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Mitchelton-Scott Q&A: Winter training and behind the scenes with the Yates twins

James Burgess
17 Dec 2018

Mitchelton-Scott's performance manager talks winter training and avoiding making the same mistakes twice

Ahead of the news that Simon Yates will target the Giro d'Italia but not the Tour de France in 2019, Cyclist spoke to Mitchelton-Scott's Alex Camier about coaching Simon and his brother Adam, winter training, and what the team learnt from 2018’s Grand Tour highs and lows.

Cyclist: What’s your role at Mitchelton-Scott?

Alex Camier: I’m one of the team’s coaches, so that involves coaching and looking after the riders, training camps, sports science, the general day-to-day performance aspects. It’s 365 days a year. But I have specific guys in the team I work with.

Cyc: Who are the riders you work with?

AC: It’s a climbing group, with a couple of anomalies. I’ve got both the Yates brothers, Adam and Simon. I’ve got [climbers like] Damien Howson, Jack Haig, and Lucas Hamilton. I’ve got Brent Bookwalter booked for next year, coming over from BMC. And then I’ve got Alex Edmondson, Matteo Trentin and Cameron Meyer, so a couple of Classics guys in there as well.

Cyclist: What will the Yates brothers be doing over winter?

AC: They will do some of their own camps, and then some of the team ones from January onwards. They’ll do a sunshine camp in December, where they can guarantee the weather a little bit more, just an easy way to get the volume done.

Then they’ll do a bit of altitude early season – January, February.

Cyc: How does Mitchelton-Scott approach winter training?

AC: We make winter the opportunity for riders to have a solid, typically 12-week block, of uninterrupted training. It’s an opportunity for the riders to go away and work specifically on their own objectives and targets, and areas of their own physiology that they would like to improve.

We don’t hold a winter camp until January, which is essentially our pre-race, pre-season camp.

Cyc: How important is winter training for a rider’s development?

AC: Winter is your key period to make progression towards the next season’s racing. There’s work that you can get done in the winter that you just cannot get done during the season.

Even if you were injured and your season was set back, you still wouldn’t approach in-season training the same as you would winter training, so it is a good time to strip things back, and have a look at where improvements can be made, or what specifics you want to try and achieve with a given individual.

Cyc: How do you use turbo trainers with your riders?

AC: There are things, like pedalling dynamics, that are better achieved on the turbo. Also if we want to do a wake-up, straight into some training before they’ve done anything else in the day, they can get out of bed and jump straight onto the turbo trainer.

They can do their hour with a few specifics in there that we might want to achieve, then get off, have breakfast, and go out and train as normal. It’s a way of getting more in the day without really thinking about it.

Cyc: What do you think of the new technology coming in, like smart trainers, and online training programs?

AC: You get the Mat Hayman stories where he broke his arm and spent six weeks on the turbo before Paris-Roubaix and still managed to win it, riding Zwift a lot. But there’s more to it than that; he’s not just riding Zwift. He’s doing specifics on the turbo, which is probably more relevant than the fact that he was on Zwift.

The volume and training physiology has to be done the hard way – it cannot be achieved any other way. It’s not a shortcut.

Cyc: Are longer winter base mile rides being replaced by more higher intensity interval work?

AC: The modern race calendar is busy, and riders are expected to perform regularly. If you’ve got a GC rider, they turn up to the first race they’re targeting in March, and they may also be your Tour de France GC rider, so they’ve got to be going well from March until July.

They’re going to have variations and undulations in form, and bits of rest periods within that, but it requires good work to be done relatively early in the winter season.

You can’t just have the luxury of riding your bike for however many weeks. That doesn’t necessarily equate to high intensity; it just means that there’s this level of intensity and dynamics that you want to be achieving early on in winter.

Cyc: It’s been quite a year for Mitchelton-Scott and Simon Yates. Did his performance at the Giro surprise you?

AC: We didn’t know that Simon would go to the Giro and perform the way he did. I was looking at the statistics from training, and how it’s going, and thinking, he should be very, very good at the Giro, but you have no idea what others are going to do when they turn up.

So you can’t predict that he’s going to go and win three stages, and be as dominant as he was. And the fact that it was new to him to be able to be that dominant, he took advantage of that, and it ultimately bit him in the arse.

Cyc: What could Yates have done differently to win the Giro?

AC: There’s a lot of qualifying factors as to why the Giro wasn’t quite the success story that it could’ve been, two days before the end. Some we can control and some we probably can’t. We kind of stripped it back – you know, an Ockham’s razor-type set-up.

What’s the obvious, most simple ways that we can move forward, to avoid this potential problem happening again? Some of that is race tactics, and that comes from directors. And some of that was preparation, which comes from the performance team, myself and Simon.

Cyc: What happened between the Giro and the Vuelta?

AC: What the Giro did for Simon’s condition was particularly beneficial for him anyway. To get through that race the way he did, all the way until two days to go, it created a level of residual resistance within him to tolerate that workload a little bit better second time round.

The Vuelta wasn’t on Simon’s original calendar. But once the decision was made, we put everything that we could in place, preparation-wise, to try and make that happen, and the responses that we got in training were better than I expected after a long break off the back of the Giro.

I think that is testament to how hard the Giro is, the adaptations that it creates just getting through a race like that is a solid foundation. So when we resumed training, he was already in a good place, and then it was a case of managing that until we got to race day, and getting through three weeks successfully. That was the director’s job once they actually got to the race.

Cyc: What did you learn and adapt for the Vuelta?

AC: There are a few factors that we looked at. The team directors made changes in their race tactics, and when we looked at the preparation, we said, well, if we know that’s going to happen next time round, then we can look at specific points in the training.

Actually probably at that point here, we now need to reduce training workload at this point, this point and this point.

Cyc: What changes will you and Simon make for the Giro next year?

AC: Well, we will try and not make the errors, or we’ll make different errors next time. We can’t predict three weeks. What we can do is know where we feel we made mistakes previously, and we’ll adjust those so when we get to the Giro this year, hopefully if there is a mistake to be made then it’s a different one.