by Gordo Byrn
Last year, a buddy went to Riccione, Italy, for a bike camp and had a blast. This year, I joined him and want to share some observations specifically about Italy and camps in general.
We stayed at the Hotel Belvedere, which was filled with athletes from many different nationalities. They do a package, which includes room, meals, guiding and laundry. It’s been a few years since I was a guest at a training camp and I’d forgotten how much I like the simplicity of eat, sleep and train.
My friend, Sam, joked that the key to a fun training camp is to keep sliding down the groups until you find a ride that you can dominate! There is a lot of truth in that observation and it pays to start your week with humility.
Take the first ride easy until you figure out where you stand in terms of pack hierarchy. Some of the guests were surprised at the ability level of the riders. In addition to Team EC, there were nine members of Team 500 Watt from Israel. The Israelis had jet-black kits with red highlights -- one look and you knew they weren’t going to crack!
When riding with strangers, I remind myself that there will be a level of compromise. Some tips:
- Arrive without an agenda and with your base training sorted. The group rides are highly variable in terms of output and you’ll have riders that treat each climb as either a Threshold or VO2 interval. As well, you never know who’s going to turn up. I had days riding rode with Euro pros and a former domestique for Marco Pantani. It can be embarrassing -- and highly educational -- to publicly implode!
- Carry a map, spares and CO2. You can get all of these at the front desk. Even with a guide, you want to be able to sort yourself out. We only “lost” one rider during the week and that was when a guest motor-paced off the front of bunch then took a wrong turn. You don’t want your guide to worry about a “lost” rider so check out with your guide before you call an audible and disappear.
- The rides can start fast. Consider a solo warm-up for 30-40 minutes before the designated roll out time. By the time we’d hit the first climb of the day, I’d have an hour of cycling in my legs. Getting this done requires organization in the morning -- lay your clothes out the night before and set an alarm 30 minutes before breakfast.
- You won’t get left behind. Most people share a primitive fear of being left behind. This fear causes poor pacing decisions and unnecessary angst when riding anywhere other than the front. Even in the fastest group there are plenty of regroups and coffee breaks. When riding informally, I remind my riding buddies that I’ll be waiting at the top (and hope they do the same for me).
- The safest place is at the front, or off the back. By choosing a group where you’re a stronger rider, you will have the ability to take long pulls or ride off the back. We had days with over 20 riders in our bunch. I don’t enjoy riding in the middle of a group of tired strangers. So the option to lead or follow with a gap reduced my stress level and the likelihood of a crash.
- Triathletes eat way more than roadies. For the week, I brought two-dozen powergels, a monster bag of Infinit heat mix and 10 Clif Bars. Next year, I’ll bring even more. The hotel provides sports drink, sandwiches and bananas, but I needed supplemental calories for my big training days.
Generally, the rides are done by 2:30pm, so you have the rest of the day open for resting, work or your spouse. The triathletes were running before breakfast and swimming in the afternoon (pool and open water options -- bring a fullsuit and neoprene cap if you want to swim in the Adriatic).
During the week, I played a game with myself that I could have a scoop of gelato for every 1,000 feet I climbed. However, the climbing is so good (more than 50,000 vertical feet this camp) that my stomach couldn’t keep up with my legs!
The Belvedere has a self-serve gelato bar that was seeing heavy dinnertime traffic from the Endurance Corner group. Further, I undertook extensive ice cream sandwich research across the Italian countryside.
I can confirm that, in an emergency, it is possible to ride a long, long way on water, espresso and ice cream sandwiches!
Gordo is the founder of Endurance Corner. You can find his personal blog here.