[Editor's Note: This article was originally published in January, 2007. The Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team has since disbanded.]
Every winter, between the end of one season and the beginning of another, professional cycling teams gather for training camps. The Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team, for instance, comes together in Austin, Texas in December, and again in Buellton, California in January, for the express purposes of meeting new faces, coming together as a team and, most importantly, putting in a block of serious mileage that'll kick-start their bodies to return to form.
Rather than grind it out on their own, they do it together and draw on each other to push their bodies to a higher level. Performing better in July (and throughout the year) starts now. The question many people ask, however, is what's the difference between logging those miles at home versus traveling to a destination to train with a group?
With the numerous roster changes that occur at the end of every season, camp is a good opportunity for teammates to get to know each other before they have to travel and live together for the long months of the racing season. In many ways, a training camp is a dress rehearsal for the season; a chance to interact as a team—on the bike and off—so they're each ready to contribute fully to the team's success during the season.
There's a lot of unspoken communication between riders; they can anticipate what their teammates will do when there's an attack, or a crosswind, or when Johan tells the guys to get to the front. With new additions to the team, it's important to ride together and learn to read each other before the first race of the season.
For the riders, this busy week includes hundreds of miles of riding plus meeting sponsors, talking to the media and posing for innumerable pictures. Many times, training camp is also a bit like Christmas morning—you get there with one bag and leave with four, all stuffed with a year's worth of jerseys and team gear for the season.
But outside of working through logistics, public relations, and new equipment, the big benefit of training camp is that it offers riders the opportunity to focus on all aspects of performance in a short period of time. Though they obviously commit to training when they're home, camp gives riders a solid block of back-to-back, high-quality rides.
In addition, because the rides are supported by team cars filled with food and fluids, the riders can pedal non-stop for hours instead of having to stop. And since they're riding with a full contingent of strong peers instead of a few local training buddies, the pace of rides at camp tends to be higher than at home.
Yet, perhaps most important for pro riders and everyday cyclists, camps provide an environment for optimal recovery between rides. Everything is taken care of: the mechanics clean and service the bikes, the chefs prepare the food, and the soigneurs give you a massage. And therein lies the biggest difference between riding for six days at camp and riding for six days at home; at camp you recover better and reap greater rewards for the work you put in.
Getting Back to Race Readiness
At a Discovery Channel training camp, rides range from generally social two-by-two endurance rides to all-out intervals and races to the top of local climbs. Over the years, teams have realized that to be competitive from the first race of the season, riders need some pre-season refresher rides that simulate race pace and riding in a tight peloton.