What happens at a pro team training camp? To find out, we spent seven days with the Garmin-Cervélo team at the camp that ended on February third in Girona, Spain, the town that is also the team’s European headquarters.
Long days in the saddle are the backbone of the camp. Yet for riders, the experience is anything but relaxing, even after they get off the bike.
When you think of camp, you might imagine fun outside all day then dinner and kicking back by the fire until bedtime. It’s decidedly not the sort of experience here. While riders ride, eat, get massages and sleep, they are also obligated to handle a raft of professional responsibilities.
For example, the rider vignettes United States viewers see on Versus television coverage of the Tour de France and the Amgen Tour of California—you know, the ones with the spinning bicycle wheels where riders introduce themselves? Those were filmed this week in Girona.
On day three of the camp the team spent the first five hours training in two groups—a squad focusing on the one day classics and another that is aiming for stage races. When they rolled back to the hotel at 4:30 PM, the team’s media liaison shepherded them one-by-one into a ballroom for their appointments with television.
Until nearly midnight, riders like Dave Zabriskie, Thor Hushovd and Ryder Hesjedal posed for still photos in one studio, moved to a room with a giant green screen where they rode rollers for video cameras and then finally headed to a third set, an extravaganza featuring a Cervélo bike, spinning Mavic wheels, blowing stage fog, and cameras mounted on booms and track-mounted dollies. When you see the Versus coverage this summer, remember that it all happened this week in Spain.
Riders also spend time talking one-on-one with sponsors. On one day the entire men and women’s team rode for a couple of hours with sponsor representatives. (Yes, nice job if you can get it!)
In these formal and informal meetings, sponsors develop relationships with the riders, a process that continues throughout the year as manufacturers rely on both the riders’ and mechanics’ feedback about ways to improve their products.
Asked about these obligations, the riders admit that it’s part of their job description. Also, Tyler Farrar told us, the Girona camp is also where riders take care of paperwork like getting their racing licenses in order. As the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España stage-winner from Washington state put it, “Kind of getting all the housekeeping out of the way before the season starts.”
Of course, riders also spend hours on the road. After rolling out from the hotel each morning at 9:45 am, the full squad regrouped at the team’s service course in an industrial park on the outskirts of Girona.
“Service course” is a French term that has come to stand for bicycle garage—sometimes moving down the road at races, and sometimes in a fixed location. Each morning at the Garmin-Cervélo service course, mechanics made adjustments to riders’ new Cervélo bikes and the riders filled their pockets with Clif bars before heading into the countryside with two team cars in tow.
Out on the road, the biggest difference between riding with the Garmin-Cervélo pros and the crowd on your Saturday morning ride is that, as the Garmin-Cervélo boys click closer to 100 miles for the day, no one lags. After five hours on the bike they steam along at a steady 25 mph. No shoulders reveal the tell-tale bobbing and weaving of the out-of-shape. While they may be feeling tired, the riders rotate through smoothly. No one twitches, No one struggles to maintain contact. Riders at the front point out objects on the road and they flow around these things with the liquidity of a school of fish. As the team streams through picturesque villages, school kids cheer from playgrounds. It’s impressive.
Oh yes, another thing that’s different is that when a rider flats, the director’s car is there in seconds with a new wheel. No messing with tire levers and frame pumps for these guys.
Relaxing in the lobby of the team hotel overlooking Girona and the snowcapped Pyrenees beyond, on the final night of camp, 28-year old Martijn Maaskant said he liked the even team strength he saw this week on the roads of Catalonia.
While they didn’t look weary on out there, the soft-spoken Maaskant, who placed fourth at both Paris-Roubaix in 2008 and Tour of Flanders in 2009, said he was definitely tuckered from the hard training week. He was impressed by “the high level of the team. You can see that there’s no bad riders on our team. We have a really strong team overall.”
Unlike other professional sports like soccer, where all the players regularly meet on a field to practice, cycling is unusual in that after this camp, the entire team will never be together in the same place again. Two days after the camp ends, part of the team goes to the Middle East for the Tour of Oman, while others go to a race in Mallorca.
After that, they are either racing or training from homes all over the world—but never with all 29 riders in a single event.
After this camp,” Farrar points out, “you won’t get all the riders together until this time next year.”
So along with building fitness, those 160-kilometer days on the undulating farm roads that web out into the mountains surrounding Girona give the riders a chance to bond in a way that isn’t otherwise possible.
“It’s always good to be together,” Maaskant notes. “Especially in a new group like this.” While part of the team did meet at previous camps in the Cayman Islands and Calpe, Spain, Maaskant observes that with almost the entire team present (save a couple of riders like Jack Bobridge, who was busy breaking a world record on the track in Australia) “now that we are training together we are working to be prepared for the races. Working together and doing stuff together is just good to do before the races start. Otherwise you are in the race and you don’t even know your own teammate!”
In 2011 Mark Johnson is writing and photographing a book on Garmin-Cervélo to be published by VeloPress in early 2012. You can follow his travels with the team on Twitter @argylearmada
More photos from the Girona Training Camp: