Tales from the peloton, August 4, 2005
Each July, while the world's attention is drawn to France, there are hundreds of cyclists racing and training almost anonymously, unnoticed by most people. Some pros might take a short break and enjoy some idle time. This definitely wasn't the case for those Team CSC riders not competing in the Tour de France, as a group of 17 pros gathered in Loipersdorf, South-East Austria, for a week of hard labour. Sabine Sunderland gives us an insight into the spas, pools and massages - oh, and some training too!
The CSC training camp, featuring:
Peter Luttenberger, Andy and Frank Schleck, Matti Breschel, Jacob Piil, Manuel Calvente, Lars Michaelsen, Andrea Peron, Thomas Bruun, Linus Gerdemann, Christian Müller, Brian Vandborg, Vladimir Gusev, Lars Bak, Michael Blaudzun, Allan Johansen, Christian VandeVelde, Tristan Hoffman
Frank, Christophe, Gavin, Josep, assisted by Frank DJ, Scott Sunderland (DS on duty) assisted by Allain Gallopin
Hotel owner Gerald Stoiser invited Team CSC to come and enjoy all the privileges his four star hotel has to offer. The thermal village of Loipersdorf, nestled in a beautiful valley and surrounded by lush green gardens offers just about every health treatment you can imagine. The hotel complex is renowned for the relaxed and family-friendly atmosphere. It's a haven for stressed-out executives, rich pensioners wishing to improve their wellbeing, but also for young families longing for an all-in holiday.
Peter Luttenberger confessed he just about lives there when he's not racing. It was thanks to Peter's manager Jürgen Pauritsch his team mates now got the chance of making close acquaintance with this wonderful area.
It has been a very busy season for Scott (my husband and one of the team's sport directors) up till now and our sons were very much in need of spending some quality time with their dad. I decided to take them with me to Austria, hoping that Scott would be able to free himself for a few hours on some days.
Joined by freelance staff member Frank De Jonge and his girlfriend Wendy, I arrived on the morning of the 10th of July, on the last day of the Tour of Austria. The CSC riders who competed in that race, the soigneurs, mechanics and Scott walked into the hotel lobby late that same evening while the rest of us were treating ourselves to some of the exquisite wines available at the bar. The next day the other riders would arrive.
My boys Saën and Tristan were all excited after scouting the thermal village. There were pools, slides, tubes, sand, and playgrounds; kids' heaven - "wow, totally wicked mum!" Saën commented in his cheeky manner. And it wasn't just the children who approved; the whole team was impressed by the facilities and treatments on offer. For some riders it had been a long journey to get to Loipersdorf but they had no trouble discovering the bathrobes in their comfortable rooms and indulged in the ideal relaxation: the sauna and indoor pool.
For breakfast and dinner a part of the Stoiser Hotel restaurant was reserved for the team. The first evening we were served a fine haute-cuisine meal. I surely wouldn't have objected to some of the hotel's famous gastronomic delights every day but I know from first hand experience that athletes have special dietary needs; in particular during periods of intensive racing or training.
The team's soigneurs always watch the riders' diet carefully. They provided the cook with a daily menu and the chef did a fantastic job providing the team with the right nutrition. The riders appreciated his pastas, rice, chicken and fish dishes but they also enjoyed the specialties of the area: Steirischen salads with kernöl, schwarzbrot and the fantastic organic apple juice.
Over the eight-day training camp, 1000km of road training was to be 'consumed'. Bjarne Riis designed the programme himself and Scott adapted it daily to suit the weather and 'freshness' of the riders. The idea of the training camp was to bring the riders together in the philosophy Riis holds high; to work together to achieve the goals of the team as a whole.
Due to the different racing programmes there were a lot of riders who hadn't seen each other since the previous training camp in January. Although the nine guys racing in the Tour de France were absent, it was a great idea to get all the other team members together again. It was noticeable that the riders enjoyed the get-together; there was plenty of laughter and stories at the dinner table every evening. Riis' ideas on how to build a real team, with personalities that bond well are really put into action in this way. It works.
Most of the riders were in great shape already; so the training camp was to be a continuation of the hard work started at the beginning of the year. The aim was to do long rides with some specific work, but mainly lots of kilometres in group.
It rained cats and dogs on Monday and instead of one big ride, Scott decided to divide the training time on the bike in two sessions; one in the morning out on the road, the second one indoors on the home-trainers.
