I have just returned from spending a week living with the Zappi’s Pro Cycling team at their pre season training base in Tavira, near Faro in Portugal.
They have been there since January and will be based there until mid April when they will move to Italy for a few weeks before returning to the UK in June for the National Road Race and Premier Calendar series. I will give some additional information about races at the end of this piece.
I had little idea what to expect however I left with a feeling that something special is happening there.
When Flavio Zappi was starting out on his pro career he joined a team called Lema Mobili run by Domenico Garbelli in 1978. It was very disciplined and the whole team lived together with the boss. Out of 12 riders in the team 10 went on to sign professional contracts within 3 years. Flavio was one of these and he went on to wear the green jersey in the Giro d’Italia. This is the model Flavio is now using for his team of riders who are aged between 18 to 25.
Whilst a guest I was expected to follow, (where physically possible!) the daily routine of the team. This starts at 7am with reveille, signaled by the tune whistled by Elle Driver in the movie “Kill Bill” (originally the theme to “Twisted Nerve” written by Bernard Herrmann 1968) which is played on Flavio’s iphone as he walks around the accommodation.
07:15 sees the start of 30 minutes of Core Strength training lead by Jack Adams or maybe some Ashtanga Yoga lead by Jacob Loftus. Whilst this is going on Flavio and his wife Jayne will be preparing breakfast. (please see photo link further down for images)
There was unusually bad weather with rain and high winds during my week so training rides were timed to fit with any improved weather windows however usually after breakfast has been cleared away and washed up the plan for the day is discussed and the team prepare for the training ride. If all are fit this will normally be a 3 to 5 hour session. If anyone is recovering from an injury or illness then the ride will split in two with the latter maybe doing an easy 2- 3 hours.
It is beautiful riding in this part of Portugal. You can head north inland on quiet roads and almost immediately can be on a nice long undulating, twisting climb for 20 kms rising about 650 metres to a beautiful high plain. There is no shortage of good routes and often they accompany the local Pro Continental Team, Tavira-Carmin on their training rides. Flavio does the training rides with them, which he finds invaluable in terms of analyzing their progress.
On return to base the riders will cool their legs by standing in the unheated swimming pool for 20 minutes before showering and having food. Then the bikes are completely checked over and cleaned ready for the next day. Laundry is also dealt with immediately.
Depending on how hard the ride has been there may be a walk on the beach or a yoga session in the afternoon. The last meal of the day will be eaten at 7pm and most are in bed before 10 pm.
The team consists of 8 riders who share 3 bedrooms. Cooking is done by Flavio and the chores of daily communal living are split up amongst the guys by rota. These consist of washing up, outside areas, inside areas and being Flavio’s assistant in the kitchen for food preparation and making food packs of brioche and figs for each of the riders to take on the training ride.
Food is an integral part of daily life and the training. Breakfast consists of homemade muesli, boiled eggs (yoke removed), bread, Jam, yogurt, fruit, juice and tea and coffee. Each member of the team is expected to eat exactly the same and nothing is allowed to be left. This seems fine for breakfast but more of a challenge for a couple of the team for other meals which consist mainly of local fresh fish, and occasionally chicken livers or roast chicken. One of the guys had never eaten fish before leaving for Portugal so this has been a big change of diet for him and the chicken livers well…. anyway nothing is allowed to be left on the plate! The fact is that they are usually starving anyway. Accompanying the main item there is always salad and often sweet potatoes, broccoli (raw), new potatoes and lots of beetroot. I have to say I found the food delicious although the treat Flavio announced that everyone deserved one night of sweet potato and cream lightly dusted with chocolate powder was more unusual.
The routine and discipline is the closest I have come to experiencing life when doing some basic training in the army in the early 80’s. It has some of the same sense of routine, purpose, “get on with it” approach whilst getting to know your team mates and but also the feeling that someone is really looking after everybody and everything – there is someone in charge and you are living together, as opposed to turning up at a club to do some training before going home to your family. It felt fundamental to the building of the team’s character. Flavio jokes that he has got 8 “children” to take care of out there but to a degree it is true. One of the guys was ill earlier in the year and it is Flavio who takes him off to get his blood tested and then goes back for the results, he is the one to massage a calf recovering from tendonitis. He is the one who makes sure noone is being “so lazy”, who gives a serious dressing down to all if standards are slipping. It felt good to see and be part of. I suspect there are not many young riders at this level who will have had the opportunity to live with their team mates and DS for pre season warm weather training and then the forthcoming race season. I suspect that this is most important to maintaining focus and discipline whilst at the same time being enjoyable. One thing I am sure of is that the guys are experiencing something totally new to them.
Please see photographs athttp://www.flickr.com/photos/williamcarey/sets/72157632974703883/
At the time of writing (14 March 2013) the racing is about to get more serious. Here is a flavour of it.
17th March Portuguese National called Classica Labmed [ 18 March Nikita came 3rd overall and Dan crashed when going well and broke collarbone]
20th March 5 day stage race is UCI 2.2 international Volta Ao Alentejo
The team are waiting for confirmation for the Giro del Friuli another UCI 2.2 international in Italy in early May but single day internationals (UCI 1.2) Circuito del Porto and Coppa Della Place are confirmed start of May and start of June. In preparation for the teams return to the UK for the National RR and Premier Calendar Series they have also confirmed entry into the French UCI 2.2 International stage race Tour de la Pays de Savoy.
Then it will be the UK scene with a rest the end of July before building into the second half of the season, races yet to be confirmed.
There are many more national level races in Spain, Italy, Swizterland and Belgium planned/confirmed which are good training races and stepping stones for development between the harder internationals. All the team riders have varied levels and therefore different individual goals but we always race to compete as a Team and as such riders will work to do a job when not capable of individual success.
Flavio Zappi – DS