Words by Alexis Arthur, KATUSHA Sports Ambassador
Day 1 – the pro ride
We watched the steady rain from our table, joking about who was the least or most prepared for today’s ride. I regretted not making more of an effort to find my arm warmers and felt woefully unprepared as I stepped out in summer kit. Damn the weather forecast that said warm(ish). My only protection was a light wind jacket but when I glanced around at the bundled-up crew (leg warmers, booties, winter jackets, gloves… ), I wondered just how miserable I was willing to be. One hour coffee cruise? I could do that in anything… right?
The three of us had arrived in Calpe, southern Spain, for the first Katusha Sports Ambassador Summit and we were excited. I admit I was getting a little nervous around. What do I say to a pro? What if I can’t remember his name? What if I crash someone’s bike? What if I get lost? I needn’t have worried as cheerful soigneurs, smiling staff, and accommodating mechanics guided us along.
We turned up at the hotel in Benidorm to find a bike for the day from among the pro’s spares and I couldn’t believe it when the mechanic pulled out superstar sprinter Alexander Kristoff’s bike for me. Kristoff later joked it was the first time a climber had ever taken it for a spin.
Finally, the clouds lifted and after a quick embro leg massage – thank you to the lovely soigneurs !! – we set off with the group. The entire Katusha-Alpecin pro team, sponsors, ambassadors, and friends of friends (most in the new 2017 kit) grabbed a final espresso before rolling out of the hotel parking lot.
We often joke that the coffee ride with the pros is the only hope we’ll ever have of keeping up, but it’s also one of the few chances you’ll have to chat with some of the world’s best cyclists at their most relaxed. Zakarin congratulated one of the managers who is about to become a father.
Kristoff talked about the fun of riding his cyclocross bike in the Norwegian winter (not enough snow to ski, he lamented, it’s more like Scotland than Norway). They were mostly smiling and joking as they slowly turned the pedals at a pace even the most casual commuter could handle. For many in the team, this is their last serious training in 2016 before enjoying a few weeks of holidays with family. Then it’s 2017 pre-season training. For many, this means heading south to Majorca and Tenerife before the first race of the year – the Tour of Qatar – in February.
At one point, Angel Vicioso - the oldest rider in the Katusha-Alpecin team at 39 - sidled up to me and asked whether I was cold. I’m Australian, I replied, we’re tough (or at least we like to think we are and we enjoy even more telling everyone else!). He laughed, “well they aren’t known for being lazy”. For the record, I think some of the other riders regretted being overdressed.
As we rolled back into the hotel parking lot, it was more espressos and hot chocolates at the Katusha Café for the Ambassadors, while the pros headed out for a longer training ride.
One of our Ambassadors – Josh Hayes – decided to ride the 30km back to Calpe. Accompanied by Katusha-Alpecin General Manager and former Portuguese pro cyclist, José Azevedo. Not too shabby.
Day 2 – the ambassadors ride
Another rainy morning. What are the odds, we asked, of coming to southern Spain and finding less sun then in our various wintry hometowns? At least it’s warm and wet rather than cold, someone quipped.
As we approached the team bus, the Katusha-Alpecin team members were already setting up for their own 5-hour ride. They crowded in next to us under the awning out of the rain, pulling on waterproof booties, grabbing ass-savers, and handing out race radios for the day’s training sessions. As we listened to the Director Sportif outline the intervals for each group, none of us envied the pros’ day ahead.
Instead, we watched them roll out before picking up our Canyon bikes (today I managed to get Spaniard Alberto Losada’s spare), changed saddles and pedals with the help of the mechanics, and heading out in search of blue skies. We were in luck. Our cruise along the coast to Moraira was mostly dry and surprisingly warm. I quickly stripped down to summer kit.
The ragged coastline is crammed with seaside villages and holiday towns, a pleasant change from Calpe’s crowded centre. A pleasantly rolling ride afforded sweeping views of an arid landscape, rocky and hilly, the mountains still hidden behind the low lying clouds. Luckily, with few long or steep grades we all had the chance to chat and enjoy the sunshine. As well as the odd sprint and punchy climb to test our Canyon Aeroad CF SLXs.
After our first loop, the weather started coming in, and a brief shower had left the roads slick. We decided to take our soggy bottoms to a café, where hot coffee and chocolate caliente were definitely in order. Our view out over the Mediterranean at Moraira was worth it alone. And as the sky cleared again, we realized we’d been remarkably lucky with the weather.
Caffeinated and content, we cruised back to Calpe where our next challenge awaited – a TRX session with the coaches, who’d promised to put us through the same workout as the team. Our coaches assured us it was just an introductory session and nothing we couldn’t handle. My own lack of upper body strength (carefully honed spaghetti arms as a result of excessive cycling) was in keeping with some of the pros, many of whom I was delighted to found out are also unable to do pushups.
An hour of grunting and sweating, and varying degrees of success, we rolled out our tired hamstrings and headed for the showers. We had definitely earned our dinner this evening.
We said our goodbyes, with some of us on early morning flights back to Geneva the next day, and looked forward to staying in touch. Everyone invited the others to discover their local cycling scene, be it Paris, Annecy, or Vienna. When the weather warms up. I’m already excited for 2017.