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MTN-Qhubeka winter camps - more than just training!

Added: tuesday 25 February 2014 at 8:53:00
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    MTN-Qhubeka winter camps - more than just training!In professional cycling the winter training camp is the only time of year when all the riders are together in the same place. This provides a unique opportunity to train with all the teammates, build relationships and team cohesion, get to know new staff and plan for the coming race season.

    Like most teams, MTN-Qhubeka did two training camps this winter, one in December 2013 and one in January of this year. This article gives you a behind the scenes look of these two winter camps .. which are not just about training!

    Rob Child, of the Elite Sport Group (ESG), is the African team's nutritional biochemist and is often involved in the team's activities. As explained in the 2013 flashback article, Rob kindly accepted to provide Velowire's readers a look behind the scenes of this remarkable team through different stories to come throughout the year and this one is all about the winter camps.

    New elements in the team

    Late in 2013 saw the signing of 4 new riders to the MTN-Qhubeka team. One of the first additions was Linus Gerdemann who, despite being a former yellow jersey wearer in the Tour de France, found himself out of contract at the start of the 2013 season. The philosophical German has been completely unphased by this, considering the sabbatical from cycling as an ideal opportunity to re-energise his passion for the sport. South African John-Lee Augustyn is another rider who has spent time away from competition. In his case it was enforced by an injury, which led to the termination of his contract with Team Sky. Eritrea is establishing itself as a hotbed of cycling talent and MTN-Qhubeka were extremely pleased to sign Mehawi Kudus. This super talented young rider won a UCI race aged only 18 and last year finished 15th in the Under 23 World Road Race Championships. The final signing is Daniel Teklehaymanot, another Eritrean, who is the most experienced African rider at MTN-Qhubeka having previously completed the Vuelta a España. All the new signings were strategically selected to improve MTN-Qhubeka's capabilities in hilly and mountainous races, particularly Grand Tours. Although the team was hopeful of a wildcard entry to the Giro d'Italia, it was not to be and the team has refocused, on gaining a wildcard entry to the 2014 Vuelta a España.

    In addition to riders, MTN-Qhubeka has also signed several new staff. Manel Lahambra pre–ride discussion with Sergio Pardilla, on one of the rare days when he coached from the team car during the Mallorca campTo help develop the riders race craft and tactical understanding, the team has employed Manel Lahambra. His hands-on approach (and incredible fitness) allows him to train with the riders, and he uses the opportunity to note strengths and weaknesses to provide 'real time' coaching feedback. Like most staff at MTN-Qhubeka, Manel fulfills multiple work roles and the intimate rider knowledge from training also allows him to get the absolute maximum out of each rider in his role as 'Director Sportif' (DS). Interestingly the forward thinking Team Sky have also recognised the importance of improving the race craft for the classics. So for the 2014 season, Sky will focus less on rider conditioning and more on racing in an attempt to get their first classic victory.

    Another key signing to the team is Thomas Campana, who was appointed as General Manager for 2014 after being a consultant the previous year. As former Cervelo Test Team manager, he has an unprecedented level of experience in helping limited budget teams achieve success in the highest level of the sport. Campana also has an eye for untapped talent and personalities that will fit well within a team structure. In addition to bringing Gerald Ciolek to MTN-Qhubeka, he was one of the first managers to recognise the potential of African riders. Nearly half a decade ago he signed Daniel Teklehaymanot as a stagiair (apprentice professional) for Cervelo Test Team.

    The South-Africa winter camp

    MTN-Qhubeka's winter training camp is not simply about riding bikes and includes a very busy and formalized structure. Part of this involves each rider reviewing the previous season's performances and setting specific goals for the coming year. The reviews are conducted with the coaching staff and the DS's, who use a holistic approach that integrates psychology, training, physiology, biomechanics, sports medicine and nutrition. The focus is always on improving rider performance and this is invariably broken down to specific goals within the season. These can be related to performance such as race finishes or achieving specific physiological goals. For time trial specialists or lead out riders this might be to attaining a particular power output for 5 minutes. The approach to achieve this might be based solely on conditioning or might involve structured increases in muscle mass. For the climbers, sustained power exceeding 6 watts per kg body weight is key to success, so reducing body fat and body weight are often important sub goals. ESG's role in this process involves integrating nutrition with training and altering body composition to meet the requirements of specific races. The team's scientific and holistic approach to race preparation is one of many things that makes MTN-Qhubeka's winter training camp a little different to other teams. In addition, MTN-Qhubeka uniquely 'races for a greater cause' and although the schedule at the South African training camp was hectic it always provided focus on what the team and staff are trying to achieve.

