Home and Away: 2013 Begins - 16/01/13

After packing up their suitcases while still digesting their Christmas dinner, on Boxing Day of 2012 a new generation of Rapha Condor JLT riders headed off on the 24-hour flight to Australia for an eight-week training camp.

There are many ideas on how best to prepare a team for a season, where to have camps, how to train and what to try to focus on. Team training camps take place all over the world, the location often dictated either by tradition or cheap accommodation, however Rapha Condor JLT’s 2013 Australian training camp is a little different.

While the two and a half month camp will keep all bar three of the team’s riders out of the worst of the European winter weather until the middle of February, keeping out of the cold is in fact only a pleasant sideline of the mission statement for Australia. The real draw of the Southern Hemisphere for John Herety’s team is to profit from the opportunity for his young riders to cut their teeth racing in the thriving Australian domestic scene.

Adam Buggle and Luke Mellor get stuck into the new season on the first day of the new year

The beauty, if you want to look at it that way, of the globalistation of cycling is that the cycling season is now so long that that it can almost see where it starts from where it ends. Almost as soon as the action dies down on one hemisphere the other one sparks into life. 2013 has been no exception, starting as it did on the 1st of January at the Bay Series in Melbourne. Being ‘down under’ at the start of the year means that the fresh legged riders will be able to get ten to fifteen days of quality days racing under their belts before the European season begins, something Herety considers vitally important for a number of reasons.

“I want our riders to race, because I want them to start thinking about winning races, and learning to do that. Essentially these riders came into the sport because they have seen something at some stage that has excited them and made them want to take up cycling. I can almost guarantee you that moment had nothing to do with wattage, power outputs or data- it would have been about winning a bike race. Young guys want to become bike riders because they want to win bike races but it can be easy for many to get lost in the process at times. The factors that go into getting fit for performance are of course important, but at this stage in their development winning has to be their goal.”

“I want this team to win bike races, and put simply the way you learn to win bike races is to do them. Here in Australia, being as it is a really busy period in their racing calendar, we have a number of opportunities to work on that. It also gives me the opportunity to see these riders actually performing before the season begins, so I know what I am working with.”

“These riders have come recommended to me, so as is the case with a few of them I’ve not yet actually seen them on a bike. I only know them by their racing results and their test scores. Normally as a manager you’ll get a first good look at the riders you’ve signed riding on a training camp, but by throwing ourselves at the racing straight away I’ve been able to get a much better insight into the new guys very quickly.”

What Herety is looking for is a sort of primal instinct in the riders: he wants to see if his riders are bike racers or not. It sounds ridiculously straight forward, but its not. It is something that has to be witnessed and not measured, and it isn’t as simple as a rider saying that they want to win, or being needlessly aggressive in a race, it is much more subtle than that.

“One of the things I saw that impressed me the most on the first day of racing here was a tiny thing but it was very important. On the second or third lap of his first race I saw Ed (Laverack) coming round a hairpin bend underneath another rider, he took one hand off the bars while leaning right over and moved the other rider out of his line. It’s a small detail, but in that moment I was seeing something instinctive from Ed that showed me firstly that he’s determined and he won’t give way easily- something that really counts in bike racing- and secondly that he is a confident bike handler already. When you take into account his limited race experience this becomes quite significant. You could spend three weeks with a rider in Spain training in the pre-season doing all sorts of drills and you would never see that kind of instinct on display.”

Richard Handley in the action at the Jayco Herald Sun Tour

Time away

At this stage of their careers there is a lot more than just bike riding that needs to be learned for the young hopefuls in Rapha Condor JLT. The riders have to start understanding all the intricacies of being in a team. That means understanding about being on the road together, looking after themselves physically in foreign environments, looking after their diet, and just as importantly getting used to being away from home.

A cycling career at best involves ten to fifteen years of extended absence from the home, wherever that place may be. This lengthy first camp for the Rapha Condor JLT team is a good way for the riders to start getting used to that reality.

Time away from home is something that any cyclist with ambition will have to get used to. As the girlfriend of a World Tour rider reminded me the other day, the commitment to racing at the top level involves increasingly long periods away from home. Her partner, she told me, was due to be away for thirteen of the next eighteen weeks on various training camps and races. For most of the young riders in the team the eight-week training camp in Australia will be there first long trip away from home, and a first test to see how they cope with a lengthy period away.

