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Why do the pros go to camp?

By Carmichael Training Systems

Every winter, between the end of one season and the beginning of another, professional cycling teams gather for training camps. American pro teams congregate in sunny Tucson, Arizona or the Santa Ynez Valley in southern California; many of the Euro teams flock to Mallorca, off the coast of Spain. Teams get together for the express purposes of meeting new faces, coming together as a team, and most importantly putting in a block of serious mileage that'll kick-start their bodies to return to racing form. Rather than grind it out on their own, they do it together, and draw on each other to push their bodies to a higher level—performing better in goal events months away, like the Amgen Tour of California, starts now. The question many people ask, however, what's the difference between logging those miles at home versus traveling to a destination to train with a group?

With the numerous roster changes that occur at the end of every season, camp is a good opportunity for teammates to get to know each other before they have to travel and live together for the long months of the racing season. In many ways, a training camp is a dress rehearsal for the season; a chance to interact as a team – on the bike and off – so they're each ready to contribute fully to the team's success during the season. There's a lot of unspoken communication between riders; they can anticipate what their teammates will do when there's an attack, or a crosswind, or when the director tells the guys to get to the front. With new additions to the team, it's important to ride together and learn to read each other before the first race of the season.

For the riders, this busy week includes hundreds of miles of riding plus meeting sponsors, talking to the media, posing for innumerable pictures. Many times, training camp is also a bit like Christmas morning – you get there with one bag and leave with four, all stuffed with a year's worth of jerseys and team gear for the season.

But outside of working through logistics, public relations, and new equipment, the big benefit of training camp is that it offers riders the opportunity to focus on all aspects of performance in a short period of time. Though they obviously commit to training when they're home, camp gives riders a solid block of back-to-back high-quality rides. In addition, because the rides are supported by team cars filled with food and fluids, the riders can pedal non-stop for hours instead of having to stop. And since they're riding with a full contingent of strong peers instead of a few local training buddies, the pace of rides at camp tends to be higher than at home.

Yet, perhaps most important for pro riders and everyday cyclists, camps provide an environment for optimal recovery between rides. Everything is taken care of: the mechanics clean and service the bikes, the chefs prepare the food, and the soigneurs give you a massage. And therein lies the biggest difference between riding for six days at camp and riding for six days at home; at camp you recover better and reap greater rewards for the work you put in.

At pro team training camps, rides range from generally social two-by-two endurance rides to all-out intervals and races to the top of local climbs. Over the years, teams have realized that to be competitive from the first race of the season, riders need some pre-season refresher rides that simulate race pace and riding in a tight peloton. It's not that pro riders' forget how to handle their bikes at high speed and tight quarters, but like anyone else they get a bit rusty when they've been riding solo or in small groups for a few months. A bit of argy-bargy at camp gets everyone back into the swing of things. And camps give teams the opportunity to practice some very specific skills, like team time trials.

Since all their riders are together in one place, many teams also use training camps to evaluate and adjust riders' positions on their road and time trial bikes, which means bringing in bike fit specialists. Teams also bring in sports nutritionists to examine and adjust riders' eating habits, especially around pre-, during-, and post-ride nutrition and hydration.

Would a camp improve your performance?

After running training camps for amateur and time-crunched cyclists for 13 years, we're convinced that a 1- to 2-week training camp can have an even greater impact on an amateur rider's season than it does on the pros' racing season.

Think about it; when was the last time you spent 7-10 days focused entirely on becoming a better cyclist? Probably never, right? Well, after hosting thousands of athletes at camps, what we consistently see is that the amount of interaction, feedback, instruction, focused training, and quality recovery an athlete experiences during the course a camp leads to greater long-term improvements in fitness, weight loss, and/or racing performance, than anything else you could do alone in the same amount of time.

Obviously we hope you'll agree with us and come to one of our training camps, but there are a lot of options out there and the more important message is that focused time at a training camp is a great investment in your future performance and results on the bike. Even if you can't go to a structured, coach-led camp, consider putting together a DIY camp at home by taking two long weekends from work (3-4 day weekends), and then a half-day at work on the Wednesday between them. Many of our career professionals and working parents find that this schedule is achievable and enables them to dramatically increase their training hours for a short, focused period of time.

Carmichael Training System is the premier source for professional endurance coaching and training camps, proven effective by more than 10,000 athletes since 2000. In May 2013, CTS will lead the Amgen Tour of California's "17th team" as this group of amateur cyclists attempts to reach the finish of every stage of the ATOC before they're caught by the pro peloton. To get on the CTS ATOC Race Experience team, go to trainright.com/coaching/bucket-list/atoc/.