January 2016 was the first time I joined up with the Caja Rural U23 and elite team at their annual training camp in Javea, southern Spain. The camp is run from a youth hostel in Javea which is paid for by the team, but food costs are covered by the riders. The group of 20 or so are split into two teams who take it in turns to cook and clean over the 8 days. Equipment, off-the-bike kit and sponsor’s accessories like shoes and bags are allocated and riders are given a chance to adjust their bike position. The aim of the camp, as well as the training, is about team bonding. Riders are banned from using phones before 10pm, all meals must be eaten as a group and riders are invited to contribute to the planning of training routes.
By the third day of the training camp I felt I was getting the hang of the whole “Spanish” thing. I had contributed to the conversation over breakfast, enjoyed a siesta the afternoon before and was beginning to develop a taste for vinegar on my salad. After the first effort of the ride we were told on the next climb we were going up to Umbral – “subimos hasta Umbral”. I was eager to see what Umbral was like, and so began the climb with thoughts of a picturesque Spanish village where we could possibly stop for a coffee and maybe get a quick photo. As the climb went on I found I was having to work quite hard to stay in the wheels, the pace was steadily increasing and I started to struggle. I also noticed my peers looking very focused on their Garmin screens, this level of interest in heart rate or power data wasn’t something I had seen before in Spain, particularly not during an effort. After 10 minutes or so I was sure we must be getting close to Umbral. I caught the rider next to me’s eye, and nodded my head up towards the top of the hill and asked “Umbral?”, his response was a puzzled look in my direction and then straight back to his Garmin screen.
After a few more switch back bends I was hurting. The team director noticed me standing on the pedals and moving the bike around and shouted out of the car window “George a tu ritmo, a Umbral” – George ride your rhythm, at Umbral.
That was when it dawned on me: there was no town at the top, no cafes, no views, there was no Umbral. Umbral is in fact, a point of effort we had been asked to reach, known in English as threshold – the point at which the concentration lactic acid in the blood exponentially increases. In other words, the pace you could theoretically hold for about an hour. I managed to hide my embarrassment at the time, but the lads in my team found my little mistake quite amusing that evening.