It was fun to see my name appear near the top of the list of athletes that had ridden the most kilometres, which Velofacts published in January. I had ridden 2,636km over the course of 18 rides, which put me in the second position on the leaderboard just behind Egan Bernal.
The truth is that it was a simple matter uploading all the rides to Strava. I put in a lot of long hours on the bike during December and January. Still, if Velofacts produced a similar list for February, then my name would not be on it because I've started more quality training to prepare for the first races of the season, with fewer kilometres and a higher intensity.
The main reason that I rode so many kilometres was that I joined the guys at their annual Mitchelton-Scott team camp in January. The focus of the camp, like last year, was to accumulate hours on the bike. This year I rode 1,863km in 10 days, which comprised of two blocks. The first block was five days, and the second block was four days. When you do this much riding in a short period, then it's pretty 'easy' to show up on the Velofacts leaderboard.
To give you some perspective on what it was like for me to train with the guys at our team camp, watch this new video series: 'Annemiek van Vleuten – What it takes'. The first episode, called 'One of the boys', gives you a behind-the-scenes look at the motivations and struggles I faced during the 10 days of training in Sicily and southern Italy.
The benefit I got from joining this camp wasn't the number of kilometres that I rode, but the amount of time that I spent riding outside of my comfort zone. I call this 'mentally free training' because I didn't need to mentally prepare to push myself to the point of suffering as I do in interval training, which can be exhausting. The suffering happened on its own because I was riding at the guys' pace, especially uphill.
It allowed me to save my mental energy for the tough training sessions that I'm doing now. It's also one of the reasons why I travelled to Colombia to train; it's new to me, and it keeps me feeling fresh.
I was also in Colombia in December and rode an average of 30 hours a week for four weeks, but when I arrived home to the Netherlands, I didn't feel like I had just finished a training camp.
If I had done that amount of training at home in December, I would have been mentally exhausted and not very keen to continue training. I'm also pretty lucky that my team supports me with my adventurous style of training, and that they give me the freedom to arrange my programme in a way that suits me best.
Were all those kilometres needed? The answer is no; I don't think so.
The length of our races is a maximum of 160km, and races that are shorter than that are harder for me to make a difference in the final. That's because if we only race 100-120km, more girls will arrive relatively fresh at the finish. The level of recovery and general fitness is not so important when it comes to winning those races. But the harder the race, the more I will benefit from my general fitness level, which is high because of the volume I do on the bike. Sure, you can train up to the length of the races that you do, but, in my opinion, it's better to train to a level that will 'stress yourself' if you want to gain fitness.
But here's the essential part. I enjoyed riding about 90 per cent of those 2,636 kilometres that I rode by mid-January. Getting out of my comfort zone by training in new places, meeting new people from other cultures, while also challenging myself to train at another level, gives me energy.
So, stress yourself and get out of your comfort zone, and then rest like the best!
Now, I can't wait to show off my new rainbow jersey in the first, hopefully hard, races of the season. I'll be starting at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and then Strade Bianche. The worst-case scenario is that I enjoyed the preparation!
Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) is a two-time winner of the Giro Rosa and a two-time winner of the individual time trial World Championships, both in 2017 and 2018. Last September she added to her palmares with her first-ever world title in the road race at the UCI Road World Championships in Yorkshire. You can visit her website here.
Here you go. 😮 https://t.co/G2sAd5n3Bf pic.twitter.com/L5Y8bbCVmMJanuary 15, 2020
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Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar Team Women) is a two-time winner of the Giro d'Italia Donne, a two-time winner of the individual time trial at the World Championships, both in 2017 and 2018, and winner of the road race title at the World Championships in 2019. You can visit her website here.
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