As seen from the back by Jack McCann
In the world of cycling one is always hearing about “training camps”. This is a term that is thrown around a lot and takes on a lot of different meanings. Not every training camp is created equal, there are various species in the training camp family that are much different from each other.
There are the professional level spectacles of pre-season Public Relation Stunt/ Photo-Op Camps. In these camps a couple dozen men who do not speak any of the same languages attempt to build friendship by completing something like a Boy Scout style high-ropes course while showing off their freshly printed size extra-extra-small team-issue casual track suits. These camps seem like they might be some fun but are maybe more of a media gimmick than anything else. I honestly cannot think of anything scarier than being a participant of one of these camps anytime during the years 1987-2007. One can only imagine the horror of running around a tough-mudder course with a bunch of East Germans and various other individuals who are sporting freshly gelled euro-mullets. All the while a team doctor is measuring the circumference of your thigh before injecting it full of some unknown veterinary steroid.
Then there are the Overachiever Camps. These usually take place months before any real racing will begin and are centered around building a strong base of physical and mental fatigue. An amateur rider or group of amateur riders will spend a month or so living in the basement of somebody’s Uncle’s cousin in a place like Pensacola Florida and do nothing but 100 mile rides and get more nervous. This is a great idea if you are interested in having a strong tan and performing in races that take place before Easter Sunday. (Another variety of this camp is the “altitude” edition, which entails higher rent prices and larger quantities of fatigue building closer to the start of a more important race)
There are also the Camping Camps. These are training camps that have little to do with training and more about getting good use out of your handlebar bags and frame packs. A rider and perhaps one or two friends will embark on a sort of ‘soul search’ trip. These camps might involve some combination of point A to point B distance riding, wearing non-cycling specific clothing, and crossing terrain that will require walking with your bike. These camps are rarely of much physical benefit but seem to help with stress and burnout. I highly recommend one of these if you have done too much of the above camp variations or need additional content for your Instagram stories.
The elite amateur First Internet Bank team has luckily been much more modest in our approach to team camps. There are no photographers, there are no obstacle course and nobody is doing any time trial or team time trial style events somewhere in high desert. We typically organize one or two extended weekend trips somewhere with some warmth and hills to get our engines warmed up. This is great because it allows everyone to get into the swing of more spirited riding, but also reconnect and rekindle the teammate bonds. The team is always a bit geographically dispersed, so during the winter we all do not get many chances to just hang out and catch up. A solid training trip of a few 5+ hour days up some extended climbs helps get everyone on the same page mentally while putting valuable miles in the saddle.
I am the first to admit the temptation that a team camp presents… you want to turn it into a race. After a few months of cabin fever everyone is itching to see what they got and flick it over into the big ring. Thereby turning a steady day with some climbs into the 2006 Tour De Georgia.
This is a temptation you learn to resist as you gain maturity in the sport. However, in my case I did not have to bother with any maturation of my impulses as my physical condition made it impossible to turn any part of the riding into a physical contest. After damaging my chest cartilage at the tail end of September’s racing season, I had a winter of mediocre training owed in fault to injury and lack of enthusiasm. While our training camp certainly brought back my spirit of competition and training, but I was in no shape to battle anyone in the hills or even the town-line sprints. I resigned myself to the only strength I had left: sitting last wheel and hurling trash talk at the riders in front of me.
I saw my role during the trip as a sort of motivator and mascot for the team. I was Santa and they were my reindeer. I was Joe and they were my Jackson 5.
Riding at the back offered another great benefit, I got a front row seat to the show of the superior athletes. I saw these guys battle it out like true ground hogs and I could see where everyone’s strength and weaknesses might lie in 2019. I think a lot of racers do not realize the benefit that can come with riding last wheel. When you are on the front you cannot possibly read the race. Everything is outside your range of view. But from the comfort of the rear echelon you can watch all the minor battles unfold before making your push to victory. I recommend this tactic to riders who always find themselves always making tactical misjudgments, such as being too far back in the field.
