10 Things You Didn’t Know About Pro Cycling

BY Gear Fisher

Gear Fisher shares ten secrets he learned while hanging out with Team Sky at their winter training camp in Mallorca, Spain.

I’ve been a fan of pro cycling since the late eighties, and I’ve always loved learning as much “inside information” as possible. There were even times when I’d wonder what the asphalt was like on famous climbs like Alpe d’Huez, because from the magazine photos, I could swear that European asphalt looked smoother than ours in the U.S. My interest hasn’t waned through the years, and in that spirit, I present ten things that I’ve found curious about being around European pros here in Mallorca, Spain at the Team Sky winter training camp.

  1. The riders eat meals at separate tables from the team staff. This allows the riders to decompress a bit in a “pressure-free” environment and give them some space from the ever watchful coaches and directors.
  2. Riding bikes is hard work and some things are just taken care of for you, like laundry. Riders put their clothes in a mesh bag and leave it in front of their hotel door, to be picked up in the evening after the team takes care of the washing and drying.
  3. Bike mechanics wash and prep bikes every day, and spend much of the day during training camps building other bikes for use later in the season. Imagine keeping track of every rider’s unique position, while they are constantly experimenting with new equipment and such. It takes a LOT of effort to keep everything sorted.
  4. Each rider has 3-6 bikes. They use 1-2 for training, 1-2 for time-trials, and 1-2 for road racing. Did you catch that? They ride a different bike for racing than for training.
  5. During a training ride, they will often stop at the top or bottom of a big climb to change clothes when it is cold or wet. They might put on a dry jersey, or put on an additional thermal jacket for a long descent.  
  6. A team “director” is the racing manager, a “coach” is the training manager. Responsibility for the riders’ welfare and condition changes hands during the season between these two.
  7. Follow vehicles are used for every training ride, even on easy recovery days. One, for protection and supplies, and two, so riders literally know where to go. European roads can be confusing! Also, if a rider flats during a ride, the group doesn’t stop, the wheel is replaced and the rider is motorpaced back up to the group.
  8. During a ride, the riders have a choice of drinking either water, or “mix” (Gatorade), typically designated on the bottle by an “x”. Team Sky has special bottles with different color nipples: blue for water and orange for Gatorade.
  9. During training rides, each rider will maintain their own effort when doing climbs, to maximize individual performance. This also takes into account the different racing schedules of the various riders.
  10. Riders are commonly put in two groups, “classics” and “stage” riders – namely, those that excel at the super hard one-day classics races, and those that excel at either winning or supporting the team leader during the long 7-21 day stage racing season (Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana).

There are many more fascinating aspects of pro cycling, but they are mostly top-secret, except for this one: these guys are actually people, just like you and me! They worry about what they eat, how they train, and what their equipment is like.  They don’t have it “figured out” as if there is some perfect way to train and prepare for racing. However, they are blessed with some amazing physiology, motivation and commitment, which are the qualities that make them seem superhuman on the bike. Combined with the uncanny ability to put their bodies through sheer pain and suffering, they are nice guys that love the beauty, challenge and lore of bike racing just like you and me.

TrainingPeaks co-founders Gear Fisher and Dirk Friel will be wrapping up Team Sky training camp in Mallorca, then heading to Italy to work with Team Saxo Bank before hopping a plane to Manchester to meet with British Cycling. For more of Gear’s photos from Mallorca, check out our Facebook album.

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About Gear Fisher

Gear Fisher is the CEO and co-founder of TrainingPeaks. He uploaded his first power file in 2001 and continues to drive innovation for all endurance athletes and coaches. He is also the proud owner of a high performance bamboo mountain bike and can be found along the trails of the Front Range. Follow him on Twitter’@gearfisher.