Traditionally, Rally Cycling has headed en masse to Southern California in January for a training camp and team presentation to kick off the year. Men and women would usually have their camps at the same time, crossing over at the launch before the women fly off to Australia in time for the Tour Down Under. 2021, however, was always going to be an exceptional year.
“Everything is so up in the air with covid,” says Andrew Bajadali, women’s team director. “You’ve just got to be as flexible as possible because things get canceled with a week’s notice and then you’re scrambling to put something together. The season is beginning to take shape, but it’s challenging and a little frustrating not knowing exactly what you’re doing a couple of months out.”
Rally Cycling’s men and women were all due to be in Oxnard at the end of January, keeping separate this year, but both camps were canceled. The men had theirs in Spain in mid-February and now the women head for Moab, Utah, from March 12th-23rd.
“We could see the covid trends ticking up around the holidays and it just looked like the perfect storm,” Bajadali explains. “Canceling when we did was actually a really good call because California became a hotspot fast, right around the time we had camp planned.”
There was talk of just getting over to Europe and hitting the ground with some early season races, but the decision was made to take things steady, control the controllable.
“We thought about taking the team over for some Belgian races, but the composition of the team is different and we have a lot of new riders.”
There was also a lot of conflicting information about whether the team would be able to get to Europe at all, says Bajadali.
“We had a couple of men’s riders denied at that time. It just looked too iffy and I wanted to work on certainties.”
So Bajadali started planning a more traditional training camp stateside, picking Moab to replace Oxnard. Moab is thought of primarily as a mountain bike destination, and of course that’s true, but it’s got amazing road riding as well. There’s a 3,000ft climb right by where the team is going to be staying and there are some great loops that are well suited to training drills. It’s the perfect time of year to be in the area too. The mornings are cold, but the weather then opens up into mild spring days.
“In Moab, away from high infection rates, we can just focus on team bonding, training, and on getting this season kicked off right with a traditional training camp.”
Clara Koppenburg is the only new signing who is unable to make the trip, but she joined the men for their training camp in Spain and more than made an impression on the riders and staff there. Sara Poidevin will also not travel to Moab due to the strict quarantine rules in her native Canada. The plan is for them both to link up with the team for the first races in Europe.
Plans and races falling victim to covid restrictions are unfortunately nothing new. In training and racing, Rally Cycling’s riders and staff have had to make changes and take extra precautions, all in the interest of their own and public health. Training camp is no different.
“Our standard protocol is to test everyone coming into our bubble,” Bajadali explains. “So all staff members, all riders, everyone gets a PCR test 72 hours before camp. Then during camp, we’re just going to isolate ourselves.”
Staying just south of town in Moab makes it easier to keep the integrity of the team bubble.
“Clearly riding through town isn’t completely avoidable, but we’ll be wearing masks, sanitizing our hands, cooking in-house and just doing everything that’s necessary. The main thing is just being really diligent about keeping the bubble as tight as possible.”
As well as keeping everyone safe and healthy at camp, all these precautions will be good practice for when the team hits the ground in Europe, especially as races require negative tests three and six days prior. It might be a pain to start with but mastering all the details will pay off in the long run.
As for camp itself, it’s all about volume and intensity. A lot of the riders haven’t ridden together before so there’ll be a focus on riding as a team, basic through and off exercises, lead-out training, and some specific motor pacing drills and speed work to prepare for racing.
With the first races planned towards the end of April, Rally Cycling’s European season is starting to take shape. But Bajadali has a pragmatic, even stoic, approach to the season as a whole.
“It’s important for us and our sponsor, Rally Health, that we do well in North America, and a lot of those events are positioned later in the year. We’re going to try and get results in the spring of course, but we need to partition our efforts throughout the year because we’re going to be racing until November.”
After the big goal of US Nationals in June, the Tour of the Gila is due to take place in late September, then in early October there’s the Redlands Classic. The team is also hoping to get into the Giro Rosa and La Course by le Tour de France in the summer.
“I think as people get vaccinated and infection rates get lower, we’ll be able to work in more certainties and narrow down the objectives. But right now, the second European trip and end of year domestic races are priorities for the team.”
The first races for Rally Cycling’s women are the Ardennes Classics, Flèche-Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège on April 21st and 25th.