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Out training with Etixx-Quick-Step

James Witts
10 Feb 2016

The pre-season training camp is a staple of every team, but they're not all the same. Cyclist explores the Etixx-Quick-Step method.

Think of the Costa Blanca and you paint a vivid mental picture of high-rise apartments and beer-bellied Brits. Some would argue such resorts are pockmarks on one of the most beautiful areas of Spain. Still, that’s where Etixx-Quick-Step is holding its January training camp, in the coastal resort of Calpe. With kebab shops nestled next to back-alley British dentists, it’s an incongruous setting for one of the richest teams in cycling – both financially and in historical terms – to prepare for their 2016 season. 

‘Why do we train in Calpe?’ says directeur sportif Tom Steels, an ex-pro who won nine stages at the Tour de France. ‘Simple: the weather and terrain.’ Blue skies and temperatures of 15-18°C are near guaranteed, providing a more bike-friendly venue for riders who live in northern Europe. 

As for the topography, you can’t turn a corner without discovering a climb. There are the more well-known ascents, such as the 6km Puerto Confrides. Then there are the side roads that seemingly always head upwards on smooth asphalt. Plus the roads are relatively empty, meaning the riders can just ride, fuel – and socialise.

Etixx-Quick-Step training ride

‘There are two main goals of this camp,’ says Steels. ‘The first is to physically prepare the riders for the season. The second is to see how they work together. Because of the way the schedule works, some of these riders might not see each other for the next four or five months. You find that six-hour training efforts are good places to talk.’

That socialising is particularly important for new recruits. And for 2016, Etixx has seven of them, including Bob Jungels from Trek Factory Racing, Dan Martin from Cannondale-Garmin and, as direct replacement for Mark Cavendish, eight-time Tour de France stage winner Marcel Kittel.

‘Marcel, like all the riders, has settled in well,’ says Steels. Kittel will make his competitive debut at the Dubai Tour in February, and a key objective has been to integrate him into the lead out train after so many years working with Cav.

‘We’ve worked on the lead out during the camp and simulating sprint finishes,’ says the 27-year-old German. ‘We’re looking for a nice, relaxed start before building for the main goals of the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France.’

Training the lead out

Marcel Kittel and Tom Boonen

Koen Pelgrim is a trainer at Etixx-Quick-Step and has been with the team since 2011. He coordinates the coaching, testing and performance analysis, and is aware of how difficult it is to simulate race conditions for a lead out train, stressing the importance of races such as February’s UAE efforts for refining the sprint. ‘You really need to practise delivering the technical aspect of sprints with competition around you,’ he says. ‘That said, at camps like these we can work on the physical capacity. That means speed work on the flat and power work.’

At the training camp, Pelgrim explains the riders are often split into two or three groups, although all train with a power meter from new sponsor 4iiii using set zones generated from fitness tests in Calpe and the team’s previous camp in December. The one-day Classic riders and sprinters make up one group and will be doing more intervals on the flat. The other group comprises the climbers, who will rack up 15,000-20,000m of ascending at the Calpe camp. 

Tony Martin training

Planning each rider’s training is further complicated by their specific goals for the year. ‘The most extreme example is seen at the December camp,’ says Pelgrim. ‘You have riders like Tom [Boonen] who’ll be preparing for the April Classics, so their efforts will be relatively light. And then you have riders like Petr Vakoc who’ll be racing mid-January’s Tour Down Under, so his intensity will be high.’

Whatever the composition of the camp, Etixx keep duration to a minimum. ‘This one’s a nine-day camp but that takes into account two travel days. There are two blocks of three days’ riding with a rest day in-between,’ says Steels. ‘Any longer than that and the riders lose focus.’

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The rest day includes the team’s presentation at the hotel’s pool, which provides the perfect relaxed environment for the riders to let their concentration wander. While manager Patrick Lefevere communicates to the world’s press the team’s goals for the season – ‘to continue being the winningest team on the circuit, building on 2015’s 56 victories’ – the riders ease back on the poolside furniture and check their phones. 

It’s here that we discover that nutrition company Etixx is actually owned by the team’s previous co-sponsor Omega Pharma, which itself was bought out by the ‘leading global provider of quality affordable healthcare products’ Perrigo in March 2015 for €3.8 billion (£2.9 billion). Perrigo has offices in America and Ireland, and there are rumours that the team might rebrand to Perrigo-Quick-Step from 2017. (Since you’ve asked, Quick-Step produces flooring.) There are also rumours that the Irish connection is why Dan Martin was brought to the team, although to be fair his palmarès includes one-day wins at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Il Lombardia. Martin confirms he’s settled in well and ‘it’s noticeable you’re riding for a team with a winning culture. For four hours of the last six-hour ride, the riders were battering each other. This is a serious team who train, eat properly and rest,’ he says.

Tom Boone interview

That’s on top of the four core training sessions for all riders, plus two weights sessions for the sprinters and lead out train. Squats, leg presses and lunges are the order of the day, with Pelgrim stating they bring their own bar and weights in case the facilities aren’t sufficient. ‘It’s all about speed rather than weight,’ he says. ‘That’ll pay off for Marcel come the races.’ 

Calpe’s training camp also sees the riders’ 2016 race programme confirmed – ‘a mightily complex task,’ says Steels – and the mechanics refine each of the rider’s bike set-ups. Once the camp is complete, the riders head home before a Mallorcan camp later in January. ‘You’re away from home a lot,’ says Martin. ‘But that’s why we’re so strong. Being in this environment, in this team, just makes you work harder.’ 

If Martin shines in the Ardennes or Kittel storms to victory on the Champs Élysées, you know where the foundations were laid…

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