Every year we seek improvements, as an individual, a businessman or woman, or as an athlete. This year the world looks like nothing we've seen before but that’s no reason to stop seeking progress.
In late February I flew to Gran Canaria for our annual 3-week training camp where I'm joined by coaching clients and guests. Flying out from London there were a few people wearing masks as this thing called coronavirus was beginning to get some attention. At that point no one knew how big this situation would be. Already I'd had one of my best winters to date, on the bike I'd logged in some huge miles and worked hard on weaknesses that existed from previous seasons. My gym routine took a huge step forward from previous years with almost regular visits to Castle Royle for gym, swim and class activities. I was feeling fit and strong and this training camp would add the cherry on the cake before the race season began! The coaching business was going from strength to strength and in February we were still taking on new exciting athletes to work with in the new MTB and road season.
The first week in Gran Canaria I spent alone logging in my first big week of workouts up and around the mountain. Having been to the island so many times I know so many route options we can ride a different route nearly every day with short cuts or extras depending on how legs are feeling. I know where the nearest beach is, where the best bakeries are, and which supermarkets are well stocked. The island has almost become a second home. As the first week concluded the first group of guests arrived for their stay in our large luxury 4-bedroom house with sunny roof top terrace. Although coronavirus was starting to spread we didn't at this point have too many concerns about the training camp continuing as planned and there had been zero cases in Gran Canaria, plus we were pretty well shielded staying in our own holiday home. Week two continued the successful mileage count with some huge rides including a few new routes over the green north side of the island which is distinctively different to the desert like south side. The north is also quieter, less touristy, more authentic, it's nice to see the real side of Gran Canaria. By mid-way through the week guests were getting nervous about the possibility of covid 19 affecting their homeward bound travel but fortunately everyone got home as planned apart from one guest who had an extra night’s stay due to plane issues unrelated to the virus. The guests of week three were unsure about travelling and risking health but still at this point we decided it was safe to travel. Week 3 concluded a brilliant training camp, we had another great bunch of clients who took maximum benefit from the opportunity to train full time under sunny skies on beautiful mountain roads. The question marks about travelling home were now pretty big though with countries already closing borders, guests did check if earlier flights home were possible but everything was sold out. The first 2 clients departed Saturday without issue, by Sunday morning though we'd gone into lockdown, the news from home was pretty scary, the virus was spreading quickly and we were now locked in our holiday home. Luckily the final guests were scheduled to fly home that evening and me the following morning. The situation at the airport was a little stressful but actually once on the plane everything was okay, the airline even delayed the departure to fill any unsold seats with British passengers hoping to travel home, quite a different story to that being told in the press...
Back home and bike races were being cancelled, one week after the other, it was a busy period of work, coaches have definitely been made to earn their money this year! Almost daily changes were being made to my clients training plans, it was only when the UCI and national cycling federations finally made announcements suspending racing till June or July that we could create a longer-term plan. There were a lot of disappointed athletes including myself, I was in the form of my life and knew as we approached my first racing goals of the year, Roc d'Ardenne and Belgian Mountainbike Challenge that I was capable of improving on the previous year’s podium. By this point in the year I would have also have been to Croatia for the 4island stage race and would be preparing for trips to France, Portugal and Switzerland in June. I miss the excitement that surrounds visiting somewhere new, the clean air of the mountains, the sunshine and heat of a different country, the stories made travelling with friends, the buzz of the start line, the adrenaline rush as the start gun fires, the thrill of achieving a race result you'd worked so hard for. I know though all these things will happen again, but I wish that time was now.
With the race ban wiping out the first half of the year we set short term training goals for all clients, the training provided daily structure to those clients who now found themselves furloughed or working from home. As well as focusing on short term goals we must remember long term reasons for keeping training like wanting to develop as an athlete, improving weaknesses, event readiness, general health and yearly progression.
Training continues - Race simulation laps.
Online or virtual training and racing has taken off this year, many countries weren't allowing people outside to train during lockdown, in fact the lockdown introduced during our final day in Spain lasted 7 weeks!! Even for those who could train outside the virtual racing scene was and still is providing a way to enjoy the racing fix. I've now done quite a few races, highlights being the Haute Route 3 day, the British Cycling road race series and the recent 3-day Tour of the Gila which was my first Pro AM race. The 2020 Tour of the Gila was cancelled but the race organisers decided to still host the race via the online platform Zwift. Having linked up with Team TOR 2000 Kalas to compete for their virtual race team I was keen to perform well but knew the level of competition would be high with some of Americas and the UKs top road teams taking part. The opening stage was a team timetrial, having never done a timetrial on Zwift before let long team timetrial there was lots to learn. At around 20 kilometres long and with 8 people on the team we'd only have to do 2 or 3 one-minute turns on the front at 6+ watts per kilo. We executed the TTT well loosing around 58 seconds to the winners but were comfortably mid back so hadn't embarrassed ourselves which was the aim! Not bad for a 2am effort, a result of the time difference to America! Caffeinated up I was awake till 4.30am and awake again around 7.30, tired was an understatement!
Stage 2 kicked off at 5pm so after an early afternoon nap I was feeling refreshed. The stage over the Big Foot Hills route in Watopia had 5 small to medium climbs over 70 kilometres but looked like it would end in a mass sprint. I didn't intend on going for the KOM jersey but was feeling good and keen to stay near the front in case the field broke apart. Indeed, the pace was high, crazy high, this was real racing, max heart rate suffering. Splits were happening, soon there was a lead group of 30 and I'd collected some good points in the KOM battle. The rest of the stage was pretty uneventful, it was just a case of staying focused and not getting dropped from the fast-moving group. I finished in the lead group and moved up to the top 10 overall.
Sundays epic KOM stage 3 was my big opportunity to do something great, we had 72 kilometres and 1000 metres of climbing between us and the finish line. There would be huge fireworks though with 2 big climbs before the final mountain top finish. The pace was pretty reserved until we hit the Hilly KOM where the race was ripped apart. The big teams took to the front and were keen to reduce the size of the field. On the next climb, the Volcano KOM, the same happened and the race leader was dropped! The race was now anyone’s to win. All would be decided on the Epic KOM mountain climb! Another Veloforte Doppio gel needed, the adrenaline is really building now, I missed this feeling. Get ready, a 20-minute effort is about to begin, full gas! Gaps are quickly opening, move forward but don't waste energy, a long way still to go. I’m too far back and can't respond when two people ride off the front including one of the favourites. I try to lift the pace and suddenly there's no groups left, just individuals and twos. Max heart rate now, way over threshold and still half of the climb left. The climbs kick up with some steep sections, suffer suffer suffer! The front two are back in sight, the gap is closing slowly. A few kilometres to go, the top of the mountain can be seen. We’re all together and I'm thinking about winning the stage! Final couple of corners, way over normal max heart rate, must put in a few more hard pedal strokes. I can hear the team director shouting in my ear to go go go as he watches the live coverage on Zwift community live. I know family, clients, friends are watching too and that gives me motivation for that final kick. Over the line in third place. Truly epic racing! Wow I'm buzzing like I've just finished on the podium of the UCI MTB Marathon World Series again.
Third on stage three, fifth overall and second in the king of the mountain’s competition. Happy with that for my first Pro AM appearance. We are already lining up more virtual races throughout June. With UCI races not starting till July, British Cycling regional races not starting till August, national level races not starting till September it’s time to refocus training, buckle down with some hard work and reappear at those races stronger and with even greater motivation than ever before.