Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Cycling's Alcatraz

Cyclings Alcatraz!

For the next 3 weeks I am holed up in Spain on the island of Tenerife Situated in the canary islands amongst the Atlantic ocean and being the largest of the 7 canary islands, Tenerife is actually closer to mainland Africa than Europe. What brings all us cyclists to Tenerife is the Hotel Parador, a lonely structure based at the foot of the volcano that is the symbol of the island as it tops out at 3700+m in elevation. That's a pretty impressive sight as it basically just sticks up straight out of the ocean. The hotel parador is based at an elevation of 2200m which provides the perfect altitude for us cyclists to sleep for an altitude camp. The elevation of the hotel combined with the ability to literally plummet 40km down to the seaside for training, makes it the ideal location for an altitude training camp. The location of the hotel also has a major influence on the type of riders whom come to train. There is hardly a flat stretch of road anywhere on the island, let alone up on the plateau where the hotel is situated. So basically every time you leave the parador on your bicycle you are going up or down and therefore the hotel is predominantly filled with climber type riders as appose to the flat land power specialists. Regardless of which way you choose to ride home at the end of the day you are faced with a minimum of 45km of climbing should you decide to make the decent  down to sea level to perform your training. More specifically the top GC riders for the grand tours and there mountain domestics seem to be the ones occupying the rooms of the hotel parador and the roads of the island of Tenerife. 

I have been coming to Tenerife for 3 years now and staying at the hotel parador. Each year it has become more and more popular to point that now during specific periods during the year you cannot get a room in the hotel for years to come. The months of April through June are basically booked out with riders preparing for the racing leading up to the giro d italia and the Le tour de France. The other thing that makes tenerife such an ideal and special location for training during this period is the predictably awesome weather, day in, day out. While the rest of Europe's high mountain passes are still being dumped on in snow, the island of Tenerife seems to have an amazing magnet for year long sun. Come june-September riders tend to disperse themselves to many different mountain altitude locations throughout Europe and the USA, this time of year has limited options for altitude training increasing Tenerife's popularity even more.

Who comes here? Who doesn't is more the question!! The hotel attracts the who's who of hilly classics and grand tour GC specialists and there support riders. When I first came in April 2012 Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome, and my ex team mate Vincenso Nibali were all training at the hotel. Fast forward 12 months and those 3 had occupied the podium at the 2012 tour de france and were back again preparing for 2013's grand tour assault. The crazy thing was that I was doing ergo training on my TT bike at the hotel and as always was watching cycling past Le Tour DVD's for motivation. So while I was churning away on the home trainer watching m heroes, those very men were quite probably walking past in the corridor just on the other side of the door. Off course you see everyone around the hotel, its impossible not to in the restaurant and corridors, watching these guys on the DVD and drawing inspiration from what they were achieving to then be queuing up at the toaster for breakfast in the morning was a pretty pinch yourself experience. I spent so many years being a fan of cycling and idolizing the superstars within it, so I don't think I won't ever feel a little star struck when I find myself in environments such as I do at the hotel parador. 

Even just this afternoon I had a sauna with jochiam Rodriquez whom put us all to the sword in the Volta catalunya last week, not to mention one of the Top riders in the world for the  past decade!! And there I am sharing a tiny 4x2m sauna with him. He doesn't speak English and I don't speak Spanish so Italian is where you find common ground. So I spent 30min or so chatting with a rider I respect hugely for his pure class in a foreign language, I am often find myself a little bemused by the situations this sport has landed me in. On top of these dudes hanging about the place I am here with my team mate Ivan Basso. Again I watched Ivan for many years on the tv before I even thought about taking up cycling and of course when I got the chance to ride with him in the same team in 2011 it was an incredible dream come true. Fast forward a few years and we are suffering up and down the slopes of Tenerife year in year out. It's become as a regular occurrence as Christmas being at the hotel parador with Ivan during the month of April. I said before I had been watching then 2012 le tour DVD's but also I have the collection dating back to 2001. Basso features quite prominently in man of these so it's not uncommon for me to be studying a certain climb on the DVD watching him tear a field to pieces to then have him walk into my room for a chat about this that or the other. Yep the hotel parador just offers endless moments of disbelief of where taking up racing a bicycle has all let to.

