Teams head to Spain for mid-winter tradition

From Calpe to Mallorca, and even all the way out to the Canary Islands, pro teams have migrated south for the season to build fitness.

Want to see the world’s best riders up close and personal? Forget the Tour de France. Instead, head to the Spanish coast in December. There’s an abundance of elite pros plying the local roads this month.

In what’s become a December tradition, nearly every major European team is making tracks to Spain’s Mediterranean coast for pre-holiday training camps to put the 2016 racing season on good footing.

The most popular area is the mountainous headland between Alicante and Valencia. Teams are based in hotels in Calpe and Denia, where they head out into the hilly interior for long, base-mile training rides.

BMC Racing’s plan is typical of many teams. It has been staying in Denia area for years, and brings in staffers and riders for a series of meetings and training rides to prepare the squad for the coming racing season. Team boss Jim Ochowicz said the mix of good roads, mild weather, and light traffic along Spain’s coast delivers the ideal base for pre-season training camps.

“It’s a good place to train,” Ochowicz said of the Denia region. “There’s a good mix of roads, so different riders can hit their training programs. Good weather, little traffic; it’s ideal for this time of year.”

Etixx-Quick-Step, Katusha, and Astana are all habitués along the Calpe region. Teams will decamp in hotels for weeks on end as riders loop in and out for meetings, rides, photo sessions, bike fittings, physiological testing, and other pre-season business, such as testing new equipment. Many teams return in January as the training tempo increases ahead of the season’s first major races.

Most of the European teams have gravitated to Spain for a variety of reasons. It’s still close to home, at least for the European staff and riders, and the riding terrain is ideal to build base fitness. The weather is typically mild, with temperatures in the 60s and 70s (F), and it rarely rains, all of which is in sharp contrast to northern France, Italy, and Belgium this time of year.

Even the French teams, which were banned for many years from leaving French soil, are now hitting Spain simply because the region hosts the most consistent December weather across the continent. Ag2r-La Mondiale arrived in Gandía this week, while Cofidis will be based in Lloret del Mar along the Catalan coast just north of Barcelona.

Tinkoff-Saxo headed even farther afield, traveling to Gran Canaria this week in Spain’s Canary islands to train with mild weather, sunny skies, and low-traffic roads. Alberto Contador celebrated his 33rd birthday Monday while on a training ride with his teammates.

Team Sky is among several teams that prefers Mallorca. The Balearic island is laced with narrow, quiet roads, and while it doesn’t boast the long, sustained climbs that can be found on mainland Spain or the Canary islands, Mallorca is an ideal place to blow out the cobwebs.

“It’s a perfect base for us,” said Sky boss Dave Brailsford said of Mallorca. “We’ve been rotating riders through here for years. We finally decided to make it our base, because we were coming here so much.”

Team Sky, as well as Team GB, have been coming to Mallorca so long that the team rents out nearly all of the rooms in a major hotel for most of the off-season. Some riders, including Bradley Wiggins, have even purchased homes on the island.

Another team in Mallorca this month is Lotto-Soudal, which arrived this week for a 10-day camp on the island. Sport director Herman Frison said the hotel’s buffet is so good that it presents a dangerous temptation for his riders.

“We are in full preparation for the season,” he said. “It’s a very large and delicious buffet here at the hotel, maybe a bit too good for the riders. We will see who has the character and discipline to stay away from the unhealthy stuff.”

That’s one more reminder that the off-season is over, and the racing season is just around the corner. It might be early December, but in today’s hyper-competitive peloton, what happens now will play out for the remainder of the racing season.