In his first blog for Cyclingnews, Federico Martín Bahamontes, six times Tour de France King of the Mountains and rated the all-time greatest ever Tour climber by L’Equipe newspaper last year, explains how he and his fellow pros of the 1950s would tackle the early season.
Every winter it was straightforward: in January and February, I wouldn’t do any training at all. No skiing [as an alternative] either.
At the same time, it’s what you do in the winter that makes your season, for all sports, not just cycling. It’s the same as looking after a tree in the winter to make sure it doesn’t catch the frost. Why? Because if it’s in good shape over the winter, kept in the right sort of temperatures, then it’ll give you a lot of fruit in the summer. You leave that tree outside and you’ll end up having to plant another one.
My rules for the winter were simple: early to bed, steady on the food and drink, and don’t overdo anything.
The one time I did a training camp was with [mythical 1950s squad] Faema in Barcelona, all of my team-mates, except for me, spent all their time in the casinos gambling. They never got to bed until 2 or 3 in the morning. I was the only rider in bed by 9 pm.
I told them, you’re going to make me talk to the bosses so that we get out of this place as soon as possible. This isn’t training, this isn’t building up for the season, this is just really stressful, because of course, when you’re gambling you’re burning your nerves out, whether you win or lose. And you’re not focussed on racing.
So instead of training, we did lots of early season races with one big climb, like the ones in France up the Mont Faron or the Mont-Agel. But we would never actually doing more than final climbs of five or six kilometres, the races weren’t that long.
I’ve won a race like those ones, the Subida a Arrate [a hill-climb, now part of the Vuelta al País Vasco - Ed] after spending 36 days in bed with a hip injury. No bike training at all, and my wrist meant I could barely hold onto the handlebars, but I was a specialist in that kind of climb. I stayed with my rivals over the top, then I got away in the final kilometres which is a bit of a descent and nobody could stop me. It was the same with the early season races.
The real advantage of those races was that you could train without worrying about getting hit by a car as you would out training. You were really building towards the season.
Anybody who wants to do well in the Tour, it’s simple: the later they start the season, the better.
If you want to take an example from another sport, [Barcelona football star] Lionel Messi’s period of rest [due to injury] is really going to help him out in the months to come. He’s going to do spectacularly well at the end of the season.
And if you want to take an example from my career, when Fede [Bahamontes] won the Tour de France [in 1959], he abandoned the Vuelta a España [then held in April - Ed.]
I got to the Tour de Suisse in really poor shape, I lost five or six minutes in the first stage but finally I finished third overall, won the King of the Mountains prize and won two stages, too. And when I got to the Tour de France, I was flying.