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We've returned from the shimmering heat

Well, we’re back from the wonderfully warm and spectacularly mountainous Southern Spain and have survived TORQ’s first international Fitness Week. For those of you who have, up until this point, been put off by our use of the word ‘Fitness Week’ inasmuch as ‘crikey, that all sounds a bit serious’ - rest assured that TORQ’s Fitness weeks are definitely a ‘holiday’ and all ability levels will be catered for. Although we all arrived back in Old Blighty physically shattered, we’d all had a seriously groovy time.

The week kicked off with a days fitness testing. I wasn’t sure how many takers there’d be, so when everyone wanted one, I knew I’d have my work cut out. The testing involved a lactate transition thresholds test to see where each rider’s endurance potential lay. This involved analysing blood taken from the rider’s earlobe for lactate (lactic acid).

Once this was established, they had to complete a 30-minute hill climb, whilst power output was being measured and recorded by the infamous Powertap Hub. The results stimulated some interesting discussions in the seminar that evening. Anaerobic Threshold power is a very accurate predictor of performance. The higher the wattage, generally the faster the rider will travel on the flat. On a climb however, bodyweight starts to play a part in the rider’s performance, so I broke everyone’s threshold wattage down into watts/kg bodyweight. The results quite clearly predicted the rider’s performance on the hill climbs later in the week. Does this all sound a bit serious? Well, for a lot of people it’s a rare opportunity for one to see where ones strengths and weaknesses lie – and that seemed to be the general attitude of the group.

The week’s official challenges consisted of two off road climbs of about 1000 meters, and both just followed a path straight up the Mountainside. On the first occasion, directions were clearly explained by Bike 51’s Graham Lee, so the chances of losing someone were slim, so how one of our party, Alex ended up on a completely opposing mountain peak was a mystery to us all, including him? Anyway, good old mobile phone technology brought him back to us and once re-grouped, we began to wind our way back down to the village of Monda for a spot of light lunch.

We then rode on nice and easy to a fab little rocky decent for some technical coaching. Had a video camera been present, I think the owner would’ve made a tidy little sum out of ITV’s ‘You’ve Been Framed’, because Matt Hart, TORQ’s expert in Mountain Bike technical coaching went something like this:

“Ok, if you get your bum right over the back wheel like this, and roll slowly forward like so, you can ride down practically anythiiiiiiiiiing-oooooohhhh-ahhhhhhhbol!%ks…”

Fortunately, my students went on to do as they should, not as I demonstrated. Suffice to say, I got plenty of constructive feedback on my dismounting technique during the evening meal.

The second 1000m climb was steeper than earlier in the week, but we conquered it that bit quicker. Times ranged from 50 minutes to 1½ hours. The seminar on the previous day focussed on pedalling dynamics - in other words, how to apply an even torque to the cranks to prevent power spikes and rear wheel slippage on loose or muddy surfaces. Riders sat on the turbo and we all listened intently to note how smoothly they were getting the power down (you can tell if pedalling dynamics are poor by the clear pulsating ‘wow’ coming from knobblies on a turbo).

A smooth peddler should emit a constant hum. This is easy at low resistances, but not so simple when the braking was increased on the turbo flywheel. As the second 1000m climb had a covering of loose rock all the way up it, again it was clear as I followed each rider, who was pedalling most efficiently. It became quite apparent that speed up a loose climb was not just about power output, but how the power output was put down onto the trail itself. An inefficient technique simply lead to power being lost and wasted.

The decent was tough and very technical, which lead to a few tumbles from yours truly, some of them rather spectacular if I may say so myself. The standard of the riders was pretty high on this trip, so Graham had decided to take us down the ‘North Face’ - there were plenty of other routes off the mountain. On future Fitness Weeks we will certainly split into an advanced and less advanced group and take different routes down. Despite the severity of the decent, the others escaped any newsworthy drama, but as soon as it started to look less daunting, Alex Amey (of getting lost fame) decided to open the throttle and tear past us all. He paid the price for his searing pace and suffices to say, he took a few bruises home with him for his troubles.

