‘Tis the season to be jolly for mere mortals, but not for professional cyclists. December training camps mark the next season’s first concerted batch of training. So, fluorescent groups of WorldTour riders light up one-horse Spanish towns as they return to the grindstone.
The redeeming features? A permanent December sun warming backs and good craic with the team-mates. However, 14 days in an empty hotel is no small task, enough to give an optimist the winter training camp blues. It’s not so much the daily actions themselves as the repetititon. The same metallic surroundings you spent the last four Decembers, the same lukewarm coffees and breakfast buffets, pressing the same broken button in the lift eight days in a row, the same intermittent internet, the same training roads.
Even the cycling bit – the whole reason everyone is there – is a slog, as a little autumnal overindulgence has led to a loss of fitness. Motivation is hard to come by: the last race was two months ago, the next one is two months off. The new season might as well be in another galaxy.
It’s not easy being your workaday WorldTour rider on December camp. When not huffing and puffing on the bike, there are numerous sponsor events and interminable three-hour team meetings to attend, where men in suits give buzzword-packed speeches.
Any new rider sticks out like a sore thumb in their old team kit, which they are forced to wear until December 31 because of the baffling UCI rules. It’s a barrier for integration with the rest of the squad until the ritual humiliation of the newbie initiation. The freshmen go away feeling bizarrely gratified by having to down lukewarm lager from a casquette while wearing drag. One of the lads, at last.
Meanwhile, whenever you browse Facebook, all your non-cycling friends seem to be permanently out on the town. You look at their drunken photographs while forcing down a recovery shake, then pore over the training ride’s power data, wondering where your misspent youth went.
December means Christmas, something impossible to forget when the hotel plays wall-to-wall festive “classics” over its tinny speakers. Because you’ll only be getting home on December 20, you barely have the time, let alone the energy or inclination, to face the heaving high street. So all Christmas shopping has been done on the online-shopping-monolith-that-shouldn’t-be-named. Dad, have a toaster. Mum: scented candle. Sister: One Direction calendar. You’re welcome.
The camp comes to an end. You get to the airport, looking forward to getting ho-ho-home.
But before that, one final blow. The team doctor and directeur sportif are stood by the departure gate.
“Dave has come down with a virus and we need you at the Tour Down Under in three weeks’ time. So don’t overdo it during the festive season,” the doc says, teeth glinting under the unforgiving airport lighting like the body fat calipers he’ll soon be prodding you with. Merry Christmas, indeed.
Ragging the equipment to the max on training camp
Fairplay to BMC, leaving no stone unturned this December