This week I was fortunate enough to again attend the An Post Sean Kelly Chain Reaction team training camp in Calpe on the coast of Spain. It’s always nice to start the year with a taste of some sunshine cycling and to shorten the Irish winter.
There are some new faces on the team in Calpe this year with the likes of the Marcus Christie, Conor Dunne and Bobbie Traksel joining the team stalwarts such as Sean Downey and Jack Wilson along with the rest of the boys in green.
The bikes have changed too with Chain Reaction Cycles now supplying a much sleeker and stiffer looking Vitus which was getting some very good feedback from the riders and mechanics. The Shimano Ultegra 11 group set on the training bikes is a significant improvement of the previous 10 speed version while the race bikes all have the range topping Shimano Dura ace mechanical group sets which is just as smooth and even more precise whilst also being lighter.
The vision wheels come from the same stable as the FSA bars, stems, seat posts, chain sets and brake calipers and are all stiff, light and fast. Just what the pros need.
Prologo saddles and bar tape make for comfortable contact points whilst the Speedplay pedals were acknowledged by Des from Cadence Performance , who was conducting a three hour bike fit on each rider as being the best pedals on the market.
It was very interesting to watch Des carry out the full precision bike fit. Marcus Christie was the first rider up and every step of the bike fit was intently scrutinised by Kurt, Niko and Sean himself. The owner of Cadence Performance was there overseeing the operation too. Now based in London where he owns and runs the very successful one stop bike shop Frank Beechinor was once a familiar name on the Munster cycling scene competing regularly against the likes of Anthony O’Gorman, Vinnie Kelly and Colm Braham amongst many others.
Just watching and taking notes of the bike fit I learned many ways that we can improve the bike fitting that we carry out in our own shop and was very impressed.
Another highlight of the early season training camps is the arrival of the new team clothing kit.
Portuguese clothing company Onda are sponsoring the team this year and there was a sense of Christmas morning as bags were opened and the new kit had to be tried on immediately. At least this took place in normal hours unlike an occasion when a former Irish International cyclist was awoken at 3am a few years back by a teammate who was so excited about their new team kit that they had to get up in the middle of the night to try it on and admire themselves.
The white on the jersey and shorts is a new material that will remain pure white with no color run or fade to ‘grey white’ no matter how often it is washed. The Gillets also brought on some impressive comments. The riders now have 3 different styles to choose from. The thermal Gillet has 3 rear pockets as does a lighter version which is made from the same weight material as the short-sleeve jerseys. But it was the lighter version with a wind proof front, and mesh rear that brought the most attention from the team. Both sides of the rear mesh panel have access slots which allow jersey pockets to be accessed without the need to pull up the Gillet.
The team also have a choice of shorts with a winter ‘roubaix’ material providing a layer of warmth for the early season races and the specially developed aero Lycra shorts for use in summer and warmer locations.
It was interesting to watch Kelly speak to each rider about the gear as they returned from their first spin wearing it. Speaking to Mark McNally he emphasised the importance of having the shorts tight enough in order to stretch the chamois. The problem being that if the chamois were not stretched it could bunch up and cause saddle sores.
The Kinetica energy and recovery drinks and bars disappeared quickly each day with the riders looking after their nutrition on and off the bike. Comfort seemed to be the main word used in relation to their Specialized helmets and shoes.
Whilst An Post and Chain Reaction Cycles are the two main sponsors other Irish companies are also supporting the team. Jones Engineering has been involved with the team for a number of years now as has another Irish International success story Mercury Engineering. Glenstal Foods based in Murroe Co. Limerick are a leading Diary products company with an avid cycling workforce whilst Arbelos is a Clonmel based IT company which also has a strong cycling connection.
While the team were out training we too were getting our spins in. One day as we headed out from Calpe towards Altea we picked up a local Spanish amateur rider who slotted in alongside me near the rear of our group. As we chatted in my pidgin Spanish and his slightly better English he asked me if any of our group raced. I said that I didn’t do much but pointed to Adrian Hedderman in front of me and said ‘He raced and won the Des Hanlon, a big Classic race in Ireland’. All I got back was a blank stare so I persisted and pointed in front of Adrian to Philip Cassidy and said ‘He won the Ras twice, Ireland’s biggest stage race’ Still nothing more than a stare so I pointed to the rider in front of Philip and said ‘That guy won the Vuelta Espana’ to which I finally got a reaction. He asked ‘Kelly ?’ to which I replied ‘si’ and then the excitement got the better of him as he took of into a machine gun staccato of excited Spanish with a few English words in between the only three of which I caught being ‘ did not recognise’
I am on the way home now but Kelly and the team are still in Calpe planning the year ahead with their new riders, bikes and kit and it looks like this could well be the teams best year yet !