While it’s not all that rare to find leading pros tuning up for a new season by racing in cyclo-cross events, it’s not all that common in Spain where riders can usually train in decent conditions right through the winter, especially close to the southern coast. However, Movistar sprinter Francisco Ventoso is one Spaniard who’s gone against that trend having had his first taste of cyclo-cross just two years.
Currently taking part in his team’s first pre-season training camp in the Mediterranean resort of Benidorm, Ventoso turned up at the cross event in Villanueva de Castellón last Sunday and took third place. “That’s really no more than an anecdote because I’m not really looking for results from cyclo-cross,” said Ventoso. “This month I’ve been training in Benidorm and I wanted to find an event at the weekend where I could get a really good competitive work-out.”
Far from that race being a one-off, Ventoso is aiming to combine further road training with more cyclo-cross events over the coming weeks, feeling that they boost his motivation going into a new season. “I tried it for the first time two years when I came back from the Tour of Hainan at the end of the year and then had a month without any racing. I decided to do some cyclo-cross events to get some motivation and the truth is that I loved from the very first moment. I love the atmosphere at the races and everything that surrounds it.”
Ventoso admits that he’s got an awful lot to learn about racing off-road, confessing that initially he was “a disaster” and adding: “I’m not an expert because I’m lacking in any number of technical aspects, but you do find that every time you race you improve. But when I see the real cyclo-cross specialists I can really see the difference. They seem to be flying over the ground when you find yourself getting stuck.”
Ventoso is committing to cyclo-cross more fully than ever this winter. He’s aiming to ride at least once every weekend up to the Spanish Championships in Gandia on January 8, and hopes to be able to line up there as well. “The races allow me to do hour-long efforts that are much more complicated to achieve when you’re training on the road, and I think that they will also help me to improve my technique looking forward to races like the Classics. I’m not only talking about handling skills, but also about aspects like tyre pressures which those of us who only tend to go to Belgium once a year don’t pay much attention to, but I think can be very important when you’re racing on the cobbles.”
Ventoso admits that there’s a degree of risk involved in racing off-road, but says it’s minimal, especially when set against the risks run when speeding down any descent on the road even when training. But on the up side is the fact that he is likely to go into the road season feeling more competitive than usual. Winner of five races in 2011 including a stage at the Giro d’Italia, Ventoso is aiming to improve on that performance and hoping that the hard work done now will put him in contention for places at the Olympics and Worlds a few months down the line.