With this intel I gathered from my tail-gunner perch I would like to award all of the participants in the 2019 FIB training camp an individual award. In order to avoid spilling any trade secrets or sparking drama between my mates these awards will be non-fitness related. Listed in alphabetical order as follows.
Award for Heaviest Bike: Stephen Bassett
Weighing in at least 45 pounds Stephen completed every ride of the training camp aboard a bicycle outfitted like he was going to war. His aluminum Allez frame was packed down with full fenders, two bags, full-sized insulated bottles, front and rear lights, GPS head unit and an unknown quantity of spare parts. It was a sight to see his 61 cm frame move at the speed it did while loaded down like something out of the Grapes of Wrath.
Award for Most Fitted: John Becker
Note that I did not say most “FIT”, I said most “FITTED”. John is sort of a Rainman of bicycle fitting skills after attending multiple education programs at the Specialized Body Geometry/Retul fitting school. When he gets going on the subject he begins to rattle off calculations about shims, spindles and spacers. I am always impressed by the level of detail he puts into the study of cycling’s biomechanics and his ability to point out tiny changes that make huge levels of difference. One day at camp he recommended I go back to riding with an extra pedal washer on each side of my crank as I had done before. This minor shift made an immediate change in the ease I could keep my cadence smooth. If he is Raymond counting cards the rest of us are Charlies trying to benefit off his genius. Additionally Becker once again maintains his status as the only person on the team (except maybe Mr. Paul) who looks like he has the body to play a real sport, especially compared to someone like Robert or I who have no business being on a ball sport court of any kind.
Award for Most Improved Route Designer: Ryan Knapp
As you Strava hounds might know, Captain RK$ has a knack for picking routes with questionable pavement integrity. This year was a dramatic improvement and there were no sections that included the Appalachian Trail or risk of bear attack. The carbon soles of my shoes thank you for this.
Award for Oldest and Most Man: Paul Martin
A passing of the torch moment has occurred this season with Kurt Alberts officially calling it quits on the sport. We all know he has made that claim previously but it looks like this year he is done for good. Sensei Albers’s retirement now makes Paul the man with the most numbers on the age board. That being said we all know Mr. Paul is not one to be discouraged by the slow and irreversible march of entropy. This is a man who continues to ride with the strength of men half his age.
Award for Most In-Real-Life Erg Mode: Jarret Oldham
Ignoring Instagram post warnings from the highly-respected and very knowledgeable cycling coach Mr. Tommy “D” Danielson, Jarret has spent much of the winter using the ERG mode on his indoor trainer to build fitness. For those of you unaware ‘erg mode’ is a setting that fancy spin bikes have that allow you to pick set the level of resistance at a certain wattage, and no matter what cadence or curse words you use, the trainer will maintain that wattage. This style of training forces the rider to lock into their target wattage like an endurance terminator. You as the rider have two choices, either do the watts or stop pedaling. This style of training has made Jarret into an absolute machine on the bike. He demolishes climbs with stoic ease. This level of fitness is all the while more impressive knowing he works full time in Chicago, which might be one of the worst locations for winter training. Respect.
Award for Most Snacks Packed: Rob Sroka
Everyone loves to make fun of the chubby guy for carrying around a mini-fridge load of Clif Z-Bars… but when you are deep in the box you’ll be glad he is there. Robert somehow managed to sneak in a whole crate of goodies inside his Honda Fit in order to stay ‘topped off’. During our rainy Friday ride I was glad he had some spare snack bars in his back pocket to keep me going that last hour in the freezing cold.
Award for Most Sagging: Chris Uberti
If you did not know, Chris Uberti is an engineer. Despite that label he still manages to pull off being an incredibly friendly and personable guy. Chris was the always willing to hang back with me and anyone else riding at Junior Varsity Injured Reserve pace in order to maintain better efficiency and morale in the group. He in fact was so committed to never leaving a man behind he would often loop back down climbs to ride with the slower bunch (me). Maybe it was a show of good nature or maybe it gave him a chance to take a work call while riding. Either way everyone always appreciates a helping hand.