Belgian WorldTour outfit Lotto Soudal are already hard at work preparing for next season, and have given a unique insight into the kind of training the team's riders are doing at this time of year in readiness for 2019.
The team works with the Belgian athlete testing and coaching company Energy Lab to train its riders. Now, having been given a number of weeks to unwind and relax, it's time for the team's riders to ease back in to the life of a professional cyclist, building up for a new season of competition that for some will kick off in Australia for the Tour Down Under as soon as mid-January.
"Since the second week of November, the riders have been training again," said Energy Lab's Wim Van Hoolst on the team's website. "During the prior rest period of three to five weeks, they were free [to do what they wanted] and had the time to travel, for example. In that way, they could also free their minds before they started working towards the new season.
"Besides riding their bikes, the riders must make time for core-stability training almost every day," continued Van Hoolst. "In consultation with the team's physical therapists, they're prescribed specific exercises."
It's somewhat of an urban myth that professional cyclists make terrible runners, but Van Hoolst explained what the thinking behind many of them not running might be, while not ruling it out completely as a method of off-season cross-training.
"Practising alternative sports is rather limited and depends on the riders' history," he said. "Some of them go for a run, but those are the cyclists who used to run or play football. Letting a cyclist run when they normally never run is not a good idea because they're likely to get injured. About half of the cyclists have been doing strength workouts in the gym, and, together with the team's physical therapists, we also establish a programme for them."
Van Hoolst explained that a key aspect to the riders' re-introduction to training is a very gradual build-up of intensity.
"By the end of November, the riders start strength training on the rollers and doing short interval sessions," he said. "The training build-up is developed based on their race schedule. In general, it's important to rein in neo-pros and young riders because they want to start training very early to get in shape in time, which is a typical trap.
"Every day, the cyclists upload their training data on our online training platform. We can check if the prescribed training has actually been carried out because we get notified when a training session deviates from a prescribed one," Van Hoolst explained, which means there's no hiding in a café for three hours if it's raining. "In this case, the riders are contacted by us. In addition, there's also close contact between the staff themselves. Every rider is part of a little team in which they're supported by a sports director, trainer, doctor and physical therapist.
"The training schedules are drawn up for a period of seven to 10 days, which enables us to constantly monitor and make adjustments if necessary. On November 22, there was a meeting at Energy Lab in Paal and in Ghent, where the riders came by for a blood test, a body composition analysis, a consultation with the doctor, a conversation with the sports psychologist and a chat with the trainer.
"Just before the December training camp, they undergo an extensive medical screening. The riders are therefore closely monitored during the off-season," said Van Hoolst.
Lotto Soudal have strengthened their elite men's team with the addition of Australian sprinter Caleb Ewan for 2019, with the 24-year-old joining from Mitchelton-Scott. Heading out through the revolving door is Ewan's more-experienced sprint rival André Greipel, who will join French Pro Continental team Fortuneo-Samsic after eight seasons at Lotto.
There's also a new general manager at the head of affairs going into the new season in the shape of former Phonak and BMC manager John Lelangue, who has replaced outgoing team manager Paul De Geyter.