The rides in between the serious hill climbing days were sociable and relaxed, combining lower intensity volume- based riding with some technical stuff. On one occasion we rode laps of the Coin Woods national Mountain Bike circuit, which was actually the flattest ride we did during the week, although it certainly wasn’t shy of a few climbs – more like Brtish riding though. This allowed everyone to ride at his or her own pace with no stopping for other’s punctures (eh Nick?)

These are just a few highlights of what was a fabulously entertaining week. I ran ‘serious’ interactive discussions every evening and we covered all sorts of interesting topics – all aimed at making those attending in to better Mountain Bikers.

Many thanks go out to Gerald, the American contingent, who crossed the Atlantic to be with us. Hopefully we’ll see you again sir, but don’t forget to book your bike into the hold with the airline company before you travel outbound in the future? This warning goes out to anyone wishing to come on a TORQ Fitness Week. Easyjet charge £10 each way if you book up on the website before you travel. If you don’t, you could get stung for rather a large amount of dosh eh Gerald?

Here’s what a few of the attendees had to say about the week:

“I have just returned from a week in Southern Spain riding with Torq Fitness and Bikes 51 on latest of their inspirational fitness weeks. This holiday comes highly recommended for those desiring maximum results from a week of Matt Hart's personal attention. Combining a wealth of expert knowledge of sports science, 'Sun', great atmosphere and guided to the best trails by Bikes 51 you will benefit from the opportunity to undergo fitness testing, ride long 800m+ climbs through spectacular countryside, challenge yourself on long technical descents, ride at race pace on the track day, get in some volume riding and attend five evening seminars covering essential topics for any serious rider. What more could you want just prior to the start of the 2005 NPS? See you next year guy's and girls!” Andrew Bonner

“We were greeted by fantastic weather and epic looking terrain upon arrival, all straight up and straight down. It was clear that there wouldn't be any easy days and I don't think we found a flat bit of terrain all week. A particularly memorable day took us up a climb, which lasted 1h10mins [Ed. Perhaps 1h10mins for you mate, what about the rest of us?] with a fantastic view and killer descent. The week was great, but above all it was nice to ride in a bit of sun for a change!” Will Simmons

“I had a great time and this was due to the people who came along which gave the holiday a sense of purpose and a positive outlook as well as Matt's gems and training regimen. The location offered a breadth of off-road riding challenges that would be hard to beat anywhere else and the accommodation and food were the mutts nuts. I thought there was plenty of fresh fruit in the hotel too, at least enough to prevent an outbreak of scurvy, plus TORQ bars and TORQ energy on tap throughout the week!” Simon Burgess

"Think Andalusian mountains, think the comedy topography from the opening sequence on "Rainbow", you know the one, great hump back hills with buildings hanging off the top. Well that's where it is. Coming to this part of the world on two wheels, two things are for certain, one, you're going to be grinding the granny (bit specialist I suppose, but whatever pulls your plonker and sells magazines) and secondly you're going to be letting it all hang out the descents, flaying down donkey highways that you'd think twice about walking in the U.K.

The locals are dead friendly, as soon as you get away from the Costa's, if not a little bemused to come across English holiday makers who are not pissed up, face down, naked below the waist, sunburnt and asleep on the beach. By definition any group engaging in a training camp are going to have common interests, and in our case these included general piss taking, bike breaking, and slipping chips and other nutritional nightmares under Mr Hart's radar [Ed. I actually had the last laugh here – I could quite clearly tell who’d eaten the ‘right’ things by the pace of their riding next day. They don’t call me ‘Museli Boy’ for nothing you know]. In conclusion things I liked: the company, sleeping/riding/eating/repeat ad nauseam with no interruptions, the sun, and things I didn't like: falling off, hankering for a bit of flat road/trail and the squits." Alex Amey

If you think you’d like to come along to one of the TORQ fitness weeks, the next trip is to the Pyrenees from 25th May to 1st June 2005. All abilities are encouraged to attend. Click here for further information and booking.

If this date’s not good for you, we have two further trips this year in September (Pyrenees) and October (Spain again). Click here for details of all the holidays.

Matt Hart and contributors