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Training camps, casinos and early season form

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Federico Bahamontes at the Giro d'Italia in 1956

Federico Bahamontes at the Giro d'Italia in 1956
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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The 'Angel of the Mountains' - Charly Gaul leads Spanish rider Federico Bahamontes during the 17th stage of the 1959 Tour de France between Saint-Etienne and Grenoble, which Gaul won.

The 'Angel of the Mountains' - Charly Gaul leads Spanish rider Federico Bahamontes during the 17th stage of the 1959 Tour de France between Saint-Etienne and Grenoble, which Gaul won.
(Image credit: AFP Photo)
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1959 Tour de France champion Federico Bahamontes on the podium with Alberto Contador.

1959 Tour de France champion Federico Bahamontes on the podium with Alberto Contador.
(Image credit: Rafael Gómez Alonso)

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.

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.]