We’ve been considering various travel options this month, from a cycling ‘staycation’, to the classic chalet break in the Alps, spectating tours to cycling’s iconic races, and riding with the greats at pro-led Gran Fondos.
With icy rain pouring down outside, it’s no wonder we start to day dream about cycling somewhere with some sunshine. You may have already booked your cycling break or perhaps are still at the browsing stage. But even this pleasurable fantasy can be fraught with anxiety.
Are you fit enough? What if you can’t keep up? What if you are left stranded in a foreign land forced to eat grass and mend your tyre wall with an old piece of cardboard?
Ok, so that last example is a little far-fetched, but there are some more genuine real-life considerations that should take the uncertainty and stress out of your cycling get away so that you maximise your value for money in terms of both fun and fitness.
There are so many training camps and cycling holidays on offer these days that it can be difficult to know where to start. But a training camp does not have to be a boot camp and there’s no point coming home after a week away completely exhausted only to come down with the flu and be taken off your bike for the following two weeks.
Be realistic about your riding potential
It’s probably a good idea to start off by being realistic about what you are likely to manage without killing yourself. Look at what you typically do in a week in terms of hours of riding and if you multiply that by 2 – 2 ½ times, this is probably or good guide as to what you should consider for a week away. For example if you typically ride 8 hours a week then 16 hours of riding will probably be manageable but 24 hours will probably not.
Getting a gage of how fast you ride on your longer rides will also make it possible for you to decide what groups might be suitable for you, and help any ride leaders or coaches guide you towards something that will give you what you need.
Location, location, location
Aside from your riding, think about what you want in terms of destination, terrain and scenery. If you enjoy the challenge of climbing but are not accustomed to it then be aware that the distances you will be able to cover in a day may be a quarter to a third less than riding on the flat. As well as considering the scenery, have an idea what you want after riding too, whether it’s basic accommodation or a little bit more luxury. Having somewhere nice to relax on your down time is just as important as having the ride road to ride I you want to get that work:rest ratio right.
Nothing helps you ride to your potential on a stay away break more than finding a group that is a lot of fun to be with. Good conversation can help the hours in the saddle fly by so that you forget the ache in your legs, and over meals in the evening you can tell tales (true or false) of cycling adventures past, present and future.
Traditional training camps
There are many old school training camps out there that follow a fairly tried and tested format. Usually they are based around an established resort or hotel that forms the focal point for activities. Some of these are used year in year out and have an established cycling following, making them relatively cheap and often really well organised. The Balearic Islands (Majorca in particular) and Canary Islands are well established cycling destinations because their island terrain allows for some mountain exploration within a short hop of the coastal resorts. The climate often allows for some relatively warm weather during our worst winter months too, making them very popular with a lot of club cyclists.
Often large groups go out from the allocated hotel every morning to take in loops of different distances at different speeds before landing back at the hotel for dinner in the evening. Experienced coaches and riders are on hand to keep the groups together and the relatively large numbers mean that even if groups split there are usually a few riding buddies for everyone.
A newer development and a slightly different style of trip are smaller group cycling tours which are supported by a dedicated crew and a van on the road. These are typically designed around classic cycling routes or roads that may be in remote destinations and might need a little more inside knowledge to explore. The historic Tour de France roads are now well trod routes for several tour operators sometimes travelling from place to place throughout the trip to cover a bit more ground and tick the boxes of several classic climbs.
What to expect?
Knowing the ride schedule and level of support you will have on your trip is important so that you are carrying everything that you might need, and also have any additional clothing that might be required throughout the day as conditions change. There is of course no guarantee that the weather where you are going will be what you are hoping for, so it’s best to be prepared for the best and worst case scenario.
One thing that most cyclists enjoy almost as much as riding is the eating afterwards, so make sure that the meal arrangements are providing what you need or make some investigations ahead of time if you have special dietary requirements. You won’t be able to fuel that training or recover well if you are not getting the right nutrition on board.
It is also worth ensuring that your gear is technically up to scratch too so that you don’t have any mechanicals while you are away somewhere that it might be difficult to get compatible parts. If you are going somewhere with hills check that you have the right gearing so that you are not taken by surprise and made more uncomfortable than necessary. Finding out ahead of time whether there will be a mechanic or bike shop nearby might help you prepare for any possible problems.
How to prepare in terms of fitness?
Once you have decided where you are going and the riding that will be involved you can use this as a motivational carrot on a stick to keep up some level of fitness through the darkest winter days. Keeping in mind what you hope to achieve on your break may help you stay on track with your regular training sessions so you are a fit as possible by the time you get on that flight. Maintaining some longer weekend rides when the weather allows should give you the stepping stone endurance to enjoy those longer days on your holiday.
Beware over enthusiasm
One very common problem on winter cycling breaks is that overenthusiasm can get the better of you on the first couple of days, leaving you completely useless for the rest of the week. Hopefully you will be guided by experienced riders in this regard but listen closely to your body and don’t stretch yourself too far or fast to begin with. Remember that one of the main advantages of these get-aways is that you can get some extra hours in the saddle, and often that means settling for a slower pace. Don’t be tempted to be drawn into a race, especially in the first few days.
And one final, perhaps slightly radical suggestion is that it may be worth having a day off the bike during your stay. Just because the sun is shining and the bike is there it does not mean that you have to ride it. You may get more out of your break as a whole if you consciously build in a complete rest day or light day or two. If the weather is bad one day, then take advantage and put your feet up, live like a pro and practice the art of rest. Get the balance right and you should return ready for more, not ready for a week on the sofa.
RPM90’s Tuscany trip in April offers something slightly more unusual covering some of the traditional ‘white roads’ used in the classic Eroica ride and Strada Bianci race. It’s not a trip suitable for carbon rims!
Elite Cycling led by Level 3 BC coach Paul Mill run their February training camp from the large Playitas resort in Fuertaventura, Spain. “Foundational miles” are combined with praticacal and theory-based sessions.
Rapha’s Randonnes are point-to-point ‘exploratory rides’, fully supported, and typically held over six days with groups of no more than 12 riders. The randonneurs cover about 130km a day through mountainous terrain, in the Alps, Dolomites, and Pyrenees.
Bike Basque offer week-long breaks, sportive and triathlon training camps in the Basque region of France, close to the border with Spain. Guided rides for groups of between five and 12 riders are offered, with a choice of up to 30 routes. Full-board, half-board, or self-catering accommodation is offered in gites or chalets.