    Thanks to the successes of 2013, many people are aware of the Qhubeka charity, which helps mobilise people with bicycles. As an introduction to the project, all the riders at the 2013 Johannesburg training camp attended a Qhubeka bike handover to an African township community. But this is only one aspect of the teams charitable activities. Qhubeka also aims to develop African cycling talent and perhaps the most overt manifestation of this is the progress made by MTN-Qhubeka's black and white professional riders. One example is South African Louis Meintjes who added the 2014 South African Road Race title to the silver medal he won in last years Under 23 World Road Race Championships. Similarly in 2013 Tsgabu Grmay became national road champion and took the first ever professional race win by an Ethiopian at the Tour of Korea. But MTN-Qhubeka also works to promote cycling's grass roots.

    For the 2013 Johannesburg training camp the team organized the first in a series of 'street races', which actually take on oval dirt tracks. All the competitors used Qhubeka 'Buffalo' bikes, which are built for durability rather than speed. The resulting weight, which is well in excess of 20 kg, isn't enough to suppress competitive instincts! For many of the local riders this was their first introduction to competitive cycling, even if they did lack shoes! Imagine riding your first race watched and supported by an international professional team that includes a monument classic winner, a former Tour de France yellow jersey wearer, with a top engineer from Trek bicycles as your race support! The Qhubeka street races aren't only great fun: they sew the seeds of cycling passion and will ultimately identify stars of the future. After visiting an African township community for the first time and seeing a street race Linus Gerdemann commented:
    • We're making a difference but these communities have an impact on my life after spending time there. Of course I am not blind and I've known before that I am privileged but it just reminds you when you see it again first hand.
    At the start line - a future champion? At the start line - getting ready Street race - full gas

    The Mallorca winter camp

    In January, MTN-Qhubeka had their first training camp of 2014, with the riders and staff split evenly between Europe and South Africa. The European camp was based in the cycling haven of Mallorca, which gives a perfect mix of flat roads, rolling hills, and mountains. Looming thunderclouds – taken during the Mallorca training by MTN-Qhubeka's rider Martin ReimerThis provides a scenic backdrop for all the riders to work both on fitness and the more technical aspects of racing, such as descending, improving bike handling on wet slippery roads and riding in strong wind.

    At the end of last season the team secured several new sponsors for clothing, handlebars, saddles and nutrition. Unfortunately many of their new products didn't arrive until the Mallorca training camp, where the changes in equipment and clothing subtly altered the riding position. Intensive training in the first few days which included a three-hour session on the TT bikes quickly identified the adjustments needed to provide comfort.
    Gerald Ciolek - sprinter and engineer A change in sports nutrition partner also had knock on effects for the riders, with changes in taste and digestibility and energy provision. The new products required extensive rider testing before new nutritional programs were developed to meet riders' nutritional targets. The training camp's low pressure environment was perfect for experimenting with nutrition, allowing effective race nutrition strategies to quickly be re-established with new products. The training camp also gave the riders the chance to test out some new nutritional ergogenic aids, which work differently to conventional nutrition in that their focus is geared toward performance rather than improving rider health or recovery. Like most foods ergogenic aids come with the risk that they can also cause problems, the most common being stomach upsets, bloating, diarrhea. Any one of these could have disastrous consequences in racing, more than negate any potential performance gains they provide.

    With many of the basic logistical challenges overcome, MTN-Qhubeka team have already made the transition racing at the South Africa road championships, where they picked up 5 medals. The European riders, who are mainly based in Lucca, rode Ruta Del Sol as their first big test before heading to Belgium in preparation for the classics. With Gerald Ciolek taking away one of the only two stages won by another rider than Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team) and even though it was quite close with Roy Jans (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), it seems like the German rider is in perfect shape for the start of this season!
    • Rob ChildElite Sport GroupDepending on Rob Child's availability, future stories will cover things like the 2014 season's goals for MTN-Qhubeka, the particular context of some riders in the team making their comeback in professional cycling (Linus Gerdemann and John-Lee Augustyn who were both without a contract in 2013) but also more specific things related to Rob's main field of activity, the nutrition of the team. If you'd like to find out anything specific about the team, please feel free to ask. If possible, you might find the answer to your questions in one of Rob's future articles.

      In the meantime, please don't hesitate to visit the Elite Sport Group's website or the official website of Team MTN-Qhubeka.

    by Rob Child, MTN-Qhubeka's nutritional biochemist
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    this article appears in the following categories: Behind the scenes of MTN-Qhubeka | share on Facebook | delicious | twitter | Google | technorati

Comments

Currently 2 comments!
  1. What a breath of fresh air, to hear about cycling supermen actually giving something back to the enthusiasts and followers. It makes a change to hear how a yellow jersey wearer is interested in working with a less experienced team and hopefully get them into a Grand tour. I look forward to hearing them get a , not so wild card, entry into the Vuelta

    | Steve brady | thursday 27 February 2014 at 14:23:50

  2. Worthwhile and interesting article. I'll follow this teams progress with a passion.Good to point a focus on a charity all cyclists can relate to and support.

    | edd harrison | saturday 17 May 2014 at 11:08:51

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