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Racing is fun. Training is hard.
And those UCI racers train hard. Very, very hard. From today's NY Times for all you troglodytes who don't subscribe:
After Taking a Little Break, Cyclists Have a Lot of Catching Up to Do
By MICHAEL BARRY
Published: December 13, 2008
CALA SERENA, Majorca — The cycling season is almost without end. We race from January to October. And right after we get off our bikes, it seems, our training starts again for the next season.
The Training Regimen for Team Columbia (December 14, 2008)
The month without training passes quickly. Nevertheless, we lose fitness. The curse of the athlete is that conditioning is lost much more quickly than it is achieved. To get our bodies back to the peaks we reached while we were racing, we need months of long, steady riding combined with hours in the gym and cross-training. In the off-season, we don’t rest as much as we build a foundation.
Riders who train meticulously through the winter not only perform better but also set themselves up for a consistent year with fewer injuries.
A decade ago, teams began training as a group in January. For many riders, it was the first consistent period of training. They would arrive at camp out of shape and overweight, and use the camp as a period to get things under way. With the racing calendar now 10 months, we are expected to be in winning form by late January. To achieve this, teams begin training and planning for the season in the fall.
In the final week of November, the top teams gathered for camps. Along with my Team Columbia teammates, I started training here on the largest island of Spain. Later, Astana, Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador’s team, met in the Canary Islands. Members of Garmin-Slipstream rode in Boulder, Colo.
Saxo Bank-IT Factory meets annually in Denmark for a militarylike camp, without bikes, an exercise meant to put team members in duress in a strange environment with the intention that they bond and become stronger as a team.
Team Columbia’s camp united us as we tried to jump-start our season. Our bodies were tested, our schedules were set, our diets analyzed. Bundled in winter gear, we rode together on Majorca’s cold yet sunny autumn days.
The team doctors checked our bodies to ensure they were ready for the training ahead. They and a physiotherapist, analyzed our bodies’ alignment for abnormalities and looked for muscular overcompensation caused by untreated injuries related to the numerous crashes of the racing season. Like mechanics running diagnostics on a performance car, they took notes as we went through a series of movements, then designed exercises to realign, rebuild and strengthen our muscular weaknesses.
As we ride for hours a day, 340 days a year, our bodies transform to fit our bikes. The muscles that are used less atrophy, making us amazingly efficient on the bike but less stable and coordinated on the ground. A proper off-the-bike strength and stretching program can help prevent injuries and also increase the power in our pedal strokes.
Our testing did not end with the checkups. The team trainer had us ride an ergometer, a calibrated stationary bicycle, to test our physical condition through an aerobic capacity test and a power and lactate test. These tests helped to determine our physical condition and potential. Using those results, we know how much we can improve and what training we will need to attain peak fitness.
The test results were combined to determine baseline values on which the trainer will build our first training programs, which are based on our wattage output at different lactate and heart-rate values. For us, the testing was work, as we prefer to be out on our bikes, riding together and doing what we enjoy. Finally, in the last of numerous meetings, we were told what kind of drug testing we will undergo through the year.
Cycling’s doping problems have plagued the sport. To erase doubts, our team supplements the testing now done universally in cycling. We are also tested by a private antidoping agency operated by Don Catlin, who helped to expose the Balco doping scandal. He will test our urine and blood throughout the season, building profiles for each rider. This testing is in addition to the testing by our national antidoping agencies, by the World Anti-Doping Agency and by cycling’s governing body, the International Cycling Union.
With our whereabouts posted on the Internet, we are required to be available for testing all day, every day. It is invasive, but we are now accustomed to it: drug testing has simply become another facet of the professional cyclist’s life.
When two days of testing were over, we finally focused on training. For a week, we rode together, for four to five hours a day. The rides had little structure, and the intensity of them was determined by the environment. We tempted one another into sprinting for town signs the way basketball players might play pickup games for fun while also testing their skills.
The rides were interrupted each day by a stop at a cafe in a small Majorcan town, where we rested for a few moments, chatting, joking, laughing and refueling for the final hours of the ride home. After joining us for coffee, the team director, who followed us in a car loaded with spare bikes and wheels, settled the bill as we pedaled off, leaving a table cluttered with dozens of empty espresso cups and pastry crumbs.
When we returned to the hotel each day, a lunch had been prepared: salad, meat, rice or pasta and a small dessert of yogurt, fruit or cake. The winter weather, combined with our unconditioned bodies, spiked our appetites as our metabolisms worked to find efficiency lost during our break from cycling. And over a good meal, we socialized some more.
Our workday did not end when we stepped off our bikes. It continued a few hours later in the gym. Core training has become a part of Columbia’s regimen, but it is still far from the norm in cycling, as most teams are slow to accept new theories.
With a week of training as a team, we returned home. Our legs ached, but we were motivated to log more hours alone, on the road and in the gym.
By training as a group, we learn about one another and bond as a team. This bond evolves into the sacrifice needed to win races. With an established training program, we will ride through the holidays before we meet our teammates again for an intense training camp in January. By then, we will have reached a point of fitness at which our bodies require only fine-tuning before we are ready to race.
Michael Barry is a professional cyclist and the author of “Inside the Postal Bus: My Ride With Lance Armstrong and the U.S. Postal Cycling Team.”