When Cannondale-Drapac invited us to bring photographer JoJo Harper along to their pre-Tour climbing camp in the Pyrenees, we were mostly jealous that we all couldn’t tag along. Instead, we grabbed some croissants and jumped on a call with Keith Flory, Head of Performance for Cannondale-Drapac, to learn more about what goes on at their yearly pre-Tour climbing camp in Aldorra.
Tell us a little bit about your pre-Tour camp.
The camp is based just above the village of Soldeu in Andorra. We’re staying at 2000m. The location has varied a little over the years, but this is a great spot, lots of access to training roads, generally good weather and access to facilities close by. We had a contingency in place to use if the weather was going to be poor, but so far it’s been very warm—up to 25 degrees Celsius up at 2,000m, which is unusual. But it’s excellent for us.
We have four riders at this camp, all of the four came directly from the Dauphiné. So eight stages at the Dauphiné followed by a 12-day block at altitude. Other riders on the Tour long list are either at the Tour de Suisse or at Route du Sud.
Can you give us a rundown of all the staff who are in attendance as well? Are there any family members allowed or is it purely just the team and staff?
Yes we have myself, two Soigneurs, a mechanic and our chef, Sean Fowler. There are no family members here this time, but it has been known in the past. On this occasion I think it was more circumstances rather than design that there isn’t. Simon Clarke, who lives lower down in Andorra, will stay at home on the rest days.
Roughly how many kilometers per day are the athletes riding? Are there any rest days?
With the guys coming direct from the Dauphiné, there are a number of easy / rest days in the first part of the camp. It’s really easy for athletes to overdo things at altitude, and it quickly catches people out. Once recovered and the initial adaption to the altitude complete, we run to a two days training with one day recovery. On the training days, they’ll cover between 120 km to 150 km per day. So over the 11 days they’ll cover approximately 750 kms.
With the riders coming off the Tour de Suisse—are they put on a different schedule than those who are more rested for the camp?
The guys coming off the Tour of Switzerland will focus on recovery post race, there isn’t really sufficient time to go from this race up to altitude and then off to the Tour. Unless you live at altitude of course.
At this stage of the year the riders are essentially gearing up for their biggest “peak” of the season. How are you using TrainingPeaks (i.e. CTL, TSS, communication with the athletes) to determine the optimal workouts for the camp?
First we work out a basic framework for the camp, following the knowledge we have within the performance team and our training principles. From this, we then closely look at each rider’s data from the Dauphiné, both from an individual stage perspective also using the PMC, which provides us with a wider perspective on the rider. Then finally, and this is a critical component, we talk with the riders to get more insight into how they are feeling. With all of this information, we’ll adjust and refine the program accordingly.
What types of data are you paying attention to in TrainingPeaks to let you know how the riders are performing?
All of the riders on the long list have been racing in either the Dauphiné or the Tour of Switzerland, so it provides an excellent insight into actual racing data. This gives a real insight into a rider’s condition to cope with a grand tour: How quickly they are recovering, handling the workload day after day and also if they are able to hit performance markers whilst fatigued. We’re looking at both individual data files, as well using a number of dashboard features such as peak power (through various durations), power profiles and each rider’s PMC. Each rider on the long list would fit different roles at races like the Tour, so we’re mindful of this when assessing the data.
Can you give me a general rundown of the daily schedule at camp?
On an average training day at camp, breakfast is around 8 a.m. to 8.30 a.m. We’ll do a very short pre-ride briefing before heading out for training at 10 a.m. to 10.30 a.m. Being in the mountains and as we have such warm weather, there always is a risk of storms in the late afternoon, so we plan to get back before then. Once back from training, the riders will have lunch, followed by a massage from our soigneurs, followed by a sauna. After this, dinner is served at 20:00 by Sean.
What is the toughest climb of the camp? How much elevation and what is the length, duration, etc.?
With little flat in this region, we are spending a large portion of our time either climbing or descending. Given this, we try to ensure that the climbs are ridden at various intensities. We’ll do efforts at race pace, roughly 30+ minutes at specific watts/kg and then we’ll also ride climbs at a lower intensity to simply prevent riders from blowing up while still exposing themselves to the volume of training needed. That said, the hardest climb we’ll use is probably the Coll de la Gallina, which is 12 km long at an average grade of 8 percent. It goes up to 1,885m with an elevation gain of just short of 1,100m.
What would you say are the riders’ favorite part about their pre-TDF camp? Any yearly rituals or favorite ways to bond?
Coming into such a beautiful setting like Andorra, especially after the full on racing from the Dauphiné, is such a calming and relaxing experience. Being blessed with amazing weather also adds hugely! We like to try to keep the camp as “chilled” as possible, but whilst getting the work done. So we minimise any stressors. For example, having Sean our chef present is a huge bonus as the athletes don’t have to worry about nutrition or finding a meal.
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