For most of us, these winter months are for "cross-training," which means lots of powder skiing, a helping of holiday gluttony, and squeezing in time on the rollers. Not so for pro cyclists, who are well into targeted training in their preparation for the 2012 season. Liquigas Cannondale cycling team is in the middle of its first major training camp of the season, on the Italian island of Sardinia, where they're laying down lots of base miles, working strength in the gym, and getting focused on the first races of the season. I had the opportunity to ride along for a couple of days, and I spoke with the team's two young American recruits, 29-year-old Timmy Duggan of Boulder, Colorado, and 28-year-old Ted King of Stratham, New Hampshire, to get a snapshot of a pro cyclist training camp.
The camp is one of just a few occasions in the season when all 29 riders will be together, but for training purposes the team is split into two groups whose workouts vary depending on their objectives. Those who raced late into last season probably won't ramp up to big races until February and March and thus get an easier regimen in Sardinia; those who are headed to early-season races such as the Tour Down Under have to go harder. Both Duggan and King are in the latter group as they'll be racing Argentina's Tour de San Luis (January 23-29), where they'll be riding in support of GC captain Vincenzo Nibali and sprinter Elia Viviani. Both Americans began base-building miles around the first of November and will ramp up intensity in the latter half of the camp.
Though the surrounds are spectacular—Sardinia is a feast of silky beaches, rolling pasturelands, and granite capped peaks, and the team stays at an upscale hotel resort—training camp is a spare and regimented time. Breakfasts are early, rides are long, cyclists work out at the gym several times a day, and most riders are in bed by 10. Though the guys rib one another on the bikes and around the dinner table, there is none of the loud music and late night antics you'd expect when you get a group of 20-somethings together. "Every day is groundhog day around here," King says sardonically.
I trailed both Duggan and King for a couple of days to find out exactly what he meant. Here's a snapshot of a typical day at training camp with the Liquigas Cannondale Americans.
6 a.m. Duggan likes to rise early, drink a coffee and read the paper, and then either spend some time doing yoga, hit the gym for some weights, or both. "It's one of the few times of the day you have to yourself," he says, "so I like to get up and enjoy it." King's up a bit later, just in time to eat.
7:30 a.m. Breakfast is the standard European buffet of breads and jams, cheeses and dried meats such as prosciuotto, boiled eggs and egg white omelets, and cereal and yoghurt. Baskets of croissants sprinkled with powdered sugar sit at the middle of the management's tables, but the buffet for the riders has no such treats (though King says the riders get them occasionally).
9 a.m. The bikes are lined up on stands, and the guys spend about half an hour dialing in fit and bike position. This year the entire team has been upgraded to Cannondale's SuperSix EVO, and a few top riders (Nibali, Ivan Basso, and Peter Sagan) have received the all new Slice RS for time trials (though more are on the way). Once everyone is set, it's ride time. On day two, that meant four hours and 80 miles of punchy climbs and quick descents. Day three was split into two rides, a two-hour group spin on the time trial bikes and then a couple more hours on the road bikes. "It's mostly pretty light riding at the beginning of the camp. Actually, it's pretty easy," King says. "We'll add intervals and intensity work as the camp goes on."
1:30 p.m. After a shower, the group convenes for a lunch consisting of pasta, dried meat, and "a hearty green salad," according to King. "This team is really strict about food. What we eat is very controlled by the doctor. He'll tell you, 'No more peanut butter,'" Duggan explains. "If you really want to eat more food, we've got a room where you can get rice cakes, bananas, and apples. You can eat as much of that as you want. You're probably not going to gain any weight. I guess that's the point."
2:30 p.m. This is the time for photo shoots, interviews with journalists, meetings with sponsors, and other administrative details. If none of that is on a rider's agenda for the day, he'll generally visit the soigneur for a massage, spend an hour stretching with the team ("Touching your toes isn't the most intensive, but it's cathartic," King says), or just have a nap.
5 p.m. Additional workout time. The gym is generally buzzing with with guys in lime green tee-shirts (riders are expected to be in team apparel at all time) alternating through core work and leg machines.
7:30 p.m. More simple food at dinner. When the waiter asks our table of journalists if we'd like to have the same meal as the team's fixed menu, a quick decision is made to order pizza instead. The riders have no such luxury: they get green salad, grilled veggies, and risotto. Wine and dessert—out of the question. "It's a means to an end," King explains. "Riding a bike is a lot of fun, and the discpline is the trade-off. We're forgoing the pleasantries of life to live the dream, and in the end your fitness benefits. You end up very, very fast."
9 p.m. Informal team meeting to go over plans for tomorrow's ride. "None of the DS [directeurs sportif] speak English, so I don't always get everything. But that's one thing I've learned in the year I've been here: when to speak up and ask questions and when we're expected to just listen and follow the lead," King says.
10 p.m. Bedtime comes early. "You cant even walk to civilazation, so there's nothing to do except improve yourself," Duggan explains. "It's all about living well. If there's nothing else you do at this camp you might as well train your best, sleep a lot, eat right, lose a couple of kilos. That's what we're here for."