Herety explained:

“It is something that you get a lot with British riders (not wanting to be away from home), but since we’ve arrived, in Australia you can tell from the way this lot are behaving that they are still in the honeymoon period; they are all still quite excited still.”

“We’ve been pretty busy with racing, but now though we are settling in to the camp proper I think it might get harder for some guys. There are little things you see and that need addressing. I’ve seen riders start to get a little stressed about not having an Internet connection so they can easily call a girlfriend, or be in contact with home.”

Kristian House has been a regular visitor to Australia over the past ten years

33 year-old Kristian House is one rider who has proved that he has the mental fortitude to deal with long periods away from home, having done trips like this often throughout his career. Almost ten years ago to the day he was on a flight heading out for his first ever three-month training camp in Australia, with the GB track endurance squad.

“For me it was always a bit different. I always travelled, and I spent a lot of time away from home, or away from family. When I finished high school I packed up straight away and moved myself to Belgium. I already had a lot of life experience by the time I first came here, which these guys don’t have yet.”

“You’ve got to be able to cope with being away to succeed in this sport, or any sport in fact. I think it’s important that these guys get used to being away and not even thinking about it, you need that kind of determination.”

As Herety explained, Australia is an ‘easy’ trip in that regard. Things could be very different in another time and place when perhaps the location for a lengthy stay isn’t quite so appealing.

“Because it’s an English speaking country that makes a difference. I think if I’d said we are off to Spain for six weeks on Boxing Day, and we were starting racing on New Years Day out there, then it might have been a bit different. There are a lot of changes to get used to being here, but most of them are upgrades if you like. Changing seasons from winter to summer is a challenge, but it is a nice one. That makes a big difference and it’s why Australia is ideal for this kind of camp.”

Back in the UK

While the Australian summer will be testing most of the team’s riders, Will Stephenson, one of the squad’s young new recruits, will be preparing for his season back the UK.

In Will’s case the reason that he couldn’t attend the camp was a good one, due to his birthday falling late in the year he is still at school, and is currently studying for A-Levels in Maths, Chemistry and Biology. Eight weeks away at the start of term time would have been too much for the 18 year-old, and so he has missed out on the opportunity to prepare for the season in the Australian summer. Instead he is fitting his training around his school timetable on his local roads around Bournemouth.

“I finish at one on most days so I have the afternoons (to train). Normally I train alone in the week because it’s quite nice to be able to do your own thing and do exactly what I need to do. There was a week before Christmas when I was stuck on the Turbo but it’s not too bad now. I don’t really mind the rain that much, once you’re out in it its not too bad.”

Despite missing out on the Australian sun, Stephenson is determined to be in top shape at the start of the new season

Winter is tough enough as it is, but with social media allowing people to constantly pump out images and updates from all over the world, it’s now near impossible for anyone to avoid knowing what everyone else is up to.

“I’m pretty jealous! It’s tough, when I’m at home and I know that all my teammates are out riding in the sun, getting tanned and wearing just shorts and a short sleeve jersey. It’s almost the complete opposite for me.”

Stephenson though, instead of ruing his luck has displayed the only kind of mental approach to the situation that can have a positive outcome for him: resolving to work harder.

“Its almost put me on the back foot a little bit, especially because they’ve started racing already so they’ll be getting a lot of good efforts in, so I’m sure they’ll come back in February flying. But I find its almost motivating me to keep trying to keep up with them.”

“Its good motivation because I know that they are out there doing 4 hours in the sun and if I just get my head down I can try to do as much work as they are, and strive to get myself in a similar condition.”

For Herety leaving Will behind to finish his studies was a must, not only does he recognize the importance of Will’s education, but in itself seeing how he deals with the winter alone will be a test of character.

“There is no pressure but it will be good to see how Will comes out of the winter, he is a young guy and by staying home and working hard he is showing a maturity and commitment that will be important to him in the long run.”

While Will is going to have to do his best to stay focused through the grim weather while his team mates work under blue skies, by the time the riders arrive at their first races in February one thing is certain, the riders themselves, as well as their manager, will have developed a valuable understanding of their capabilities both on and off the bike. For the Rapha Condor JLT team, the 2013 season has long since begun.