As darkness, cold and rain are with us for the next few months, now's the perfect time to start planning your fitness programme for next season in a warm climate. Whether your aim is to improve your technique, or put in some serious milage pre-sportive season, winter training camps in the sun are the tried and tested option favoured by pro teams. So take a leaf out of their book - you know you want to! Luckily we've done the leg-work for you and produced a guide to some of the best cycling holidays to help you beat those UK winter blues.
The Canary Islands is the first wish-list destination to spring to my mind when it comes to winter sun combined with challenging climbs. Of course Team Sky famously train for the Tour de France here as Tenerife not only boasts an average winter temperature of 20 degrees centigrade every day, but it also has Europe's longest continuous mountain climb of 2,200m at a gentle 5-6% incline up Mount Teide. Sir Bradley Wiggins told the Telegraph back in 2012 that training in Tenerife had been his winning formula for the Tour de France.
Polka Dot Cycling are very experienced providers of training camps and offer three ability levels simultaneously. You can stay for one or two weeks and even take the family to one of their partner 4* hotels. The rides are guided and every evening there are optional training seminars. "We spend a week helping our clients reach their cycling goals and also teaching them techniques to be used after they leave to keep them improving," say organisers. Priced from £845 a week per person, their season starts on 23rd January 2016.
Also in the Canary Islands is volcanic Lanzarote, a four-hour flight from the UK. Popular with pro teams such as Columbia-HTC and Velocio-SRAM, as well as road cycling camps you'll find plenty of triathlon and iron-man training here. Club La Santa offer a variety of sporting holidays on the island, but the best for road cyclists has to be the special training week they're hosting from 11th December where two ex-pros will be on hand guiding and offering practical tips and advice. Tayeb Braikia of team Lotto Adecco and former 100 km World Champion, Jørgen Emil Hansen, will lead riders through Lanzarote's dramatic landscape featuring some fantastic mountain climbs, for pretty much all riders from novice to serious racing club cyclist level. Groups will be led according to ability with the same rides covered but at differing speeds. Cost for the week's training is Euros 130 on top of the standard week long package at Club La Santa.
The weather may not be as reliable in Majorca (or Mallorca as the Spanish call it), but personally I think it's hard to beat as a holiday destination. It's not a matter of which team trains in Mallorca - rather who doesn't train in Mallorca - because it's so popular. If you're planning to ride the Etape du Tour or the Marmotte next year, what better preparation than to book yourself in for a week or two at a balearic bicycle boot camp?
SunVelo organise sportive entry and cycling holidays for all levels, from 'performance' i.e. able to ride fast on varied terrain for 80-100 miles a day, to 'touring', riding the island at a gentle pace with plenty of coffee stops. Their new winter training season starts on 5th December and costs from just £45 per person per night based at the lovely SunWing hotel in Alcudia. SunVelo's head of cycling and former Commonwealth Games medallist, Alastair Irvine says:
You can stay in a hotel very close to the Team Sky base - but you don't have to try and keep up with them! SunVelo have been running spring training weeks for years, building up to their Mallorca sportive events in April, but this is their first winter season.
Across the Mediterranean to mainland Spain, and Ride Velo's personal favourite... Girona. Catalunya's most charming Spanish town has scenery, mountains, nearby beaches and amazing food. David Millar lives here and Dan Martin's team Cannondale Garmin are based in the area. Bike Breaks Girona is owned by downhill racer, David Welch (and his wife), so they offer both road and MTB training and holidays. They explain Girona's attraction:
Bike Breaks also specialise in women's cycling tours and one trip for this winter particularly caught my eye, the Marijn de Vries Ride Tour. Marjin, who rides for Parkhotel Valkenburg Continental Team, trains in Girona over the winter and is offering two group rides exclusively for women. This tour gives a glimpse into the life and routine of a top pro rider currently competing at the highest level. This is just one of the exciting mini-holidays on offer this winter/spring season. Contact Bike Breaks for more details.
Down to Southern Spain now at the Costa Cycling Experience base hotel in Benahavis, near Malaga, where British Championship cycling medallist Rab Wardell awaits you! The Costa Del Sol is a perfect area for cyclists to put the finishing touches to your winter training. There's a wide selection of roads and trails on offer for every discipline, so you can choose to test different aspects of your fitness or enjoy relaxing beautiful rides along the coast. Team Movistar like the reliable winter warmth and practically rain-free climate of Andalucia - the area is pretty mountainous too with its famous white villages making perfect coffee stops.
Costa Cycling Experience offer training weeks with Rab Wardell from 17th January 2016 with 4* accommodation, guiding, training and plenty of treats from just £499. The company also do cyclocross specific holidays and camps.
And finally round to Portugal, probably most famous for golfing holidays, but now also the destination for two week-long cycle training camps run by Paralympian, Mark Colbourne MBE. With his slick website and luxurious 5* hotel in the Algarve, Global Cycling Camp looks very well planned and professional - they are certainly going to take your training seriously!
The holiday is on special offer at the moment for £745 reduced from £875 to include all meals and accommodation. Men's week starts on the 9th April and Women's week is from the 16th April.
So what are you waiting for... get packing ... and don't forget your helmet (compulsory in Spain!)