Jacob Tipper and five other cyclists are keeping rider journals for The British Continental this season. The 28-year-old Ribble Weldtite Pro Cycling rider is a three-time UCI road race winner. This is Jacob’s first journal entry…
Come January every year UK cyclists flood to the Costa Blanca. 15 miles east of Benidorm is the winter home of European cycling, Calpe (or Calp depending on whether you want to pronounce it in the Valencian dialect). With cheap flights and apartments, better weather than Mallorca or Girona, and 70% of World Tour teams stationed there, you can see why it’s popular. Or, if you’re the Great Britain Cycling Team, you can go to Portugal, which this year had colder conditions than their normal Manchester base.
Anyway, now you have chosen your location, I’ll walk you through the likely steps you’re going to encounter on the way…
Step 1. The flight
First, set alarm to some ungodly hour so you can make the first budget airline flight of the day. You can then proceed to barter your overweight bike box onto the flight which is filled with at least 3 kg of clothes and random accessories you’re not going to use. Or, if you’re Harry Tanfield, the additional 10 kg could comprise of biscuits, scales, Yorkshire tea, cigarettes for Nan, or any other eclectic mix of useless artefacts he used to travel around Asia with.
Once through, and having had several spanners confiscated through security – Charlie Tanfield and Leah Dixon I’m looking at you – you can then proceed to watch 80 OAPs queue for 45 minutes waiting to get to their pre-allocated seats before strolling on last and getting evils like you’ve murdered a kitten for asking someone to let you into your seat.
You need to boost that immune system as the echoing sound of bronchitis rattles around the plane
This is also the point you spot any other cyclists on your flight; not because they’re lean, tanned, and talking about thresholds but because they’re completely unnecessarily wearing their new Oakleys on their head, just in case it’s sunny on the three-hour flight. Now time for some sleep. You need to boost that immune system as the echoing sound of bronchitis rattles around the plane from a group of passengers who look like they haven’t consumed a vegetable since May.
After scrambling off the plane like a scene from Takeshi’s Castle you then have a nice long wait with everyone else who was part of the pointless frenzy while hoping your bike arrives in one piece.
Step 2. Transfer to your accommodation
Next: the battle to get to the villa.
Option 1: Beniconnect. For 30 euros, they will drive you to a pre-designated dropoff zone anywhere between 400 m and 3 km from your villa. With limited chances of being able to communicate with a Spanish taxi driver to pick you up from some random lay-by, you’re best hoping your bike box has some good wheels. Or you can spend the next 3 days written off from doing a 30 kg farmer’s walk for the next 20 minutes (an exercise you may normally do for 10 steps).
Option 2: ALSA buses. The cheap solution of 10 euros for a ticket, plus 10 euros for the bike box, should normally get you to Calpe bus stop (or dessert you in Benidorm bus station if you happen to arrive late on a Sunday night). You can then normally get a taxi to the villa or face an even longer farmer’s walk.
Option 3: hire a car. Potentially the easiest option once you’re old enough to avoid the under-25 driver’s penalty they slap you with. It can also be the scariest drive of your life as you meander out of the tight multi-storey, aware that even the smallest of scratches cost you as much as it would to buy the same vehicle outright.
You’ve made it now, just for the small game of treasure hunt to work out where the keys are hidden while the rest of the group is riding. You can finally make it into your humble abode for the next 1-3+ weeks, where you will be instantly transported back to the olden days; like a trip to the Black Country Living Museum where all the furniture and decorations are now officially antiques.
Step 3. The first ride
Deprived of sleep, fighting off a lung infection, you frantically build your bike ready for the first ride, and hope none of the parts are still left behind your bedroom mirror (à la Jonny Wale).
Set off in shorts and jersey in the blazing sun before quickly realising it’s actually 11 degrees
I would normally recommend an easy spin to open up the legs on your first ride. So the café at Moraira normally works quite well. You can then set off in shorts and jersey in the blazing sun, before quickly realising it’s actually 11 degrees, only 3 degrees warmer than your last ride in which you wore a full Gabba, buff and headband.
