Follow Contador – Polartec’s Training Camp
As an athlete, blogger and journo, I get asked on quite a few pretty sweet trips, but Polartec set a new standard with the last one. What could be better than a five day trip to train in Gran Canaria with seven times Grand Tour winner Alberto Contador’s and his under-23 development team, Fundacion Contador?
The training camp was the prize in a contest run over the summer months on Strava by fabric manufacturers and sponsors of the Fundacion Contador, Polartec. Participants had four weeks to rack up at least 1000km whilst completing various challenges in order of difficulty, winning badges before proceeding to the next. The eventual winners were selected from those who successfully completed the challenges by a panel of judges, then awarded what has to be one of the best competition prizes ever – the chance to live and train like a pro.
Whisked away from the shortening days and chilly temperatures of autumn, the trip would give us some bonus, unexpected sunny miles and the opportunity to focus entirely on cycling for a few days. Everything was to be taken care off, we’d have special Follow Contador clothing, a team car, mechanics, masseurs, guides, the works.
Alongside Contador, the competition winners, journalists, and under 23 team, we had Ivan Basso and Jesús Hernández joining us, so things were gonna be fast and difficult! But it wasn’t just the professionals that would be pushing us hard, the competition winners were fiendishly tough – UK winner Dagmar Pfieffer had put in around 2500km during the four weeks of the competition and Camila Cortes was training for the Tour of Columbia. After spending all of September and part of October off the bike (damn you, back injury!) I was nervous about how unfit I’d prove to be, but I wasn’t about to let that stop me trying.
Arriving at our hotel (six hours delayed after a broken plane and a detour to Tenerife – thanks Ryanair) I grabbed a quick sandwich before heading up to bed – we were due to ride at 8am and it was already 12.30pm. I was sharing with Elena Martinello, whom I was yet to meet so I tried to sneak in quietly when all I really wanted to do was tear open the amazing personalised kit bag and dance about in the new stuff I’d just been given. I set the alarm on my phone and it did that awful thing where it tells you have long you have to sleep – 5 hours!
Follow Contador Day #1
The following morning I was up at 6.30 to prepare for the day’s ride and had my first chance to see the hotel properly. We were staying at Lopesan Costa Meloneras, a swanky resort with numerous heavenly looking swimming pools, including a 100 metre long infinity pool stretching out to the ocean. After helping myself to muesli, yoghurt, fruit and eggs from the plentiful breakfast buffet I popped down to the bike room to meet the rest of the crew and pick up my rental bike from Free Motion Bike Centre – a Canondale Supersix Evo.
#followcontador – Day #3What was it like to ride with Alberto Contador? Check it out!
Fundación Contador Team
Credits: Dario Tubaldo / Your Big Stories
Posted by Polartec on Thursday, 3 November 2016
Our first ride was due to roll out at 8am but it was decided to postpone until the afternoon – it was raining (very rare in Gran Canaria) and the previous day’s downpour had washed gravel onto the roads and left them kind of greasy.
After lunch we headed on a shortened route to the one we had mapped out in our guidebooks, taking a leisurely roll along the coast to warm our legs up then turning inland to test ourselves on a climb. Each day of the trip there was one nominated Strava segment on which we’d pit ourselves against one and other. The climb wasn’t that steep but it was hot, long and slow – I suck at climbing even when I’ve not had time off riding. After a fun descent (trying to avoid rocks on the road) I gave it some beans and powered along the valley floor to the coast road, all smiles.
Follow Contador Day #2
Gran Canaria is a climber’s paradise and our schedule was designed to challenge us. Our briefing the day before had outlined what sounded like a pretty tough ride – 82km with a 1800m of climbing.
Joined by Contador, we rolled out along the coast at a much speedier pace of around 35km/p/h with plenty of 45km/p/h surges, quite the opposite to Day 1’s warm up. After around 27km we turned up into the hills for a climb of around 30km, the road hugging a series of rocky hills and winding its way up and around the arid landscape on the way to San Bartolome de Tirajan. We’d left rather late and it was hotter than is usual – by this time in the proceedings was scorching, nearing 40 degrees. I tried to settle into a rhythm and get on with it, sipping water as I watched the climbers shoot off and Contador basically fly!
By the time I’d climbed around 10km I was feeling truly awful, boiling hot but covered in goose bumps and struggling not to puke – surely not a good sign. I battled on for as long as I could, not wanting to be a wuss but in the end decided it wasn’t worth making myself ill. It was a tough call – as a cyclist I’m used to ignoring pain and never quitting but in this case I’m glad I listened to by body. Getting back to the hotel was no piece of cake but a few lengths in a lovely pool, a salad and smoothie later and I felt just about normal again.
Follow Contador Day #3
Day 3 was billed as the most challenging of all, 101km with around 2,500m of climbing up to the highest point of the island. Setting off from our hotel in Maspalomas, we headed inland straight up what we’d been told was nearly around 50km of climbing – at our briefing the night before it has been described as a 48km ascent with 3 easy km included.
Like the day before, it was absolutely scorching so I was grateful to Contador for giving me a bit of a push up the hill – I never imagined that I’d ever be riding side by side with him! It’s worth mentioning here that our guides Ronny, Bart, Martin and Michael from Free Motion Bike Centre were fantastically helpful and motivating too – thanks guys!
Our Strava segment for the day was 8.7km at an average 6% gradient, although several parts were significantly steeper to balance out the odd flatter section. As per usual, everyone went tearing off whilst I settled into my pace, determined to push myself as fast as I could, no matter what they were doing. I sweated and gurned my way up.
I’m far from superwoman. Sometimes I find stuff really tough. Today I gave it everything I had and it still wasn’t enough. I had to call it quits 13km in to a 30km climb. I just couldn’t take the heat and my recent six weeks off injured mean my fitness is shot. I doubt I’ll ever be a climber either way. My prize for failing was a fun descent followed by a not so fun 27km into a headwind. You win some, you lose some #followcontador #training #cycling #womenscycling
At the end of our stay in Gran Canaria, I made several resolutions, inspired by my time with the Polartec crew, the under 23s, the competition winners and the professionals. One is to train my ass off over winter so my hill climbing catches up with my sprinting, the second to take better care of my bike (we had a talk from the Fundacion Contador’s mechanic one evening and it made me realise I need to) and the third to return to Gran Canaria. Myself and the other women have come up with a sneaky plan to ‘Follow Follow Contador’ – come back next year and just tag along…. but in case we chicken out, I’ve just booked a week in February with my husband, Dave.
A really, truly enormous thanks to Gaia and Alessandro from Polartec for inviting me along, to the Fundacion Contador riders for chit chat on the rides, to Contador for pushing me up a hill and to Free Motion Bike Centre for the great guiding. Thanks to Your Big Stories for the images.