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Training with Madison-Genesis

Mark Bailey
8 Sep 2015

We spent a few days in Mallorca with Madison-Genesis to find out how they run a typical training camp.

If you’ve ever wondered how long you would last on a training ride with a professional cycling team, the answer is 30 minutes and 11 seconds. That’s how long it takes this particular scribe to be shattered to pieces during a ‘relaxed roll-out’ with the Madison-Genesis pro cycling team in Mallorca, which rapidly morphs into the time trial from hell.

As we scorch through the roads out of Playa de Muro – a popular training base on the Spanish island which has become a modern Mecca for cyclists – the group’s speed creeps up from 20 to 30 to 40kmh, and ever higher, until my heart rate begins to mimic a goregrind drumbeat. Riders arrow past me like darting Spitfires. I start frothing at the mouth like a poisoned Bond villain. I resolve to wave the white flag as soon as my Garmin hit 30 minutes. (Those final 11 seconds are simply how long it takes me to slow to a halt from the frenzied pace, despite yanking hard on both brakes.)

Madison-Genesis’s team manager Roger Hammond, the experienced British former pro and two-time national road race champion, comes to the rescue, escorting me into the back of his team car and checking my vital signs as my laboured breathing and overheating body steam up every window of his car. And we haven’t even reached the climbs.

World class

Madison Genesis riding

‘The boys have been going hard all week now,’ Hammond tells me. ‘We’ve got some races coming up and they’re all keen to get stuck in. On camps like this, they have the chance to really focus on their training and get in some quality sessions in a different environment with good climbs and good weather. By the end, they’ll be flying.’

I dread to think what it would be like to ride with them in that condition. But camps like this are a key part of the training calendar of teams like Madison-Genesis – who compete at UCI Continental level (two rungs below the top WorldTeam level) in events such as the Tour of Britain – alongside the likes of Team Sky, Movistar and BMC. Training camps are also increasingly popular with amateur riders looking to enjoy a holiday and get in shape for the sportive season at the same time. Tenerife, Girona, Lanzarote, Gran Canaria and Nice are popular, but Mallorca has long been the base for British riders and teams. 

‘We can do proper training out here on quiet roads without distractions,’ says Tom Scully, a 25-year-old New Zealander who rides for Madison-Genesis and won the 2014 Commonwealth Games points race. ‘Training with the other guys keeps it competitive too, because we always push each other on to new levels and have fun. Everybody is doing different things on the same day: some are doing maximum efforts on climbs while others just spin up them, but we all ride out together.’ 

Plan your break

Madison Genesis Majorca

Seeing professional riders train up close provides a fascinating insight into the methods they use to enhance their fitness and performance. But the central theme – and one which any rider can learn from – is that pro riders know exactly what they need to do to meet the challenges ahead and adapt their training accordingly. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for riders. 

‘You have to train for the specifics of the event,’ says experienced 27-year-old Liam Holohan, who has been doing five-minute ascending power sessions to improve his climbing speed. ‘Look at the course of your sportive or race and work backwards. If you know you need to do six sharp climbs, build them into your training.’

Meanwhile, 18-year-old youngster Joe Evans is happy to focus on his stamina with a series of long endurance rides during the week. ‘This is my first time in Mallorca – I’m used to riding 10-minute climbs back home, not 40-minute climbs – so I’m going steady to ensure I can train all week and build my endurance, rather than riding around like a nutter for one day,’ he says. 

Madison Genesis rider

Back at the hotel, the riders’ dedication is obvious. The team tuck into a healthy feast of energy-releasing oats in the morning, nutrient-rich fruit and vegetables after training to enhance recovery, muscle-repairing protein sources such as salmon and beef combined with energy-giving carbs like rice in the evening, plus chunks of nitrate-rich beetroot which is believed to help improve oxygen delivery to the muscles. Holohan has to stare longingly at the dessert table to maintain his trim 56kg frame. ‘I’m a climber so I have to be strict,’ he says. ‘It’s the bane of my life. After the Tour of Britain, I always stop at the services on the way home and eat 12 Krispy Kreme doughnuts. It’s my special treat.’

Details matter to professional riders. Erick Rowsell – the 24-year-old brother of Olympic team pursuit gold medal winner Jo Rowsell and the 2015 Tour of the Reservoir champion – pulls on compression socks after every training session to optimise his muscle recovery. Nineteen-year-old Tristan Robbins, the 2014 junior national road race champion, downs an SiS recovery shake within minutes of finishing his training rides. Scully lays out his kit every night to ensure he never gets delayed in the morning. And Holohan even brings his own breakfast oats from the UK, in case the team hotel doesn’t serve them.

Build structure 

But the Madison-Genesis athletes aren’t robots, and they provide a refreshing insight into how they keep themselves sane, despite pursuing superhuman levels of fitness. ‘We got stuck into some chocolate on the rest day,’ admits Scully. Robbins was happy to tuck into a bowl of Coco Pops this morning because he felt he needed a break from the training diet. ‘I’m normally good with my food but it’s OK to treat yourself,’ he says. ‘I burnt 6,500 calories the other day. Training is grim and I can’t eat muesli every day.’ 

Madison Genesis stopped

During the training camp, the cyclists employ a powerful mix of scientific training methods and old-school techniques. Today, Rowsell has been specifically training at his threshold – the ‘sweet spot’ at which exercise intensity shifts from aerobic (with oxygen) to anaerobic (without oxygen) – to help reach new levels of fitness. But on other days, he’s happy to just ride in a bigger gear to help build strength in his legs. 

‘We want riders to train with structure but not to get too caught up in it,’ explains Hammond. ‘We like them to record training data because it gives them accountability and shows them how they’re progressing, but they have to ride on feel as well. I want the guys to explore their capabilities and see how far they can go.’

After the riders finish training, it’s time to put their feet up and relax. Whether it’s sipping coffee in the hotel bar or strolling along the beach, recovery time is a vital part of training. ‘You don’t improve when you train; you improve when you recover,’ explains Holohan. ‘The training itself just damages your muscles. Your recovery time is when your muscles are adapting and your body is rebuilding.’ 

Madison Genesis team car

It’s something a lot of amateur cyclists neglect when trying to balance training and other commitments. ‘Listen to your body and look out for signs of fatigue, irritability or illness as that normally means you’re too worn down and you’re effectively negating all your effort in training,’ says Holohan.

During their down time, all riders follow their own personal methods of mental and physical recovery. Holohan spent his free time in Mallorca reading the book Faster by former pro cyclist Michael Hutchinson, and watching Keanu Reeves flick John Wick with his roommate. Rowsell walks around in compression socks, which improve blood flow to the muscles to flush away the lactate caused by intense exercise. For the same reason, Evans likes to lie down on his bed and keep his feet up off the ground for a few hours. Scully, meanwhile, chills out by watching Colin Farrell’s dark comedy In Bruges

Other riders just play games on their iPads, Skype family or partners, or sit and chat in the hotel café. ‘When you’re recovering, it’s good to just switch your mind off, chill out with the lads and relax,’ says Evans. ‘It looks like we’re not doing much, but it’s as easy to over-train as it is to under-train.’

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