Jonathan Vaughters on the truth behind training camps

This time of year, it seems like all cycling media and fans are intensely curious as to what, exactly, goes on at training camps. And all the teams do their best to distribute media content and images showcasing the riders doing incredibly intense training all under the watchful eye of dozens of coaches and staff. In lieu of important races, training camps seem to create a spectacle on their own.



This is the place where champions show up soft and slow, and then chisel their way to top form by grinding out endless hours with their teammates. I get countless questions as to what sort of training we’ll be doing at training camp to magically transform our riders. Training camps are the stuff of legend.



Allow me to give you a more realistic view.



Firstly, the training a rider does to truly achieve fitness win races is done at home, on their own, or in small and invisible camps with a few teammates. Not at the big “all team gaggle” each team has mid-winter. If you show up to the team camp in January short on fitness and long on belly, you won’t make up for much of it at camp. Instead, these camps tend to actually lower the workload of most top riders. When trundling along with 25 other riders, you don’t spend much time in the wind pushing on the pedals; instead there’s a lot of time for each rider coasting along in the draft. Secondly, it’s fairly difficult to get much as far as specific work done, as the speed and intensity is dictated by the group, not by training needs.



Training camps are also an excellent opportunity to get sick. All the riders and all the staff in the same hotel, eating from the same buffet, shaking hands with sponsors and media… very few times have we made it all the way through a January without some sort of major team-wide outbreak of illness. With most of the riders I coach, I encourage them to come into training camps a little too fresh, with a robust and rested immune system. And the best piece of coaching I give them during camp is to wash their hands. Excessively.the best piece of coaching I give them during camp is to wash their hands. Excessively.



So, if all a training camp is a pathogen spreading waste of time, then why do them at all? First off, it’s the only time of year everyone actually gets to meet one another. Pro cycling is a funny beast in the modern era: constantly in motion as we are doing 240 race days a year on multiple continents. This leaves almost zero opportunity to actually talk to one another. A rider doing the cobbled classics and the Vuelta schedule might not ever do a single day of racing with a rider doing an Ardennes Classics and Tour de France. They’ll be on the same team, but never actually speak.



Pro cycling is a funny beast in the modern era: constantly in motion as we are doing 240 race days a year on multiple continents.



That’s always seemed a bit sad to me.



Secondly, all of the sponsors want to interact with the riders. From photo shoots to in-person meetings for feedback to plain old glad handing, sponsors and team investors like seeing the whole group together. Most of the team’s planned media like headshots, posters, and studio videos are all produced at training camp — it’s the only time we’re all together.



Finally, it’s a chance for me, the manager, and all the directors to observe how riders interact with one another and how a diverse staff comes together to make a team happen. Various cultures, languages, and ideas can come together in a positive way, or sometimes interact negatively with one another. Better to get this sort of thing figured out away from the competitive pressures of a race.



So, despite the lollygagging in training and the risk of the plague, training camps do serve their purpose in getting ready for the race season. They just aren’t the reasons most people think of when they hear the words “training camp.”



No, instead training camps are a bit more along the lines of organizational camps. The best training is done in much smaller and more controlled groups, away from media, sponsors, and virus carriers. That said, training camp is always exciting and fun for everyone. It starts to get the juices flowing and the excitement building for the season ahead. We’re nearly there.