminates the stress of transporting your own, but there's nothing like having a familiar machine to ride.
DON'T... over indulge
Having been out on the bike all day, it's important to reward yourself with a hearty meal come dinner time - but don't over-indulge. Most training camps are based at hotels with a buffet dinner and it's easy to make one too many trips to the desert cart in the name of 'recovery'.
"People think they should eat a lot because they're out riding every day," says Temple, whose camps offer fresh food based on menus supplied to WorldTour riders. Temple says its not unheard of for some riders to leave heavier than when they arrived.
"Many sportive riders are a little overweight, so it's also more important to use the camp to try and burn a few calories off, while also eating properly with good fresh food and not junk. Why have you come on the training camp? Most likely to get regular miles in and maybe learn some skills, but also to trim themselves up and perhaps lose some weight."
DO... pay attention to recovery
It's equally important to make sure you body is given ample opportunity to recover after the exertion of a long day in the saddle and that starts with a good night's sleep.
"A lot of people don't get eight hours sleep at home," says Temple. "Every wants to do big miles, with long climbs, without wrecking themselves. Have a beer in the evening or a glass of wine with dinner, wind down and relax, then make sure you get a good night's sleep. It's important to get the recovery right."
A training camp gives you the opportunity to pay full attention to recovery, without the distractions of life at home. Also pay attention to what you're eating - both on the off the bike - and make sure you stay hydrated, particularly if riding in a warm climate after a cold, wet winter in the UK.
DON'T... take it too seriously
Finally, a training camp is still meant to be a holiday. You've paid good money to be there so don't take it too seriously and, above all enjoy yourself.
A training camp, and the opportunity to explore new roads with friends, should bring a smile to your face. Look at a training camp as a chance to work hard, but to also rest, relax and unwind. You - and your cycling - will feel better for it.