With all that being said about the cliental of hotel parador, it may come as no surprise that days revolve around bicycle riding. Being in Spain in the first place everything up here is pretty relaxed. Can't help but to get into the Spanish body clock system as if you don't you will be spending alot of time waiting for the dinning room to open! Firstly there is no point getting out of bed early as breakfast is not served until 8am. Likewise dinner doesn't really start until 8pm so getting to bed early is difficult in any case so you may aswell just except your going to be late to bed and late to rise. so out of bed I jumb straight into my PJ pilates routine. A pet name our old team trainer at cannondale Poalo Slongo gave my beach body core and abb workout in the mornings. From there it's off to breaky which is amazing. The chef and the hotel in general seem to love the cyclists being here and bend over backwards to adhere to any dietary requirements we ma have. For example at breakfast they whip me up an ommlette with 3 egg whites, 1 whole egg, spinach, salmon, and fetta cheese. It is delicious and definitely worth getting out of bed for! I though it on a fresh white baguette roll with some philly cheese spread nice and thick on it and I am all charged up for the 5-8hrs on the bike that awaits on any given day. I wash it down with cafe con leche which is Spanish for coffee with milk believe it or not. So with breaky done it's back to the room for a few phone calls back to aus and chill out time before we assemble for training at 10am.

The training here is pretty straight forward. You start the day defending for around 40-50km depending on which of the 4 routes you take down to the ocean. From there it's up to you and your squads program as to how many climbs you take to climb back to the hotel. The shortest way, I.e. Coming straight back up will make for a 3:30-4th round trip and you could ride climb a different climb for every daylight hour and still not exhausted all possible routes home of you liked. For me it's always between 5-8hrs max before I return to the security and hospitality of the hotel parador. The variation of climbs between the sea and hotel are endless. From a 45km drag at 5% to 1km 25% nose bleeder kickers and of course everything in between. Our regular routine usually involves a 12km climb, back down a little, another 15km climb, back down a little, a 3-5km climb, back down a little and then that usually leaves 15-25km back to the depending on which route you choose. I guess you picking up on the fact that it's no surprise to predominately find climbers staying at the hotel parador!! 

Once "home" for the day from training it's into recovery mode. A good stretch is first on the menu followed by a shower to wash off all that fatigue and freshen up a little. Next it's off to our legendary massure Carmine who has a brilliant post ride spread of Tucker awaiting us. Next I take a little nanna nap for 30-45 min, I am in Spain so may aswell abide by there customs, specially when it involves relaxing!! This kills the time nicely until it's time for one of carmine's awesome massages. Once Carmine has worked his magic and you forget that you just punished yourself all day on the volcanic slopes of tenerife i head of for a nice relaxing sauna. Basically all afternoon I dedicate to relaxing. I enjoy the daily sauna, you usually catch up with some of the other cyclists and have a good chin wag. My regular sauna buddy this time of year is my Tasmanian mate Ritchie Porte. He arrives this week so looking forward to chewing the fat with him in the coming afternoons talking all things Tasmanian. Once I am all relaxed out and finish up in the sauna its generally close to 8 and time for dinner.

Dinner at the parador has had a massive impact on my diet and anybody else who has been at the mercy of my catering. I basically eat the dame thing every night here simply because I enjoy it so much!! My meal consists of wha I call fiber cleanse salad which consists simply of grated carrot, avocado, and fresh tomato. It may seem simple and it is but the freshness and quality of the food here is so good that enjoy it almost as mush as my favorite dessert being toblarone cheesecake! For meat I have a nice big Spanish version of an eye fillet steak always cooked to perfection. Sometimes I mix things up with salmon but the steaks so good I usually just go same same but different day. For dessert it's a nice fresh apple the chef peels for me and is so crisp it cracks like a whip when you bite into it! Wash it down wit some hot milk and teaspoon of honey and I am so content I have forgotten about being on training camp and simply think I am on a holiday! The onl thing left to do now is head off to bed. This is also something I look forward to with anxious anticipation as at altitude you sleep like an absolute log! A few pages of my John Grisham novel and it would take the volcano outside my window to erupt to wake me up! That's a day for me in Tenerife at the hotel parador, so this time around it's simply repeat that for 3weeks.

Let's face it I love it here that much that I may aswell call it a holiday not a training camp.  I go to bed every night so excited that when I wake up the next morning I get to go and do it all again. Everyday may seem like groundhog day but I assure you it's not. The routine may be set in stone but what goes on in between is a sequence of memorable occurrence that often I will never forget and cherish forever. The sights, the sounds, the people of Tenerife, the hotel parador, and of course the riders and staff from my cannondale team always provide some form of excitement every single day. Though in the who's who of the world of cycling following basically then same routine daily with you and your guaranteed to never get bored. For example riding home the other day there is a guitar busier in the middle of nowhere playing his guitar a 2000m above sea level! I hadn't seen a car for al,ost am hour so I doubt he make much money playing there! Anyways george Bennett our larickan Kiwi was most excited and insisted we stop. Soon George had taken over the guitar and was cranking out the tunes in his full cycling kit complete with helmet and glasses with the busker singing along with him. It was hilarious and certainly something that could not be planned. We learnt two things that day, firstly George is very good at play g guitar, specially if it gives him some extra recovery time on the climb home! And secondly you never ever know where you may find a guitar busker in Tenerife.

This truly is a special place and I will check in again soon with some more tails from professional cyclings very own alcatraz.


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