By William Rider
Spain’s Costa Blanca has long been a staple of many professional riders’ winter training experience. Good roads and dry weather when the rest of Europe is wet and under snow attracts not only professional and elite riders, but increasingly L’Etape du Tour competitors, road racers, time trial riders, triathletes, as well as tourist and Audax riders.
I’ve been going to a training camp at Albir in Alicante province for ten years and this year I took part in a fortnight of cycling as a volunteer ride leader. I got the chance to get to know a variety of people and ask them why they choose to train in Spain.
Professional cycling teams often come to Spain in December and again in January to get early season miles in and to test themselves in the mountains. Whereas Mallorca has long been popular with German teams it is the Costa Blanca that has been favoured for its weather.
Alastair Hamilton is a journalist for PezCycling News and has been living on the Costa Blanca for many years. “We have the best winter weather here,” says Alastair. “Mallorca has been useless for the first two weeks of February this year because of snowfall. But the weather can often be wet. It’s popular with the German teams because a lot of German ex-pats have settled there.”
With only slightly lower temperatures than usual, the Costa Blanca managed to avoid the snow and rain that affected the rest of Europe and it was still possible to ride over 1000m mountain passes most of the time in February.
“The area between Calpe and Denia on the Costa Blanca has long been a favourite with many teams,” says Alastair. “There are a lot of retired Belgians living in this part of Spain.”
At the Albir Garden apartment hotel, I was staying at my regular training camp and spoke to some of the riders.
David is 25-years-old and holds an elite licence to race and regularly takes part in events in the south east of England. “I was here for a week in January and I’ve come for another week now in February,” he says. “Taking a week or two to train here in the winter gives me an edge over other riders as I can get some quality training done without having to worry about weather conditions. The terrain can also be very challenging so it gives me a very high level of physical conditioning. I use a power meter on my bike and follow a carefully planned training programme given to me by my coach,” says David.
He is joined by his father Jonathan who is retired. He’s riding a very attractive Specialised Tarmac bike and I ask him about it. Jonathan laughs and says: “It’s one of David’s cast-offs. I’m next in line for all his older kit while he upgrades to keep up with his fellow elite riders. But I’m not complaining,” he says with a smile. “Obviously I can’t keep up with David, but I still very much enjoy coming out here. We get to ride together on his easier days.”
Bill and Tricia Farnham are veterans of two Paris-Brest-Paris and two London-Edinburgh-London Audaxes. They have also completed two Land’s End to John O’Groats end-to-end rides and are keen tri-athletes.
“I usually come here during my week’s half term in February,” says Tricia who is a teacher. “It makes a nice break from the British winter. We’ve been coming here for a number of years and we always enjoy the riding here.”
Linda Boize is at the training camp for the first time. I asked her why she’s here and if she would come again. “I’m here to get some good miles in my legs and enjoy cycling in the warm weather,” says Linda. “I particularly enjoy the scenery and meeting the variety of other cyclists. You can do as much or as little as you want here as there are a variety of routes to choose from. I’d love to do it again.”
Many of the riders on the training camp are training for sportive rides later in the year. The most well know of these rides is the L’Etape du Tour where amateur cyclists can get to ride a stage of the Tour de France.
Established in 1993 it has since 2011 a choice of two stages to compete in. Act 1 on 8 July 2012 will start in Albertville and take riders over Alpine passes to finish 158km later at La Toussuire-Les Sybelles. Act 2 on 14 July 2012 will start in Pau and challenge riders with a 201km stage over the Pyrenees and over the brutal Col du Tormalet and finish in Bagnères de Luchon.
With climbs that can last for 10 or 20 kilometres many cyclists like to test their fitness in the late winter by travelling to Spain and ride over some mountain passes.
Scott Walker competes in individual time trials (ITTs) from 10 miles to 50 miles. He’s twice come third in the Rudy Project ITT Series. “I come here to get a good week’s cycling away from the English weather,” he tells me. “It’s also part of my training for the Pau to Baignons L’Etape du Tour stage.” Scott rides with www.I-Ride.co.uk
Training camps are renowned for riders raiding the buffet and eating as much as they can. It’s not unknown for many cyclists to return home after a week’s cycling weighing more than when they left.
Kelvin Southan is also doing this year’s L’Etape du tour from Pau. He’s a member of Hinckley CRC and competes at 10 mile to 100 mile time trials. His friends tell me he has quite an appetite. “You wouldn’t believe that he’d be able to ride anywhere after the size of his breakfast. But then he rips the cranks off us,” says one of them. “Kelvin then drops us all on the descents because he goes downhill so fast!”
Marc Lee is looking to improve his time trial riding. “Training here is a good way to experience proper hills and good road surfaces,” says Marc.
Michael Wills describes himself as “a fit 53-year-old” and aims to get a time of less than 4 hours for a 100 mile time trial.
“I’ve done three L’Etapes. I got gold in one and silver in the other two. It’s my first time here and I like the sunshine and warmth,” says Michael.
He’s also competed at the European Police Cycling Championships in Gronigen in The Netherlands. It was four days of racing including an ITT and a criterion race.
On the 11 May 2012 Michael is riding from Donington to London as part of the Ride to Remember event taking place to mark the tenth anniversary of the deaths of police constables Bryan Moore and Andy Munn who were killed on duty on 15 August 2002 when a drunk driver deliberately rammed their police car. Ten police officers from Leicestershire are cycling 400 miles to Paris in four days, starting at the memorial at Donington Moto Services and finish at the French National Police Memorial on the Champs Elysees in Paris via the National Police Memorial at the Mall, London to lay a wreath. The riders are also raising money for the East Midlands Air Ambulance. See http://www.justgiving.com/ridetoremember2012
In early spring many of the training camps arranged for amateur cyclists offer organised rides sometimes with celebrity cyclists as guests and offer other services such as mechanical assistance, massage and physiological advice. These training camps cost more because of the extras.
The Early Bird Training Camp is a much more relaxed affair with cyclists organising the routes and ride leaders among themselves. The Albir Garden hotel has been popular for more than two decades with cyclists. In the bar of the hotel is a picture which features Audax UK veteran Rocco Richardson with former Tour de France King of the Mountains competition winner Robert Millar.
Robert Millar always advised cyclists not to go out riding if it had been raining. The roads on the Costa Blanca can be very slippery in the wet because as there is so little rainfall oil can build up on the roads. This has led to a number or mishaps through riders not heeding Millar’s advice.
Rocco Richardson led many rides as did the late Neville Chanin who passed on his knowledge of routes through the orange groves and quiet mountain roads to me. Chanin who was a member of the 300,000 miles club often stayed for the whole of February at the Albir Garden hotel.
Spain’s Costa Blanca makes an inexpensive holiday destination in the winter and daytime temperatures can average around 16 to 18 degrees centigrade in February. With much less motor traffic on the roads it is ideal for cycling. But be prepared to get some training in beforehand, as some of the routes are very challenging.
There are flights and trains to Alicante from London.