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Topography for Champions

3rd East Tirolean Training Camp

Topography for Champions

Training excursion and tactical optimisation by Bora-hansgrohe

Text: Klaus Erler, Picture: Stefan Voitl

The Bora-hansgrohe German World Tour cycling team recently visited East Tyrol for the third time with its training camp. Their agenda included not only altitude training, but also the fine-tuning of competition tactics for upcoming races.

The bikes have been unloaded from the two Bora hansgrohe service cars, the athletes perch casually on their saddles. With the spring sun shining on their backs, they are ready to hear their coaches read out the detailed training order of the day. “Today the break and recovery time between the training intervals should be not less than eight minutes … At the beginning of the first climb we will stop and I’ll give you the values, but you know when we come up to 1,500 meters it’s about looking at your heartrate at constant effort.” 

The cyclists, instructed in perfectly acceptable English by coach Dan Lorang from Luxembourg, know after a few minutes what is required of them. Today’s training will last a total of five hours and is intended to improve strength/stamina levels and reduce lactate production. During every twelve minutes of training, one minute is to be spent above the aerobic-anaerobic threshold at three-minute intervals.

The training route will lead first to Staller Sattel, before being followed by several ascents of the mountain road from Kals to the foot of the Grossglockner. Further destinations include Iselsberg and the valley bed of Lienzer Talboden. A total distance of between 150 and 160 kilometres will be covered. All-rounder Jay McCarthy, classic racer Aleksejs Saramotins, sprinter Matteo Pelucchi, climber Emanuel Buchman and all-rounder Peter Kennaugh are in attendance. Due to injury, Austrian Gregor Mühlberger has stayed back at the hotel and is completing his training on a roller.

Standing at the parking lot in front of the Dolomites stadium in Lienz, Coach Dan Lorang explains the training programme to the riders.

Exclusive collaboration with East Tirol

East Tirol tourism authorities set up an exclusive training agreement with Bora-hansgrohe in 2017, which includes two high altitude training camps per year for an extensive period. The season-end team camp also takes place in Lienz. "The objective of training in East Tirol is to increase the aerobic stamina and strength endurance of the athletes," explains Dan Lorang in the vehicle with which he accompanies the riders on their journey to Staller Sattel: "Most of the riders here are preparing for races like the Tour de Suisse or Tour de France and therefore need to work on their strength endurance and climbing ability. This functions perfectly, thanks to the East Tirolean topography and quiet roads up to 2,300 metres above sea level".

Rider Peter Kennaugh at the team meeting 

Aleks Saramotins (middle) with his team colleagues Emanuel Buchmann (front) and Matteo Pelucchi

Altitude advantage

Another point that speaks in favour of East Tirol as a training destination for cycling pros, is the altitude level at which the entire team stay at Sporthotel Hochlienz at Zettersfeld: "At 1,800 metres above sea level, the production of red blood cells is stimulated, which subsequently results in optimised transport of oxygen to the blood. If muscles are supplied with more oxygen, they are more powerful - and our riders in East Tirol can use these effects to their benefit at forthcoming races". Provision of the hotel infrastructure, which would otherwise have been closed for the interim season and opens exclusively for the Bora-hansgrohe team, is part of the collaborative agreement between East Tirol and the cycling team.    

The cycling pros, sports directors, trainers, athletic trainers, physiotherapists, mechanics and nutritionists find not only peace and quiet at the hotel, but also sporting assistance in a culinary form. Food is cooked in exact accordance with instructions provided by the trainer and nutritionist. The collaborative agreement with East Tirol also works perfectly in other areas. If, for example, a rider requires a resting ECG, East Tirol Tourist Board makes sure it is organised.

Specialised racing

On the way to Staller Sattel it starts to rain. Coach Lorang must act quickly. He hands out rain jackets, regroups the scattered squad and redirects the riders to a sunnier region of East Tirol. They now head along the toll road from Kals to the foot of the Grossglockner, where optimal conditions once again prevail.  

On his way to the Grossglockner, Lorang finds time to explain another important aspect of training in East Tirol: the consolidation and optimisation of tactics for future competitions: "Cycling is a team sport. The captain, or lead rider’s victory is due to the effective use of team tactics employed throughout the race. Team members organise water bottles, keep him out of the wind and protect him from enemy attacks during battles for key positions."

Who that captain will be depends on who has the best proven level of performance for the respective race specification profile.  For the flat spring classics or one-day races such as Paris-Roubaix, the captain needs to be able to maintain a high tempo at long distances of up to 300 kilometres, combined with the ability to sprint. The captain's body weight is not a key factor here. When a classic combines ascents and descents - as in Liège-Bastogne-Liège - a lighter captain is needed, one with explosive power. Climbing specialists are not necessarily needed here. Team members Peter Sagan, Patrick Konrad or Jay McCarthy are generally given the captain’s role in classic races. 

