Who fancies a soy decaf latte? What's that Stef? You don't like soybean related products? Well why don't you sit down and tell everyone what you've been up to as DS of our lovely Horizon Fitness racing team over the last few months, while you let the Scotsman buy everyone in the cafe some coffees, again...
So what happens for a team and its DS at the end of a road season? I guess I may be different to a lot of people here so this is very personal to me. In 2010 our road season was cut short for several reasons. Firstly, the Commonwealth Games was a major goal for many of our riders and we ensured our riders had every opportunity to qualify and also be part of their national team’s specific preparations. This really ate into our program as a team, but to see our riders achieve their aims was fantastic.
The second part of it was the timing of the track nationals. They are pretty early in the UK and we had riders that we again keen to achieve at these championships. We were happy to support this and we’re seriously proud of the team winning the Team Pursuit National champs. We’d arranged a Team Pursuit training camp in Newport and Sarah Storey put in a huge amount of time to pass on her knowledge to the other riders to ensure we were in the best position possible to achieve at the Championships.
So these 2 areas among others, left us short of riders and without road targets as a team come September. So what do you do with a usually free period of time?
Well, before I go into that, there is another factor that affects my time at this point of the year. My wife, Mrs W, is a cyclo-cross rider. She is also a rider that I coach and I therefore need to make sure she has all the input into her program to help her achieve her goals. She rides for Kona, but also guests for Horizon Fitness in the road season, but for her the summer is simply about training. She uses road races as prep for the cross season, and results are not too important for her there. When the team needs her to target a result, she’ll do it. But making sure Mrs W is in the right condition for the cross season is very important.
The end of the road season also means the start of the cross season. So for me there isn’t a break, not even a day. So 2010 was a major luxury……. beyond my wildest dreams. The first major cross race in Europe for women this year took place the week before the World Road Champs. At the other end of the season, Tour of Qatar, Tour of New Zealand and event Omloop Het Volk (which is what I’ll always know it as) take place before the end of the cross season. So there really is no rest for the wicked in a normal season.
This year, with a reduced program, I was in the position where I could switch my focus to a training camp. I had just started to work with Annie Simpson as a coach and it’s something that requires a lot of input. I don’t feel you can advise a rider what will be good for them going forward until you have a really good knowledge of what that rider is really like. I was lucky (or unlucky some might think) that Annie had lived with us for 3 months over the summer. But in that time I hadn’t been able to ride with Annie very much. She’d also been troubled by a knee injury which had held back her performances in races. But with the knee all sorted, we planned a 2 week altitude camp in the French alps where I’d get to ride with Annie (until she dropped me) and understand a little more about what Annie can achieve as a rider, and what level she’s currently at and where she wants to gets to.
Now there wasn’t much point in her training with just me, as she’s going to be a small dot in the distance come a 40 minute climb unless I’m very fit (I spent the summer behind the wheel of a team car, or behind a desk while my bike gathered dust). This summer wasn’t a good time for me to be riding, so my fitness went downhill. So it required some professional help. Ian Field and Mrs W were called upon to come to the camp and train with Annie. Both we impressed and Annie is now working on her 2nd phase of training…and finding it pretty challenging from what I can work out!
The camp also saw me drop 5kg’s in weight, start to regain fitness and now I can’t wait to get out with the team in 2011. I’m now 11kg’s down on my weight at this time last year, all thanks to a special diet, and a few miles on the velo. There are normally 2 types of DS; Fat and Thin. Some are overweight and don’t look like they’ll get back to being thin again. Other are like racing snakes, and are so obsessed with riding their bikes they’re out at 5am to get some miles in before the day starts with team. If they can’t ride, they run. Both types are normally a little stressed, can stay up very late, get up very early, and can navigate Europe without the use of a TomTom. I think I fit somewhere in the middle of these 2 ‘types’.
Anyway, back to the point…….The same part of the year (Mid August to end of September) is also when the team gets the majority of its rider CV’s sent through. It’s normally a lot, but this year it was a huge number. So many talented riders from all over the world wanted to be a part of what we are doing. It’s a great feeling to have a team that people want to be a part of, but it’s also pretty awful telling riders they haven’t got a place. Its 2nd only to telling riders that are already on the team they don’t have a place for the following year. They really are the 2 worst parts of the job.
So how do you actually choose the riders? Well to start with I have to have an idea of 2 things. 1) Where do I want to take the team? This involves the race program, what skills are required for these races, what’s achievable on our budget, and what are the needs/requirements of our sponsors. 2) I have to look at the riders already on the team and make sure that not only do the talents of the riders that come into the set up complement those already there, I have to make sure the attitude of the riders also fit.
We want to have fun. But it’s not all about just smiling and we’ll be happy. We have an expectation that our riders will perform to the best of their ability and put 100% into the success of the team. This year, performance is easy to quantify with a rider like Sarah Storey. 2 World Titles, a sub-20 minute 10 mile TT, qualification for the Commonwealth Games and a Team Pursuit National Title. Quality, Quality, Quality.
But for others the performance isn’t ‘written on the tin’ like it is with Sarah. For example Penny Rowson was amazing out in Germany in the GP Albstadt. For a rider of her age to perform like that was great. The results don’t show it, but Penny has huge potential. Britt Jochems has just come back after 2 years of sickness, and started racing again in May. When she called me in March to see if I had a place for her I didn’t hesitate. I know that given the time, she’s going to be fantastic. She never missed an event, had amazing positioning and on her day was right up there. Her results also didn’t seem so amazing, but everyone should keep on eye on her as she’s going to be a contender again very soon.
So this took us through to near the end of September. The training in France was great, the cross season had kicked off, we had a good idea of riders, the UCI calendar for 2011 was getting to be known, we knew our initial sponsors and the track Champs were getting closer. What next?
The initial plans for 2011 are put down; training camps, a guide to potential events, availability of riders and sponsor meetings/development. It’s a busy time, but so is any day of the year. For example I’m writing this blog from Italy where I’m currently working on the training camp for April 2011. The Horizon Fitness team here for 2 weeks from 2nd April and will be staying at the Mpire Training Centre. We’re currently working on the routes for our training riders and also planning the evening ‘entertainment’. Talks of nutrition and race tactics along with many other subjects are all being planed. It seems a long way in advance to many, but good planning of these areas is all essential to help take our riders to the next level.
All photos have loving pinched with permission from the team's site www.onthedrops.com