Hang out on the roads anywhere along Spain’s Costa Blanca, and all you have to do is wait.
Wait on the saddle between Denia and Javea, with the glittering Mediterranean Sea on one side and the hulking mass of Montgó mountain on the other, and the stars come to you. There’s Quick-Step Floors, with Tom Boonen leading the way. In a blur comes reigning world champion Peter Sagan. And next it’s FDJ, with Thibaut Pinot spinning along.
Spain during December and January is the two-wheeled equivalent to Arizona and Florida’s spring training camps for baseball. Nearly every major WorldTour team gathers each winter somewhere along the Mediterranean coast in an annual migration.
Why? That’s easy: Good roads, mild weather, and a chance to blow out the cobwebs ahead of a racing season.
“It’s good training here. There are hills and there are flats,” said BMC Racing’s Richie Porte. “For me, it’s more about being back with the team. Seeing the guys, the staff, and planning the season.”
Teams have been trekking to Spain for decades, drawn by its network of roads with light traffic, mild, spring-like weather (though it can rain in buckets and even snow on occasion), and inexpensive hotels, which are happy to rent out of dozens of rooms to teams in the off-season. Teams return to the same hotels year after year. Quick-Step has been staying at the same hotel so many years in Calpe that everyone knows which rooms to ask for to have the best views. Team Sky rents out an entire wing of a hotel on Mallorca, rotating riders in and out, depending on racing schedules.
“This really feels like the start of the season, when we come to these pre-season training camps,” said Trek – Segafredo manager Luca Guercilena. “This is where we have the first meetings and bring all the new riders together for the first time. It is really where one season ends and another begins.”
Teams typically head back to the same region year after year and become familiar with their preferred training terrain. Over the winter months, the traffic is usually very light (though Giant – Alpecin endured tragedy last January when six of its riders were struck head-on during a training ride near Denia). Other places in Spain will see the occasional team, usually in Andalucía or the Costa Brava near Barcelona, but most head to either Mallorca or the Costa Blanca between Valencia and Alicante.
The other top choices, especially for personalized altitude training later in the season, are Sierra Nevada above Granada and the Teide volcano on Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands. The majority of WorldTour teams rotate through Spain at least for a few weeks during the winter.
Pro cyclists have been drawn to the Mediterranean for years, but about a decade ago, the Spanish boom really took off, with even French and Italian teams preferring Spain to their home roads. It started first with camps in January, but now teams will usually have a short camp in December and even November.
There’s a relaxed buzz at these camps. Schedules are outlined and plans hatched for the coming season. Mechanics are busy building new wheels and bikes for the coming season. After a few weeks off the bike, everyone is keen to start racing again.
“These camps are important because we can start to map out the season and everyone can see the new bikes,” said Movistar’s Rory Sutherland, who met his teammates in Pamplona in early December. “They’re a busy few days.”
The early season camps in December typically see the first get-togethers with the arrival of new riders for the coming season. Teams will unveil new equipment, bikes, and jerseys, and take team photos and publicity shots for the coming season. Out on the roads, riders are still obliged to wear their original team jerseys through the end of the year, so it’s not uncommon to see riders from the same team for the coming season training in jerseys from three or four different teams lumped together.
In fact, the December camp is sometimes the only time of year that an entire team’s staff and riders are all together at the same time and place during the whole season. Already in January, riders are heading to early season races, like the WorldTour opener Santos Tour Down Under in Australia next week.
“These camps are important because we have everyone together to make plans and to have some real discussions,” said BMC general manager Jim Ochowicz. “Pretty soon, everyone is off to the races, and you don’t see people for weeks and even months.”
Teams often schedule a media day during the camps, allowing riders to chat to the press in a more relaxed, non-racing environment. In December, most riders are still on a relatively relaxed training schedule. By January, especially for the classics-bound riders, the teams will be putting their riders through some hard workouts.
These days, most teams have seemed to have turned the page on the once-infamous team-building exercises popularized by ex-pro and manager Bjarne Riis. The Dane used to take his riders and staff into isolated mountains and subject them to military-style drills and exercises. At one camp years ago, Riis famously threw then-superstar Ivan Basso into the sea about one kilometer from the shore. The only catch: Basso didn’t know how to swim, and the rest of the team had to rally together to tow their captain safely to shore. These days, things are little more relaxed, and team staffers might play a game of soccer or riders will go sightseeing. One pro grumbled the best way for everyone to get to know one another is “to put an open tab at the lobby bar.”