In mountain races such as the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España, a captain must have an exceptional aerobic capacity, i.e. be light and strong at the same time. Great mental strength is also important for the captain to survive three weeks of racing. Finally, he needs the ability to recover faster than your average rider. Rafal Majka, Emanuel Buchman or Davide Formolo are usually given the captain’s role in this case. In sprint race stages like Milan-San Remo, it's all about delivering short bursts of high performance, for which Sam Bennett, Pascal Ackermann, Peter Sagan or Matteo Pelluchi from the Bora Hansgrohe team are potential candidates.

Achieving victory together

So-called “domestique” riders are an essential factor for the success of a captain - they do the donkeywork that enables their leader to achieve the team’s goal. The water carrier supplies the captain with water and supplies from the team car during the ride. The pacemaker breaks away from the field of riders and dictates the speed when it is time to catch-up. There is a positioner, who helps the captain maintain a competitive position in the peloton ahead of key sections, such as a mountain climb. The lead-out-train shelters the sprinter from the wind until just before the finish line, when he emerges from the slipstream and is able to attack the final sprint with the energy saved.

Dan Lorang, Trainier Bora-hansgrohe

“Every tactic is determined before the race, based on the following considerations: What could happen where? And: And what would be the best way to deal with it?"

Dan Lorang: "It is important to be unpredictable as a team. For example, if the opposing team falls for a decoy that breaks up the field and creates a beneficial position for the captain, it uses energy up that will no longer be available when needed later. “Every tactic is determined before the race, based on the following considerations: What could happen where? And: And what would be the best way to deal with it?" We are fine-tuning these tactics here in East Tirol, based on the specific strengths individual riders demonstrate here.”

Today’s training, which will continue for many more hours, has demonstrated one thing above all: That future tactics can certainly be developed around climber Emanuel Buchman. The German is in top form and unrivalled in his speed on his way to the Glockner.

The world-class team received its first license as a UCI WorldTeam for the 2017 and 2018 seasons. The reigning world champion Peter Sagan leads a total pack of 27 riders. Bora-hansgrohe has already enjoyed success in 2018, with a stage victory by Sam Bennett at the Giro d'Italia and a win at the Rund um Köln cycling race in Cologne. Austrian Patrick Konrad was Austria’s strongest contender in the last 15 years at the Giro.  

A chat with Gregor Mühlberger 

“Beautiful, but brutal!”

Gregor Mühlberger from Lower Austria, member of Bora-hansgrohe since 2016, talks about the team’s role in cycling sport and the routes of the UCI World Cycling Championships Innsbruck-Tirol 2018 in autumn.

Is cycling a team sport or a stage for lone warriors? Gregor Mühlberger: Definitely a team sport. Without the support of a good team, the captain could never win a race.

Why do you as a mountain specialist need a team? So I can conserve energy until the crucial phase of the race, the climb. Thanks to the support of my domestique riders, I don't have to make my way to the team car for refreshments; thanks to their protection, I can begin my ascent from an advantageous starting point, even pole position in the best case scenario, equipped with the greatest possible physical reserves. Tired and at the back of the pack, I would not stand a chance.

Gregor Mühlberger at the interview in the Sporthotel Hochlienz.

Injury has forced the rider to take a break and train indoors.

You've been on the Bora Hansgrohe team since 2016 and are at the top of your game. How to you deal with the pressure? I have very good support from my sporting leaders, who think that I have good future prospects and act accordingly. I am slowly being led to challenging situations and positions, and don't feel the pressure that Peter Sagan, for example, is under. All hell won’t break loose if I don’t achieve a podium position. 

How do you rate the route of this year's World Cycling Championship in Tirol? It is a beautiful route, but brutal at the same time. Riding into the 'Höll' in Innsbruck after 240 to 250 kilometres (the steepest section of the 2018 UCI Road Cycling World Championship in Innsbruck-Tirol and the key section of the road race, please note Mr. Elite) will be tough. Moreover, the course does not flatten out, it becomes steeper and steeper, harder and harder. The riders have almost no time to regenerate, not even for a few seconds. Those who have no strength reserves here after six and a half hours of riding are lost.  

Many thanks for the interview.

Gregor Mühlberger (24) from Lower Austria has been riding for Bora-hansgrohe since 2016. He won Rund um Köln in 2017, followed two weeks later by the Austrian Road Racing National Champion title.

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