Training Camp: CTS Santa Ynez, CA
March 3-8, 2014
My first trip to the Santa Ynez valley was in the early 2000's in support of the Saturn Professional Cycling team. Saturn was one of PowerTap's first large sponsorship deals, and they were gathering the team for product training, bike fits, team building and of course—early season miles. Every pro team holds these kinds of camps, and the formula works just as well for amateur and recreational riders as it does for the pros.
The key to an enjoyable experience lies in organization and planning, which may not be at the top of your list if you just pack your gear into the car and drive towards the closest warm spot on the map. To make a training camp really work, you want your focus to be on the training and daily recovery—not organizing routes, filling water bottles and cleaning bikes. Having a professional organize the week also ensures you get the right mix of training intensity and specificity. Nobody understands this better than Carmichael Training Systems, which is why we decided to put our boots on the ground as CTS' preferred power meter provider at their latest camp in Santa Ynez, CA.
First off, CTS is different because they've done so many training camps in cycling nirvana that they've set up shop in all the best locations—Colorado, California, North Carolina and Arizona. Not sure about you, but I can't think of a dream destination not covered by one of their training centers. For this particular camp, arrival day was Monday. When we arrived one important CTS difference was immediately apparent—there were 6 coaches to greet 16 athletes. At pro camps, it is typical to have almost 30 riders that split into 3 groups, each with a director responsible for planning the training and generally taking care of the riders. Not CTS. They split the group up as well, but instead of just one coach per group they had 2—and that's not counting Chris Carmichael himself who was on hand for the entire camp. This all makes a huge difference in making the week an effective training block.
As the preferred power meter of CTS, PowerTap supplies every rider with a PowerTap G3 wheelset so they get objective feedback throughout the entire week. This might seem like overkill if you're not a pro or just looking for “base” miles, but CTS camps don't shy away from the big challenges. And after completing a field test on the first day, your coach will help you establish training zones that are critical for helping you get over Mt. Figueroa—or whatever obstacles you encounter during the week. The CTS field test consists of two roughly 8-minute repeats. In Santa Ynez they use a mild incline about 1.6 miles long, not far from the training center: http://www.strava.com/segments/682038?filter=overall
Each morning as you walk from the hotel to the training center you see a beautiful thing—all the bikes racked, cleaned and tuned by the pros at Sram race support. These are the guys who are on the road for what seems like 365 days a year, providing support for races and pro team camps all across the country. They're obviously Sram experts, but these guys can do it all. Each bike at camp is tagged with a small piece of colored tape to indicate which of the mechanics will be tending to your bike all week. Noticing a delay in shifting from the little ring to the big ring? Want to try your brake hoods titled down a notch? Need new cables installed? Just let your mechanic know after the ride, and by 9 a.m. the next morning it's ready for you. This is so pro it's almost hard to get used to, but by the end of the week it really puts your mind at ease knowing your bike is in top working order. The mechanics also put your bike together at the beginning of camp so that's one less thing you need to worry about.
The Santa Ynez camp this year offered 4 days of training around some of the greatest routes in California and finished with the Solvang Century. Since the wind tends to pick up as the day goes on, most rides usually started by 9am. Tuesday's field test ride was about 2 hours and included some skills training which were applicable to beginners and experts alike, especially if you've spent the winter indoors! Extra miles were available for camp alumni and more advanced riders. We had absolutely beautiful weather the entire week, and this day in particular was great.
On Wednesday the group tackled Manny's Ride, named after former professional rider and CTS athlete Manny Lopez who recently lost his battle with cancer. This is a long ride to Jalama Beach with stunning views and classic California landscapes. It also includes the famous Santa Rosa Rd.—16 miles of rolling countryside with NO STOP SIGNS. The road is a little bumpy, but the group rolls it smoothly and at a moderate pace.
Despite having a century planned for the end of the week, the hardest day was Thursday with the ascent up Mt. Figueroa. You can't travel to this area and not take on this formidable climb. Mt. Figueroa really has it all: steep pitches, a bit of gravel, a little descending mid-climb to get your hopes up and break your rhythm and a challenging descent once you've reached the top. Again, I have to say that CTS does an AMAZING job coaching everybody to the top of this. Other camps ride the first 10 minutes or so, and then turn around—but CTS doesn't shy away from a challenge. They'll get you to the top if you want to get there. Friday is an easy day followed by the Solvang Century, which is long standing event in the area and well organized. The best parts of this ride has to be the half chicken served to finishers and the free bike wash afterwards.
The camp also featured lectures from Osmo Nutrition, yours truly on detailed power meter usage, and CTS coaches conducted one-on-one sessions. These one-on-one sessions were great opportunities to take things to the next level and get your season jump started. Coaches download your power meter data daily and provide analysis tips and walk you through all the details relative to your goals for the camp. Power analysis has been around long enough that the general concepts are pretty well understood, but difficult to master. Therefore, having a coach walk you through the process relative to your actual data can help put your data in terms you can understand, and gives you a chance to ask some specific questions.
CTS offers a wide selection of camp options, you can see the full list here. We'd love for you to join us on the next one.
- Jesse Bartholomew, PowerTap Category Manager
Follow Jesse on Twitter @powertappro