Professional teams organize training camps not only to increase the level of fitness but also to build the bond between teammates. Daily we spend hours together on our bike. On the road we chat while we cruise along, we tempt each other into races on the climbs, sprint for signs, ride in tight pacelines, practice our team trial training and, most of all, spend a lot of time getting to know each other as cyclists, as workmates, and as friends.
Almost each waking hour of the day is spent in the company of a team member. We share hotel rooms so even when we are asleep there is a teammate about two feet away in an identical single bed snoring away. It is at the camps we learn to live with each other, trust each other, and respect each other. And, where we learn to deal with each other’s quirks. There are few other working environments where people are together constantly for weeks—at all meals, during almost the entire day, and then in shared rooms.
A friend of mine who is a fireman told me the firefighters spend hours together, even when off duty, because when they’re deep in a fire they need to know they can trust and rely on their workmates to save their life. Although, we are only riding bikes, knowing a teammate, being confident that he is committed to the goal of the team and will sacrifice, makes the difference between winning and losing. And, it will also make the ride, the race, and the journey that much better. Which is why we are here, riding together as a team in Valencia.
Oddly, it is on the coldest days in the harsh weather that the bond grows strongest. When faced with adversity we push each other to get through it together, and in the end, that is what it is all about. Early in the week we were faced with lousy weather. We set out under cloudy skies, which soon opened up and became rain and then snow. Frozen we persisted. We stopped occasionally to fill our bottles with hot tea and our pockets with bars and cakes. A coach once told me, “You might as well get out in the bad weather and ride—you’ll have to race in it.” Our bodies adapt to the conditions—the hardest part is getting out the door and into the rain. As the hours wore on, we hammered away to keep warm and as we reached the fourth hour the skies cleared and we rode home on dry roads. When we completed the work, there was a sense of accomplishment within the group when we returned to the hotel.
The camp is not only intended for training and bonding but also gives us time to test new equipment, adjust our positions, and have the physios and doctors take care of any physical problems. While we rode, the coaches and technicians analyzed our performance, gave us the results, and provided advice on how we could improve. Team Sky has specialists in each specific aspect of cycling and if a question can’t be answered they’ll seek out advice from professionals beyond cycling. Nobody pretends they know every answer. The openness to new ideas not only allows the riders to improve but will also push the sport of cycling in a new, more progressive direction.
By this coming weekend, the team will be racing incessantly for the next eight months. Clearly, we will continue to build during throughout the year but it is now we must lay the foundation.