The home trainers, all other bikes and equipment were set up and stored in one of the conference rooms of the hotel. Mr Stoiser had given his staff the order to remove all tables and carpets and the soigneurs and mechanics had a perfect space to do their job. The team truck and cars were parked right in front of the hotel, very handy and in close proximity to the entrance of their working quarters.
Daniel Gillespie from the SRM Service Centre in the USA was one of the team's guests, so this training camp was also the ideal opportunity for the riders to augment their knowledge on training with the SRM system. Scott was kept very busy by the riders and staff as many other issues in need of major or minor attention were addressed; and as the kids wanted his company in the few hours he had left he didn't even get the time for that game of golf he had been hoping for. You'll never hear me say that a DS has an easy job!
The inclement weather faded the day after and the sun bravely broke through and contributed to the riders' good mood. Training is so much more enjoyable in dry conditions. While the kids and I were having great fun in the pools and on the different playgrounds, the riders were sweating their butts off on the hilly but perfect roads of this area.
Thursday was a big day for the guys. They rode up to the summit of the Sommeralm (a climb of 1400m). I followed in the car and the scenery was awesome, but the torturous ride was harder and longer than had been communicated beforehand and the riders were more than happy to see the rich buffet set out for them at the Almenlandgasthof Unterberger, on the top of the Brandlucke. Six hours in the saddle had given the riders a voracious appetite and even the dessert, the "Kaiserschmarrn" (an Austrian pancake-like treat) was polished off in record time.
Friday was a rest day. Most riders did go out for a quick spin, but the rest of the day was spent alternating between the different swimming pools and therapeutic area. No-one got bored, the choice of hotel had been excellent and Scott agreed it was great that the guys didn't have to sit around in their rooms bored stiff after training.
It's always beneficial for the riders to get good massages when doing a lot of kilometres, but soigneurs Gavin and Josep didn't complain about a heavy workload; the herb and other saunas, the Kneipp-baths, etc, worked their therapeutic wonders and the masseurs remarked how much easier it was for them to treat the boys after.
Scott appeared to be happy with the form the guys showed and the majority seemed to be handling the training sessions ok.
Some readers might be hoping for me to reveal some intrinsic details on the type of training the CSC team did in Austria. Although there wasn't even a remote feeling of secrecy surrounding this week, I wasn't informed with much detail. No need to initiate a skeptical discussion here, teams never give out abundant information on that issue and any conjugal privileges I might enjoy didn't earn me any prerogative here. And ok, I admit, I did give into temptation; the many treatments and the great massages to be had in the thermal complex got me a bit side-tracked.
However, Scott did tell me that there was a great deal of recuperation training incorporated in the program. I know though that after some unwinding in the pools and saunas, most riders happily retired to their rooms quite early every night; so I guess the work done was pretty comprehensive!
Sandra Sifkovits, the manager of Therme Loipersdorf had been more than helpful in accommodating the team. Miss Sifkovits was rapt with the reactions she got from the other guests and had registered 35 cycling enthusiasts for a Sunday morning ride with the team. The training was done on a reasonably flat circuit and the fans had the time for a comfortable chat with the professionals. In the afternoon the whole group was treated to a "showdown". Scott dug into his pocket to put up prizes and the boys rode their hearts out on the 3km circuit, sprinting for the 10 bonuses. Matti Breschel won the race. The supporters were satisfied with the great entertainment and the riders were knackered!
On Monday, the 1000km were finished off with a last ride. Scott brought the team the news that CSC would continue their sponsorship, and that rounded off the whole camp in the best way imaginable. The riders were pleased with their efforts and Scott was a happy camper too. Everyone left the hotel content and well prepared to get through the rest of the season.
A few of the riders had to be taken to the airport, some drove their own car back home and Scott's colleague Alain Gallopin, who had arrived a couple of days before, took eight men to their next race. Scott, myself and the kids drove home to Belgium, only for Scott to rest a couple of days and then pick up another suitcase. His next task was to be in Paris for the CSC happening that weekend. I could tell you about the festive atmosphere we experienced there, because of the fantastic results the team enjoyed in the Tour de France, but that'll be for another day (or year!).
There was no doubt in Scott's head the whole training camp had been a success, and that the guys had benefited greatly from it; that assumption was reinforced by the two stage wins his team took in the Tour of Sachsen, where Christian Müller and Allan Johansen both enjoyed a very nice and well deserved victory!