Maximising Gains Abroad

I’ve been lucky enough to spend a fair bit of time training on the continent this year. The ‘training camp’ is a fantastic way to make some fitness gains. If done right, it can set you up for a great season.

On the flip side, there are a few common pitfalls which may try to sabotage some of the gains. Many of them I have fell for myself (by many I mean most). Others seem reserved only for Sherwood. For those who haven’t met him, basically the most unlucky cyclist in Suffolk (also one of the nicest just to clarify).

I’ve compiled a helpful list of ways to make sure you don’t fall for any of these pitfalls.

sherwood the shell
James fell for the pitfalls. Don’t be like James.

Make sure your bike is working

Going abroad is a great excuse to get the race bike out again (unless you’re Josh Aiken).

Your race bike was working when you last used it. Therefore logic dictates it should be a simple job of packing it into the bike box and putting it back together again at the other side.

Solid logic. Unfortunately not as sound logic as it seems. How many people give their bike a full service before packing it away for Winter? Certainly not me.

The night before you leave is not an ideal time to realise your seat post has seized over Winter (**cough Freddie Grover**). Equally the first ride after you land is not a brilliant moment to find your brake calipers have not been done up tightly enough (**Emily Meakin called it**). Despite numerous attempts I have also never once managed to accurately index my own gears based off a GCN ‘how to’ video. If you want a smooth ride abroad it’s something best left to the professionals.

5 minutes after leaving the bike shop… some things you can’t avoid

After experiencing some of these problems myself, I have made it a pre-trip ritual to take my bike to Elmy’s for a once over at least a week before I go anywhere. This gives ample time to order in the new bottom bracket to replace the one you left water in all Winter, or to replace the chain and cassette which have a whole race seasons worth of neglect in them.

elmys blog photo
This bike was probably less high maintenance than mine…

Have the essentials in your hand luggage

By essentials I mean the things you need to ride your bike. You’re on a cycling holiday, you can manage for a day or so without pjamas and ‘normal clothes’. In calpe you’ll see far more lycra than you will jeans anyway.

This is what I consider the essentials (obviously feel free to add and subtract):

  • Pedals
  • Helmet
  • Shoes
  • Lycra (enough to keep you warm at the lowest temperature recorded in the last month or so where you will be riding)
  • Garmin and mount
  • All the essential documents you needed to get on your flight anyway

When you check your bike box onto your flight it goes through a complex ‘sorting system’ to then make it to the hold of your flight. Normally pretty reliable, but very much out of your control. Your hand luggage on the other hand is escorted by you onto the flight.

Although very rare, occasionally the person checking in the bike is James Sherwood. Luck dictates that this bike box will not be put onto the same flight as said person. Unfortunately Sherwood’s shoes and helmet were not in his hand luggage. He had forgotten he was James Sherwood when packing.

If your hand luggage is packed correctly, whilst the situation is frustrating, it is at least salvageable. Hire a bike. Attach appropriate pedals. Put on the set of kit you brought. Wash on repeat until bike box arrives. Claim back bike hire fees from insurance. Simple.

sherwood bike
Happy ending. Made it eventually.

Make sure you have some structure to your week

The temptation when abroad is to do mega miles every day. Whilst this sounds like a great way to gain fitness, all you are actually doing is missing out on the necessary recovery needed for your muscles to adapt.

I’ve been working with Jacob Tipper from ‘Tipper Performance Coaching’ for long enough to know that I can trust him to set sessions that will take me right up to my limit. I get set a combination of pretty grim intervals, and rides where the aim is to just ‘hold on to the guys’. I try to stick to my plan as strictly as possible nowadays. Sticking to my plan correlates very well with making performance gains. Leaving the plan correlates very well with getting ill.

Post ftp effort. Just a shell trying to get aero.

We still have a healthy debate on how much is acceptable to do before a flight every trip, but that’s all part of the coaching relationship right? If anyone has access to a research paper showing the benefits of a big ride pre flight, send it my way!

freddie and gary
You’d better not do this on a flight day guys. Total legends though.

The fusion team camp was a great chance to get to know each other as a team and practise some team tactics for the upcoming race season, under the guidance of Iuri from Velo Performance.

velo perfrmance
Iuri prepping the team on sprint lead outs. Focused much Emily?

Get Your Nutrition Right

Training camp is the time to get strong, not lean. It’s only February. There’s plenty of time until race season to hit that ‘racing weight’.

In an ideal world you would start off the day with some slow release carbs and some protein. During your ride you want to keep the glycogen stores topped up with some sugars. Cereal bars do the job just fine for me. Post ride every knows about the ’20 minute window’ to take on some carbs and protein to aid the recovery process. For dinner some lean meat, plenty of veg and some high quality carbs will set you up well for the next day.

While you’re abroad you may not always have access to the ‘superfoods’ instagram suggests we are all eating diligently. The cafe you’ve stopped at may only serve cake and chocolate bars. Don’t go without just because it’s not the ‘perfect ride snack’. When you’re on a ‘get round’ ride a calorie is a calorie and I can guarantee you you’ll need lots of them.

All the essentials on one table. Tostado. Flat white. Cake.

If you want an idea of how many calories you’ll need to get you through a week of intense training go watch my team at the breakfast and dinner buffet!

Bring Kit for all Weather

Whilst it’s nice to think that every day will be 20 degrees and clear skies, in reality it is only February! Whilst generally a good 10 degrees warmer than the UK, south Europe is not immune to rain. 14-16 degrees is a pretty safe bet. Not quite shorts and jersey weather yet!

At fusion we are fairly lucky to have been kitted out with all the necessary layers by velotec. The following should get you through most weather Spain and Portugal can throw at you. If it doesn’t, it’s a blip, take that rest day early!

  • Shorts and jersey
  • Short and long sleeved gloves
  • Long sleeved jersey
  • Arm and leg warmers
  • Water resistant jacket
  • Short and long sleeved base layer
  • Socks of an appropriate length
team photo
Did I mention we have really cool kit this year? And no that is not appropriate sock length. Ross has rectified the situation. Fear not.

Get the Company Right

It’s a well known fact that good company and ‘soft banter’ facilitates the highest quality training.

In each week I have been away I have stayed with a different group of people.

Calpe take 1 with Jos – this was a bit of an impromptu trip with my good friend Jos (training partner supreme). This involved a lot of getting dropped on climbs, and some proper through and off on the descent from Castell de Castells (a firm favourite now).

Obligatory cafe run. D’Origen. Standard.

Algarve with velo performance and Team Fusion – This was the first time a lot of us had met, and its fair to say we get on like a house on fire. Lots of singing. Lots of abuse (as you know mostly from Molly). Lots of strong friendships.

fusion team
What a great bunch.

Calpe take 2 with the lads – A mixture of all the local teams in one villa. Very different dinner table chat to the fusion crew! You learn to zone out of the parts that you don’t want to hear! Very solid riding. Overall another great bunch of some of my favourite people.

gary and freddie
About 5 minutes post arrival.

Make sure you’re enjoying yourself

At the end of the day, if you’re not enjoying yourself all of the above is irrelevant. Cycling holidays are meant to be fun. Not everyone wants to be the next Chris Froome so if you want to ride from cafe to cafe full gas each day, go for it! All of us started off as cafe racers anyway!

no aero
Have fun. Make gains. Over and out.

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