Rapha-Condor-JLT is one of the biggest cycling teams in Britain. Founded in 2004 and originally known as Recycling.co.uk-MG-Xpower, the British UCI Continental cycling team have since taken numerous victories at home and abroad.
We caught up with them with the aim of finding out what you could learn from the, how they train, recover and tackle life as a bike rider.
The star of Rapha-Condor-JLT, Kristian House is also the longest-serving member, now that Dean Downing has departed. The 33-year-old has enjoyed huge success since joining back in 2008, taking wins at the Lincoln Grand Prix and the Tour of Japan, as well as individual wins in rounds of the Tour Series and an overall victory at the Ras. His high point came four years ago when he triumphed at the National Road Race.
MOST IMPORTANT “I would say recovery. Think about it. Everyone gets really caught up on certain efforts, doing this and that.
That kind of stuff, OK, it will make a difference at my level – when you’re trying to get that last one or two per cent out of yourself – but to make massive strides, perhaps at a lower level, people need to focus on how to recover after the training.
You need to maximise what you can do in those spare few hours. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be on your bike. Value your rest and recovery and look after yourself. It’s far better to get some solid riding in, with full recovery after, rather than trying to squeeze as many hours on the bike in as possible with no rest. You’ll go backwards and all that supposed training you’re doing will mean nothing.”
ON NUTRITION “I like to think I am pretty clued up on nutrition. There are always improvements you can make and there’s always new research, and the latest and greatest thing. So it’s kind of cool having a company like SiS with their team of researchers who can point you in the right direction and advise you on what you need to eat and when.”
THE KEY TO RIDING AND PERFORMING CONSISTENTLY “Number one is staying healthy. We’re finding that with some of the younger guys on the team. They don’t know how to take care of themselves.
They don’t eat properly, and it’s not just on the bike but also in terms of general wellbeing. You go away for a week’s stage race and when you come back, six or seven days later, they’re still not recovered and [are] ill… A lot comes down to genetics. Some can withstand more pressure and are capable of pushing themselves further. I’m fortunate, as I’m quite robust.”
How to improve “Train better, train smarter and don’t be afraid to try different things. It’s very easy to get stuck in the same programme, just because it works. For example, for years I used to go out in the winter and do massive miles.
The last couple of years, people have been telling me to try and change that. But it’s hard and it’s actually daunting to do that, because I know it works.
I know if I do this, this and this, come Tour Series, I’ll be on a great level. But perhaps if I change my pre-season, I may become even stronger. Having said that, I may get worse. It’s a bit scary, but that’s sport. You have to evolve with the new ideas and the new technology. Change it up a little bit, but don’t go nuts. After all, you know what works.”
ON LEADING THE TEAM “It is what it is. My job hasn’t changed much from two years ago to now and even further back. You still have to go out there and do your job and do what you are capable of doing. It doesn’t really add that much pressure.
Although you might have some younger riders who look up to you and they expect you to help them or tell them what to do in certain situations, but again, that comes naturally because it’s what I’ve been doing all my career. The hard part is relaying it to them in a constructive manner.”
Ed Clancy joined Rapha-Condor-JLT in 2011 and remains a key figure in the team. The 28-year-old spent most of last year preoccupied… with the small matter of the London Olympics to attend to. Although it meant he wasn’t racing for Rapha as much as he would have liked, he instead took home his second team pursuit gold, as well individual bronze in the omnium event.
ON ROAD RACING “I don’t feel 100 per cent every time I get on my bike. I might not be super-fresh and ready for it, but you don’t have to be 100 per cent to win a road race. You’ve just got to be in the race, at the right place at the right time and you need a bit of luck on your side. That’s the great thing about road racing: you can win any race you’re in. Well, apart from a hilly race, for me.”
ON WINNING “I always want to win. It’s all I want to do, and I hate losing. When I don’t win, I look back and try and figure out what happened, and what I could have done better.”
THREE MOST IMPORTANT QUALITIES FOR A CYCLIST TO HAVE “Perspective is a good one. You sometimes see these guys with big egos, all dressed in Lycra, and they think they’re better than most… It’s good to do a good job on your bike, but it’s good to have perspective on your job. It’s only bike riding.
Secondly, for roadies, you have to be good at communicating, especially with your team-mates. There are so many good riders who haven’t made it to the level they should because they don’t work well in a team.
And thirdly, enjoy it. If you enjoy what you’re doing, you don’t have to force your motivation or commitment. It will just come naturally. You do it because you want to do it and you won’t see your training as a chore. It’s corny, isn’t it? And it’s what you say to kids, but it’s true.”
ON PREPARATION “I’m always doing a lot of riding, whether track, road racing, or just general riding, so I don’t have to worry about getting the workload in. But the few days before a big race, my routine will start to change a bit. I’ll always back off the riding a little bit, make sure my legs, body and mind are 100 per cent.
I’ll make sure I eat right and sleep. It’s all about hitting a little peak and then hoping it goes well. However, for the races I’m not too fussed about, I’ll just work through them and see them as another training session. Not everyone is like that. That’s me. But I think we do so much racing, I haven’t got time to build such big peaks and troughs and try and hit specific targets in the summer at least.”
