Campagnolo catch up with the French WorldTour team’s trainer and sport scientist Stephen Barrett to reveal how they’re preparing for a memorable 2023.
Stephen, thanks for your time. Firstly, tell us about your winter gear. What are riders like Benoit Cosnefroy and Ben O’Connor using at the moment?
During the winter period, the AG2r Citroen riders use Campagnolo’s Shamal wheels, which are pretty much bulletproof. I mean, you could drive a truck over them and they wouldn’t break.
They’re great on roads that are dirty and gritty because they deflect everything. As the winter rolls on, they’ll move to the Bora WTO wheels – something like the Ultra 50s – so they can enjoy that feeling of race speed.
What are the riders up to at the moment?
We have a stable of 30 riders who finished the 2022 season at different times. A group of guys finished at the Vuelta a Espana; a fair few at the Worlds in Australia; and some finished after Il Lombardia and Paris-Tours. After that, most of the guys took three to four weeks off, albeit they were still active; they were walking, running, hiking, cross country skiing… But just for leisure. It’s important that they mentally and physically recharged from the race schedule.
So, we’ve had a fair few riders back for a few weeks now.
The ones who’ve been back the longest are the ones who start the season with the Tour Down Under [17-22 January 2023]. It’s the first time we’ve raced it since 2020 because of Covid and, because of the battle for WorldTour points, it’s no longer seen as a pre-season preparation race.
Ben O’Connor, for instance, will be leading the team, as well as racing in his home national championships, so he’s been back on his bike for about a month.
How specific is the training at this time of year?
Up until the pre-Christmas training camp, much of the training across the team is similar. At that camp, and certainly at the early January training camp, is where things become more specific. So if you’re a classics guy, domestique, GC rider… that’s when your training will be more specific to your role in the team.
That said, we have some guys who are currently doing a little bit of cyclocross racing. And the riders preparing for Australia will be enduring a little more intensity.
That means they’ll have a fair amount of volume in the lower-intensity endurance zones and then they’ll have one or two days per week – or one or two days per block – where they do some higher-intensity work. Then we have guys who won’t race until the middle of February. They’ll mainly be doing volume stuff.
Most of them are still building up the hours, though. If they jump back into doing 20-30 hours of training straightaway, injury beckons. So we spend the first three to four weeks doing 10, 12, 15 hours a week. It’s a progressive build before that training-camp specificity.
Are there altitude camps lined up?
The past few years, we’ve always completed an altitude camp before the Tour de France. But for next year we actually have an altitude camp at the end of January/start of February.
The idea is to prepare for that first big block of WorldTour races, which are Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico and Volta a Catalunya. We’ll also have a group of guys go to altitude before the Giro d’Italia.
Where are the riders based?
Our service course and offices are in Chambéry, between Lyon and Geneva, and many of the riders are based around there. Many of our riders are also pocketed around Europe: in Andorra; Nice, near where I live; we have a few guys in Switzerland; some guys in Belgium… Thankfully, the weather’s been pretty good so they’ve been able to train well.
What training tools do you use?
We use TrainingPeaks with our power meter. But we collect lots of data. As well as power, we look at heart rate, heart rate variability and subjective data, too. It helps us monitor the riders wherever they are in the world.
That’s especially important at this time of year as we have new riders and riders who haven’t raced for a while, and they’re all super-motivated. That means there’s a tendency to push too hard.
Myself, the coaches and directeur sportifs keep an eye on this data to ensure they arrive at the first race of 2023 in good condition to do their job.
Tell us a little more about heart rate variability (HRV).
Many of the riders use HRV all the time via an Oura Ring or Whoop, and a few guys use an app called HRV4Training. It’s by a sport scientist called Marco Altini.
You take your HRV when you wake up to see how well rested you are. It’s very good, though like all of these devices they’re more useful as time goes on as you can spot trends of whether someone’s training optimally or verging on being overtrained.
Do the riders train indoors much during the winter?
Covid made indoor training a big part of the riders’ preparation and it remains an important part of our winter programme, especially during periods of bad weather. Using the indoor trainer’s more structured than it was five years ago when a rider might have just ridden for four hours without any real goal.
Now, it’s more specific regards intensity, and it’s also a good place to practise pedalling technique. All of these indoor platforms make things a little more enjoyable, too. But where it’s really useful is for riders to practise on their time-trial bikes.
They might only do 30 or 45 minutes but it helps them hone their position.
Finally, anything else you’d like to add about the AG2R CITROËN TEAM's winter training?
We also do plenty of gym work. For instance, we all have one leg slightly longer than the other, so gym work’s great to improve leg imbalances. You can try and rebalance things in the off-season, which then makes you a little bit more injury resistant when the season starts.
Some of the guys will also do a bit more specific weight-focused exercises, while the climbers are more focused on stability and on core strength.
As for our new pros, we give them an introductory programme where we do a bit of a screening and see what areas we can improve. Someone like Oliver Naesen, however, is more experienced in the gym, so he knows what to do.