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Why Top Professional Cyclists Flock to Spain in Winter

January 05, 2024

The quaint town of Calpe in Spain—eager to catch a glimpse of Tadej Pogačar or Demi Vollering?


No need to wait for July's Tour de France.


Instead, this winter in Costa Blanca, Spain, you might witness nearly half of men's and women's cycling teams training along the shimmering Mediterranean coastline, navigating those narrow winding roads for pre-season preparations.


Every winter, the world's top professional cyclists gather on the roads intersecting Denia and Alicante for an annual pilgrimage, a tradition dating back decades.


Tim Declercq of Lidl-Trek, in an interview with Velo, said, "I've been coming here since my first year in the U23 at 18. I'm 34 now, you do the math. The roads here are fantastic, a great training ground. It ensures good weather, ideal climbing spots, and you always see your teammates and friends riding here."


Think spring training for baseball in Arizona or Florida—you'll understand. But why Spain? We recently visited several training camps and here's what we found:


Weather: Mild climate, sunny skies, rain-free


No one enjoys bundling up for hours in harsh weather conditions. That's where the allure lies in classic northern regions.


By November, riders have concluded their mandated off-season, and few endure the harsh, cruel weather of Belgium, Denmark, or France at their main bases.


Toms Skujiņš of Lidl-Trek, hailing from Latvia, remarked, "The weather conditions definitely make training easier. December in Europe is usually cold. Here, the weather is generally perfect. A few layers and you don't feel the chill."


Team training begins in late November, continuing until the Christmas break. While some riders and staff participate in early season races like the Santos Tour Down Under, many reunite again in January.


By then, Europe is deep into winter. But along Spain's sunny stretch, temperatures hover around 60°F, with scarce rainfall.


Perfect for pre-season sweat sessions, making Spain a prime choice for teams.


Calpe, Denia, Mallorca: An abundance of hotel rooms


Is there another reason? It's the surplus of hotel rooms. Perhaps seemingly unimportant, yet crucial.


Teams can bring over 100 people for these crucial early-season camps, and in Europe, few places offer hefty discounts and great weather during the dark winter.


The town of Calpe between Valencia and Alicante becomes a popular team hub. Lidl-Trek, DSM-firmenich PostNL, SD Worx, UAE Team Emirates, and Soudal Quick-Step are among the dozens of teams occupying hotel rooms, accommodating riders, staff, VIPs, and sponsors in dozens of establishments.


"It's packed here, with contracts signed for over 150 people. It feels like a big reunion when we all come together," said Mads Pedersen of Lidl-Trek, a number rapidly growing, including men's and women's WorldTour teams and staff.


From Denia to the coastline of Altéa, even up the mountains above Alicante, hotels are team-occupied. UAE Team Emirates, home to Pogačar, stays in Benidorm near Valencia, while Mark Cavendish and Astana Qazaqstan Team camp in Altéa.


Many hotels cater specifically to cyclists and allocate large parking spaces for team buses, dedicated areas for training rides, and fine-tune vehicles. Teams often return to the same hotel year after year.


Mount Teide or other popular high-altitude training destinations are often booked years in advance. During the dormant winter months, most of these hotels remain vacant. Some closed camps occasionally reopen for a few weeks to accommodate returning teams.


Hotels offer substantial discounts to teams, as booking nearly 100 rooms at once ensures consistent year-round engagement for the staff.


Endless paved roads: Ideal training routes


At first glance, resort towns like Benidorm or Calpe might conjure nightmarish scenes of unsightly beachfront hotels and congested traffic.


However, inland, the Alicante region provides excellent riding conditions on relatively low-traffic roads for miles. Local drivers are accustomed to spotting a group of spandex-clad cyclists nearby and typically offer courteous passage.


"This place is ideal for training," remarked Joxean Matxín Fernández, sporting director of UAE Team Emirates. "At times, it feels like a race with so many teams and riders on the roads."


He added, "You've got everything here—flats, hills, and even unexpected climbs. It's the perfect mix we currently need."


Some teams previously trained in southern Italy, yet Spanish road conditions and traffic are deemed superior. Mechanics and staff can drive team trucks and cars relatively hassle-free from team headquarters across Europe to the Spanish coast.


As Matxín stated, there's something for everyone. Coastal areas offer flats, while the northern Denia region provides steep climbs for those seeking a challenge.


The famed Coll de Rates climb is close by, between Calpe and Denia, while steeper ascents like Xorret de Catí and Port de Tudons offer more intense sprints within acceptable distances.


Traffic along the coastal strip can be busy, and accidents occur. In 2016, a rider collided with the Giant-Alpecin team. Chad Haga and John Degenkolb were among the injured.


Initial suffering: Laying the foundation


Riders usually depart in groups with different intensities. Classic race contenders might already be at higher levels, while those aiming for grand tours start at lower intensities. December is all about laying the groundwork.


"The roads are excellent. It's the best place for climbs," said Declercq. "This camp initially increases mileage and intensity but not too much. When we head to Denia, we'll ramp up the intensity in January. That's when the real suffering begins."


Training camps are also crucial for testing new equipment, gear, apparel, and wheels.


Mark Cavendish, who joined Astana Qazaqstan Team late last year, contrasted this year's camp with the rush he experienced at the end of 2022.


"It's very different from last year. The weather here is great, and training here is fantastic. I'm glad to enter the new season in the best shape with the bike and team. It's crucial," Cavendish stated in Altéa.


Cavendish and every teammate, along with competitors, hope that the seeds sown this winter will bear fruit on the tracks once the races commence. And it all begins under the Spanish winter sun.


Meetings, planning, new teammates, new gear


These pre-season camps also serve as an opportunity for new riders and staff to connect with teammates. There's a high turnover every winter, with some teams having up to 12 new riders. It's the first chance for everyone to get acquainted.


Pogačar met with the media, revealing his astonishing participation in the Giro d'Italia for the first time.


It's remarkable how these winter camps, especially the expansive infrastructural ones in December, become the only opportunity for mechanics, staff, sporting directors, team managers, nutritionists, team coaches, and riders to be under one roof almost simultaneously.


"I never get a chance to say goodbye to everyone because once the season kicks in, you might not see some of your teammates for months. I might not see some of them until a few months later. The


 camp is indeed the only time everyone is together," said Tao Geoghegan Hart, who joined Lidl-Trek after leaving INEOS Grenadiers.


The new season is about to begin. By then, the nomadic lifestyle of professional cycling teams hits its peak.


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