Professional cycling’s winter training camps: new starts, old scores and initiation rituals

The first training camp of the new season can come as a shock.
The new reality of professional cycling’s extended campaign – January to October and counting – means that the rider barely has time to unpack his case and remind his family of his existence before being flung back into the routine of flights, hotels and an unconscionable number of hours in the saddle.
Small incentives: a new bike to replace the old, battle-scarred machine, and fresh kit that may or may not be more comfortable/waterproof/flattering than the last. If the camp is the rider’s first engagement with his new team, there can be something of the aspect of Christmas about it.
Such unseasonal goodwill may help to ease the transition to new surroundings. The peloton is a small place, and unless our candidate is a neo pro, he is likely to know his new team-mates already. The inevitable altercations of races past might be forgotten – or might not.
A tip: turn up in reasonable shape if your new employer has rescued you from a spiralling relationship with your former team. If long absences, characterised by the addition of several kilos, has brought matters to an unedifying conclusion elsewhere, arrive at the first camp of your new team from, say, Colombia, in a rough approximation of your race weight.
Prepare yourself also for initiation ceremonies. Your new team may wish to welcome you with open arms, but only after you have proved yourself willing to suffer humiliation in pursuit of a greater cause. This, after all, is likely to be the tenor of your professional endeavours, unless you’ve arrived as team leader, in which case, initiation ceremonies will not apply.

Theatrical costumes, naked laps of the hotel, impromptu renditions of popular songs, impersonations of the leader’s riding style: this will be your métier before a pedal has been turned in service of the new team.
There will be tests, examinations, and programmes. Modern cycling is a science, and the men in lab coats will wish to have the measure of the new man before the directeurs carve out a race programme among the endless permutations of European and overseas calendars. Will you pull the short straw of the freezing GP la Marseillaise and a bunk bed in a Campanile, or five star luxury and unfettered sunshine in the Middle East? Your fate will be decided here.
Then there is the inevitable press call to contend with. Journalists will have descended on the hotel like locusts. If you’re a big signing or emerging talent, expect the press officer to fill your day with requests. An unhappy departure from your previous team may also garner interest, as will past lapses of judgment. Domestiques beginning their fifth season with the same team can expect to pass the day untroubled.
Finally, there is the team presentation and photo call: a relatively straight forward parade on to a hastily erected stage at the sponsor’s HQ or favoured hotel, followed by a group photo and an individual shot for the team website. Grin and bear it. For rank and file riders, these images will resurface in the unlikely event of victory or a place in the breakaway; publications will have better archives filled with images of the team’s big guns.
The week or ten days of Costa Blancan/Mallorcan sunshine will pass quickly enough and a return home in time for Christmas will beckon; not that the festive period will offer anything other than temptation to the salaried rider. While others gorge, our man must pursue a strict policy of abstinence and a training regime designed to deliver him to a decent level of fitness by the middle of January.
It all starts at the team’s first get together. Get it right, and the season will pass with a swing. Arrive late and/or overweight, reopen old wounds with rivals who are now team-mates, flinch during the initiation ritual or let slip to a reporter that your new team leader is a ball-breaker and the season ahead will be long. A training camp? Yes. A holiday camp? Not by a long chalk. Courage, mon brave!
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