The team's early-season training camps express much more than putting in big miles on the bike says Josu Larrazabal.
A warm location, new jerseys, shiny bikes, relaxed faces, and lots of training miles: This was the image of the January training camp in the traditional sense. After fall months dedicated to recovery from the efforts of a long race season, it was the first get-together of the year for teams. The January camp was the starting point again, a time to begin laying the foundation to build the riders’ top condition in the coming months. And the watchword was endurance.
Not any longer. In modern pro cycling, with the season already beginning early in the new year, the concept of the January training camp has evolved. “It still remains a key moment of the season, but the traditional idea of the camp has become obsolete,” explained Josu Larrazabal, the head of performance for Trek-Segafredo.
Josu Larrazabal, along with the entire team’s performance group, coordinated the activities of the training camp in Mallorca, the designated location for Trek-Segafredo each January. We sat down with Josu for a look inside the January camp and what it means for Trek-Segafredo.
Josu, how have the riders’ preparation changed in the training camp’s program?
The first thing which stands out is that the camp has taken on a relative impact for each rider’s preparation.
The approach to the camp has changed considerably compared to the past, both for the athlete and the team. In the past, the entire team was available, but now some are already competing on the other side of the world. The main reason for this change is the schedule and the desire to be competitive right from the start.
We had the most significant proof of this at the Tour Down Under, where we managed to catch very important one-two wins with Ruth Winder and Richie Porte. A few years ago, the races at the beginning of the year were important, but, at the same time, they were a step to the spring season.
The team used to race in Australia, Spain, and Portugal as a sort of ‘run-in’ to other races. But now, things – and needs – have changed. Every race is an opportunity to seize results. We have to plan the winter season to avoid too much travel and reducing the effects of jet lag and facilitating acclimatization.
For those who go to Australia, the January training camp does not even exist. And the December camp was not attended by Porte, de Kort, or Hanson, who did the preparation directly in Australia. For those in Europe, the significant change in the January training camp is in the type of work. Before, the number of kilometers in the saddle was the only yardstick, but now the focus has shifted to quality to achieve a good level of competitiveness earlier.
Our task is to train people, not machines.
The January camp has had a strong connection with training. Is it still this way?
Not any longer in the traditional sense of the term. Of course, riders still ride a lot, but if before training was more related to improving their form, now it takes on a bigger meaning based on improving performance. This has evolved in cycling and includes new and different aspects of development. Having a multifactorial and dynamic approach to performance is essential to compete at the highest levels, where the difference plays on marginal gains, that small space of growth that marks the difference between doing well and excelling. For Trek-Sagafredo, the training camp becomes an opportunity to put all the human and technical resources on the field to fill this space.
In Mallorca, we alternated the riders in the velodrome to test materials – the Speed Concept TT bike, Santini’s technical clothing, and helmets – as well as studying the best position on the bike. We carried out road tests with Bontrager wheels and Pirelli tubular tires. We scheduled training sessions focused only on descent techniques.
Then there was the whole off-bike part, complementary training that has a significant impact on riders’ well-being: tests at the gym, core stability sessions, stretching, and specific work to improve mobility. We had three trainers leading the activities: myself, Mattias Reck, and Paolo Slongo. We had our nutritionist Stephanie present, who had daily talks with the riders, and we had a team of osteopaths and physiotherapists, who study each rider’s problems in-depth. And all the activities, of course, are overseen by medical staff. For Trek-Segafredo, the camp has become the highest expression of research and development concept in performance.
Research and development are inevitably based on data. What is the relation between this and the riders’ preparation?
Our task is to train people, not machines. This must be the underlying assumption for any evaluation. It is not possible to separate the specificities of each individual in performance analysis. We base our observation on three parameters: the condition of the athlete compared to the same period in the previous year, their condition compared to his/her teammates, and his/her race schedule. These elements give us useful feedback to make decisions on the preparation and share them with the rider.
Our analysis started in the December training camp in Sicily, where we set the first test to know the riders’ starting situation. In Mallorca, we repeated the tests to get feedback on their progression. The goal is to have a measured path to reach the top condition for the most important races.
Such complex management requires perfect organization…
Absolutely. And this is where the team structure comes into play. Everyone involved must work in synergy and take care of every aspect in the best possible way. The days at the training camp are always long, not just for the riders! From an organizational point of view, the sports directors are the first people in charge of managing the group.
In Mallorca, we divided the athletes into three groups: classics, climbers, and women. The groups were defined according to the different specific work required and material tests; for example, the specific bikes for the classics’ team – the Domane – and the Emonda for the climbers. One day was also dedicated as a team time trial test, where we mixed the groups to encourage interaction between the whole team.
As a type of activity, there is absolute equality between men and women and everyone benefits from everything the team can provide. The only real difference is in the definition of the training programs.
What is the substantial difference in the approach between the men’s and women’s teams? How much does the training camp schedule change between the two?
As a type of activity, there is absolute equality between men and women and everyone benefits from everything the team can provide. The only real difference is in the definition of the training programs. Beyond the difference in workloads, there is also an important issue related to the race calendar. Like the men, the women have already made a successful debut at the Tour Down Under in Australia, but they will make their European race debut only at the end of February. And it will be, no less, the opening weekend of the Classics season! We’ve had to plan for a more dilated but still hard preparation. We want to get to these first races in excellent condition, and for this reason, we have decided to schedule a third training camp from February 13th to 23rd in Altea, Spain. For the women, we have a lot of time at our disposal, and we don’t want to miss being ready.
Besides gender differences, are there also differences related to complementary activities, such as with Lucinda Brand (cyclocross) and Letizia Paternoster (track)?
Yes. But managing their preparation is a challenge I find stimulating. Lucinda did not take part in the Mallorca training camp because she was involved in the cyclocross season, and Letizia did not because she was involved in track training with the Italian National team. Although their complementary activities are managed by their personal trainers, we follow their preparations very carefully and look for the best coordination – Mattias Reck for Brand and Giorgia Bronzini for Paternoster.
While for the women’s team, the winter was recovery and camps, for Lucinda, it was races and more races. Now her cyclocross season has ended with the World Championships, and we know her condition is excellent, so our goal is to work in the coming weeks to keep her competitive through the first road races. We’ve already scheduled a break in the coming months to allow her to recover – that will be her off-season.
For Letizia, the situation is more complicated. This year there is the Olympics, and we hope to see her as a protagonist there. In her case, there isn’t a real end to the track season, it’s an alternation between track and road all year, with a high number of transfers. Our task is to safeguard her physique with enough periods of recovery and avoid getting too close to, or even exceeding, the stress limit.
As I said, the management of this is an exciting challenge. I am convinced that, in the long term, we will have more and more athletes who will alternate between different cycling disciplines. Brand and Paternoster are two great examples, also not forgetting two rising stars like Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert. Although their activity on the road may be limited, I think the improvement of new skills gives them an added value. And for a factory team, such as Trek, it is a big opportunity for a new and exciting area of research and development.