GETTING THROUGH THE LOWS AFTER THE HIGHS “When you go through that whole Olympic process, which I’ve been through twice, there’s this build-up of funding, build-up of training camps, accessibility to the top scientists, the best kit.
Being in the British Cycling setup, you reach your pinnacle. Everyone is on-form and flying. You’ve been in the holding camp for months, nobody is ill, nobody is injured and everything is going perfectly. To top it off, you get what you’ve dreamed of by winning. But you then have to come out the other side.
I don’t know if it’s a low, but you feel kind of lost and without direction. I was used to spending my days with Burkey [Steven Burke], Geraint [Thomas] and Pete [Kennaugh] and having a laugh. A couple of months later, it’s completely different: you’re now doing something else.
You want to get on to the next thing. I remember sitting down and thinking, ‘What’s my purpose in life?’ It’s hard, but it’s important to set new targets, whether you’re an Olympic cyclist or sportive rider. A new target helps keeps your focus, and helps get through that low after that extreme high.”
ON MAINTAINING MOTIVATION “I’ve always loved whizzing around on my BMX and messing around on my mountain bike as a kid. I love racing bikes. And I love that I can do it for a living. In my spare time, I’ll play on my trials bike and my motocross bike or whatever.
I think I’m obsessed with two wheels. I don’t know why. I can swagger around with my gold medals, which is great. But even if I were scraping a living riding my bike, it would be a living worth scraping. That’s what got me into it and keeping in it.”
Although still a relative newbie to the team, having joined in 2011, James McCallum is already regarded as a senior member. The Glasgow-born rider represented Scotland in the Team Pursuit, Points and Scratch Races at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, and again in Melbourne, where he won bronze medal in the Scratch Race.
In 2012, McCallum won the Scottish Road title, before clinching a hard-earned third place in the Rutland-Melton CiCLE Classic, his first ever UCI podium place.
CHANGES OVER THE YEAR “Nutrition has changed so much over the years. Before, you would just put a scoop of carb power in your bottle and off you go. That was it. Now, there are things like caffeine and nitrate, training low, optimum dosages, etc. It’s like, ‘Whoa’. The biggest issue is to know how to utilise all this stuff.
We use SiS and it’s great having the product, but if you don’t know how to use it, what’s the point? Is it a case of knowing too much now? I don’t know, but it’s there to help. Whenever there is a latest supplement out, I will go away and use it. Why not? You have nothing to lose. Kristian noticed a huge improvement in performance from using nitrate last year and he still uses a load of it now. For me, and seeing his performances, that’s enough of an incentive to give it a go.”
HOW TO BECOME A PRO “Ask questions. All the time. Ask as much as you can and don’t be scared asking a pro. Ask them what they do, when they do it, why they do it and how they do it. Nine times out of 10, they’ll tell you something, and the more people you ask, the more you’ll find out. Emulate your heroes and model yourself on them.
Sir Chris Hoy, for example. How did he train? What did he eat? Even things like, how did he sleep and where did he train? Learn from the best.”
ON TWEAKING “We’re always trying to tweak stuff with our diet: anything that can make life easier. Diet is such an important factor when training hard and competing. Real food is massive[ly important], but supplements really help. For amateurs, they aren’t as needed, but if you’re struggling to get what you need from your diet, they can provide a fix.”
JAMES MCCALLUM GOLDEN TRAINING TIP “Go hard or go home. No, I’m joking. Find something you enjoy, and do it. Find what you’re good at and don’t be afraid to try new things.”
ON HIS DIET “I have to keep an eye on what I eat because I can bulk up very easily. My body loves putting on fat, so I have to be careful. My body takes in and adapts to food very quickly. Even caffeine, my body just sucks it in like a sponge. It’s hard to keep an eye on everything, especially when you train on your own a lot of the time.
I’m not constantly watching what I’m eating but I’m aware that I can only get away with so many things. It helps being in a team and having so much information readily available: when to eat and why I have to eat certain things. That’s where amateurs are at a disadvantage. They can take the same sort of supplement as us, but they might not know how to best use them.”
THE BEST THING ABOUT BEING A PRO “I like the fact that I’m my own keeper. I’m doing what I love, a hobby that has become a job. The sport is currently booming, and it’s great to be part of it. Hopefully, the bubble will keep going and growing for a few more years.
It’s great to be able to earn a living from riding a bike. You try and explain that to people and it’s still hard for them to get their heads around it. They’re like, ‘You really ride a bicycle for a living?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, it’s great’. They’ll then ask a silly question, such as, ‘Well, where do you cycle?’ I’ll go, ‘Well, for as far as you can see, and then further than that.’ I’m in a very privileged position and I’m grateful for that. I just wish I had seen this vision of being a pro when I was so much younger. I only turned pro in 2007.”
ON HAVING OFF-DAYS “You’ve got to have off-days otherwise you’d just become a robot, only focusing on power meters and heart-rate monitors. Some days, you need to step away from it and ride no-hands and feast on Mars bars. It’s just one of those things.
You’re still a human being. No matter how committed and methodical, you need a break: either lots of little breaks, or one massive meltdown. We try and avoid the latter.”
This article was first published in the June 6 issue of Cycling Weekly. Read Cycling Weekly magazine on the day of release where ever you are in the world International digital edition, UK digital edition. And if you like us, rate us!