It’s that time of year! The season is looming in the not-so-distant future and with training ramping up, we soft cyclists jet off to southern Spain in search of endless sunshine and double digit temperatures. In a quest to make back-to-back miles feel that little bit easier.
As team SD Worx, we stay all together in a villa style house nearer Denia. In the current times of Covid, this is a blessing. Going self sufficient/Airbnb style rather than lounging in a hotel, means no exuberant enforced protocols, and no excessive … mask wearing!
It truly is like our own little bubble here, we solemnly leave the complex other than our daily training. Comfortable and spacious – even with a pool! – a perfect place to relax amidst some hard blocks of training.
Here I share a room with Anna Shackley, as two young ‘pups’ on the team we are often put together. None the less we are still getting along and our daily rhythms somewhat align, so it works. Often, we are the first to the kitchen for breakfast, just before the sun is rising here in southern Spain (considered quite an early wake up by lazy cyclists standards).
Then comes the first installment of food for the day. Now, on these camps especially, where the training load is high, food is, if not for the training itself, taking up the better part of the day.
On the training camps we tend to take care of our own breakfasts. Often ‘bukjes’ or containers (in English) are piled in the fridge, full of the previous night’s creations – overnight oats. In the morning it’s just a matter of finding the bukje that is yours. Open it up, add the fruit, yoghurt and toppings you like and ta-da you have a breakfast.
Coffee is a must too. Two large filter coffee machines have sustained us here. As I often part of the few to win the ‘race’ to the kitchen in the mornings, I am first to man the machines (ie. Filling them up and pressing the button) – taking care to scoop in at least half a 500g bag of coffee grounds each morning (better too strong than too weak right?). Sure, maybe it’s no barista coffee and no latte art occurs here, but this provides an effective caffeine hit ahead of the days training.
As I mentioned, cyclists are not morning people. Perhaps some athlete types take to the ‘get up and go’ attitude better, but we prefer to set a 10am ride time to allow for a slow easy morning. Which allows lots of time for sitting around the large dining room table together, sitting, sipping coffee and chatting ahead of the day.
Usually, a route is pre planned from the night before and shared across the WhatsApp group, for appropriate use. I am an avid Garmin user and route follower myself, so I make sure to download the route ready to go.
Unless we face the odd day of rain (a rare but not uncommon occurrence here) kit choice is generally easy. Start with the bibs and jersey and add arm/knee/leg warmers from there if needing to accommodate for some slightly fresher morning temps but the layers will often get removed as the day warms up. We have a team car that follows us each ride of the camp, so we never have to worry about taking too many clothes to carry.
Riding is always a special part of the day. It’s in part, a time to enjoy and speak to each other as the wheels hum beneath us. It’s January, so it’s a time to reflect on the last months apart; holidays with our families or simply just getting to know new teammates. On the other hand, we can push ourselves physically, test the limits where necessary and enjoy informal competition against each other for a change. Whether its small conversation, no conversation at all or ruthless (within reason) sign sprinting; the mind numbs a bit and the legs float with it, the hours pass by fast and with ease.
The best part of the day comes next. Shara, our in house nutritionist, cook, mentor, friendly face (just everything !) welcomes us home with a full table of scrumptious, filling, aesthetically pleasing, ‘just what you want after a long training’, while also healthy and nutritionally balanced food. It’s a race to who gets in the showers first, because the sooner you are clean, the sooner you can get to that beckoning table of food.
The rest of the day consists of some needed downtime as well as massages and often a group yoga or Pilates session, where we can motivate each other to do the less fun but just as important side of training – looking after our bodies and core strength. If not massage, yoga or both, we are each rostered on certain days to be Shara’s ‘helpers’ in which case we are on duty to help with food/dinner preparations and clean up.
Eventually we all sit down together, riders and staff, for a big dinner – courtesy of our chef Shara and daily helpers, of course. Here we eat (ourselves silly full) and enjoy an evening of all too silly chat, queer Dutch humour and discussions of another day on the bike behind us.
It’s a time of the day that, as a team, I think we are quite lucky to have in these testing Covid times. I hear stories of riders forced to eat at single tables or alone in their hotel rooms at their team camps. So, I am grateful for this time each evening with my teammates; we get to bond over the simplicities of life and a lot because of these moments, I more and more find myself at home amongst this group.
Though, as we enjoyed these treasuring moments together as a group, we certainly missed a link in the chain this January. A smiling, joking, cherishing link, one that remains very much in our minds and our hearts.
The willingness I witnessed in this team everyday here, despite a heavy heartedness, is something I am proud of them for. I join them in knowing that, while we still work hard together, we can savour every bit of hope and extra strength for our good friend Amy Pieters.