On returning from your sunny/arctic expedition from the café you should arrive back to meet you new flatmates; some you may know, some you may not. I could try and go into some witty character assassinations of the sort of people you’re likely to meet, but I’ll probably keep a lid on it as probably none are worse than some bearded Black Country know-it-all who’s sat there judging your training and speculating how much your power meter overreads by.
Step 4. The FTP test
Day one (or wait until the first day after the first rest day) is the power test. Commonly 20 minutes – 5% to calculate your FTP. To execute this, ride to the famous Coll de Rates. Nail yourself for 15-19 minutes, find out the number, decide you had more in the tank, thus it’s okay to call it 20 minutes. Then remember you forgot your caffeine gel, you backed off on a couple of corners and, hey, forget the 5%, you clearly could have done 5% more so you’re now ready to train with your new FTP! If you want to calculate the power-to-weight ratio, remember that it’s this current FTP divided by the lightest you’ve been in the last 2 seasons. Minus half a kilo as you had had a big meal and a Dairy Milk the day before that lightest measurement, so you were probably lighter.
The majority of the remaining rides will then all be pretty similar. Find a big group of fellow Brits, dick swing up every climb, dick swing down every descent. But only actually come out with Zone 2 rides as you still spend too much time in the wheels. This is fantastic for big TSS And tiring yourself out like a husky who needs a good run around. But it probably isn’t what your coach actually set you.
Step 5. Nutrition and entertainment
The other non-coached prescribed activity is the cafe stop. But with café bonbons at only 1 euro who can blame you. And the high-calorie sweetened condensed milk could even flavour up a French coffee. Sweeter than a WKD Blue filled with smarties it should give you that kick to get you home (or it will be by the second or third one).
Post-ride, you arrive home to an episode of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. A 200 calorie salad is being served up by the aspiring climber hoping to lose 3kg a week. Chicken nuggets are being served by either the former aspiring climber who’s already cracked or used as an excuse by someone who’s crashed and claims they have lost the dexterity to cook anything more complicated (Scott Auld). And finally, there is someone cooking enough pasta or rice in one serving to make up for the 3000 calories burnt in their ride that day.
Evening entertainment used to be a trip to Tango to steal the WiFi but now, thanks to free data abroad, this old excursion is dying out in place of Netflix or the Xbox. At 9.30 pm it’s time for an early bed. Lacking central heating, you’re often grateful for the traditional bedding comprising 3 sheets, 2 thin duvets, a top blanket, and an emergency blanket. It’s at least a nice reminder of sleeping at your Nan’s house as a kid.
Step 6. Head home
After repeating all this for 1-3+ weeks, it’s time to head home. Packing the bike not quite as carefully as when you were packing it for the way here, but at least leaving the arm warmer under the bed, and leaving those few grams of bar tape and shifter on the road of some unsuspectingly tight hairpin somewhere, should make the weight limit a bit easier. It’s not like the assistants in Alicante can normally be arsed to weigh your bike box anyway. You can kindly distribute your food out to your flatmates; it’s probably the truest reflection of your respect for them. If you’ve handed down some nice balsamic you’ve made a good friend, but just half a bag of rice and that person will chop you next time they see you.
With the same ‘Brits abroad’ aeroplane passengers on the home journey, only with a touch more vitamin D in their system, you can now try your best to fend off the flu with a battered immune system from all that overtraining you have logged. Before landing back in good old Blighty where the pilot will kindly inform you the weather is even colder than when you left, except now you’re even softer, so you can start mentally prepping yourself for some long turbo session until the weather picks up in maybe April.
Despite all the negatives I’ve tried to poke fun at, you can’t really take the piss. The roads are pretty optimal for training, there’s plenty of pro spotting, and the weather is generally some of the best in Europe. It’s a great place to train and to break up some of the mundane winter schedule. And if it was that bad I wouldn’t be going back in the middle of February for team camp with Ribble Weldtite. That will probably make it over 6 months I’ll have spent there in the last 7-10 years. So don’t be put off with this, hopefully you can just find it relatable to any future or past experiences. And remember: nothing can be worse than travelling through airports with two Tanfields…
Featured photo: Dean Reeve Photography / Ribble Weldtite Pro Cycling
Find out more
Jacob on Twitter
Jacob on Instagram
Jacob’s coaching business