Majorca is quite possibly the finest place in the world for a cyclist to be in January. The sun Gods definitely shine here at this time of year, so when I got an invite to come out to the High Road training camp for a couple of days I naturally jumped at the chance ? and of course brought my bike with me.
The team were more than happy to let me tag on the back of one of the three groups that were going out training, so along with Tom Davies from Giant bikes, I jumped on the back of group one for a steady four to five hour ride taking in some of the island?s climbs.
The only problem being that I hadn?t ridden much lately, and there was a strong possibility of me embarrassing myself. Of course I could have been sensible and turned back early, but where?s the fun in that?
There was however another reason I didn?t want to chicken out of the full ride. Yesterday my colleague Lionel Birnie posted his first blog on this website about training for the Paris Roubaix sportive he intends to ride, and I couldn?t pass up the opportunity to partake in a little competitive blogging.
You see, Lionel is very good talking, and writing about the training he intends to do. I wanted to take the opposite approach and do the training, and then write about it.
We left the hotel in Playa de Palma just after ten and headed around the coast towards Llucmajor. I started to get a little nervous when I realised George Hincapie was the guy on the front of the bunch. Every coaching manual clearly states that doing your first long training ride of the year with a stage winner of the Tour de France isn?t the best way to ease your legs in.
When he and the rider alongside him swung off and round to the back of the group I was sorely tempted to shout, ?CALL THAT A TURN, LADS?!? Wisely I decided better of it.
It was then I noticed the guy riding next to ?Big George? was Kim Kirchen. The Luxemburger who finished seventh in last year?s Tour de France. ?I?m a dead man,? is all I could think.
The first sticky point of the ride was on the lumpy road from Llucmajor to Algaida when the four High Road riders rode through and off with myself and Tom Davies sat on the back. Amazingly we both survived. We?ll gloss over the fact that they were only riding at about 75 per cent.
After about two hours we hit the hairpinned climb to Soller where I managed to stay with them for at least one kilometre. I knew full well that I was going to pay for this later on, but what the hell. For a brief moment I was climbing with Tour contenders, and I don?t care if they were merrily chatting all the way up.
Team High Road soaking up some early season sun. Picture: Andy Jones
After the descent we turned left and climbed to Dieá. We were approaching the three hour mark by now, and I don?t mind admitting that I was starting to suffer. Director Sportifs Tristan Hoffman and Brian Holm, who were following in a team car (well, a hired Ford Fiesta), had passed me energy bars and liquid, but it wasn?t enough to save me.
The climb to Dieá isn?t that long, but after cresting the highest point it continues to undulate up and down ? tough when you?re fit, a nightmare when you?re on the point of blowing and cramp is setting in.
Thankfully Hoffman and Holm waited for me, and paced me up the climb as I made a remarkable comeback to rejoin the group. People might be tempted to think that I held on to the car, but seeing as there were no witnesses, I?ll deny it.
They promised me there wasn?t much climbing left, but they were lying, and I was left with two options; get a taxi home, or blatently hold on to the car. ?Haven?t you been training?? Hoffman asked as I chose the latter and hung on for dear life. It was at this point I decided to explain why I wasn?t feeling so good. ?I?ve had a cold and the weather hasn?t been very good back home.?
?Stop making excuses!? he shouted back. ?You sound like a bike rider!? Now, I could have taken offence to this. But instead I took it as a positive, because at that point, I certainly didn?t feel like much of a bike rider.
It was around this time (I can?t remember exactly, even my vision was starting to go by now) that Tom Davies started to struggle, so realising the game was up, we left the pro?s to it and turned left for Palma and home. Somehow I made it back without both my legs locking up with cramp, although I did get dropped as Tom chased after a Vladimir Karpets look-a-like along the coastal path.
125km, most of it with ProTour riders, may not be the most sensible way to start your year?s training, but someone?s got to show Birnie how it?s done.
They’re back! A rogue T-Mobile squad infiltrate the High Road training camp. Picture: Andy Jones