Alps pro-camp with Nick Saunders

 Left to Right, Clem, Nick Saunders, Richard Tanguy, Arran Gouveia, Ollie Turner, Nick Thornado, and Al Meadows

Left to Right, Clem, Nick Saunders, Richard Tanguy, Arran Gouveia, Ollie Turner, Nick Thornado, and Al Meadows

Nick Saunders is a Elite Ironman who works alongside Ben Bright, GB Olympic Coach at Triathlon Performance Solutions. Nick and I run a pro-camp out of Briancon in the Southern Alps. I’ve just come back from our third successful camp. 

The format is training orientated but relaxed and we tweak the itinerary daily using our local knowledge in the context of the forecast, but typically we’ll take the guys out for two disciplines a day. Most days at camp start with a short drive from our amazing chalet (thanks again, Ben) to an open water swim in an incredible natural lake at Roche De Rame (some 80 metres deep), cycle rides take in some of the best routes in the Haute Alpes, and running is either off the bike, or near the river back at base. 

 Lac Poncon, viewed from a lay-by this year, retracing last year's Etape route. 

Lac Poncon, viewed from a lay-by this year, retracing last year's Etape route. 

Nick is a Zimbabwean pro-Ironman, and manager of Jersey Triathlon's Commonwealth Games team, fresh from his own first place (age group) finish in last month’s 70.3 Ironman Barcelona. He takes care of the training programme, and I look after the local logistics and support.

The group this year were mostly from Jersey in the Channel Islands, with the exception of Al Meadows, who’s an RAF officer based on the UK mainland. Elite athlete Ollie Turner (just 19) was on the camp for the second time, returning from the Commonwealth Games where he raced both Brownlee brothers. Richard is an ex team UK Youth pro road rider and owner of Big Maggy’s Bike Shop in Jersey, and Arran and Nick are strong amateurs and Island Games level competitors. Clem and Hugh dropped in for a few rides too. 

 Arran Gouveia and Ollie Turner taking it easy in the Vallee Claree. Photo Ben Hodson

Arran Gouveia and Ollie Turner taking it easy in the Vallee Claree. Photo Ben Hodson

My own fitness has taken a dive this winter. I don’t normally get out on the bike much out of season anyway thanks to all the snow, but living at altitude and four to five days a week skiing keeps the legs strong. Being back at sea level again in an alley way in Brighton for most of this year has buggered that somewhat, so keeping up with the group this year was harder than it ought to have been. 

I’ve obviously got one of our bikes out here, so that makes things easier than it might otherwise be. The IZRR frame is still bad-ass (even if the rider isn’t). 

 Nick Thornado and Richard Tanguy getting their Edmund Hilary on at the summit of Col Du Galibier

Nick Thornado and Richard Tanguy getting their Edmund Hilary on at the summit of Col Du Galibier

Master class of the week for me was served up from behind the wheel of our support car then, whilst following Richard up Galibier from Lauteret side. Second gear is a luxury on this climb, particularly if I’m on a riders wheel, but I found my self in third on the odd occasion and needing to remind myself that we were ascending, such was Richard’s pace. Up and up he went into some typical for this time of year fog cover, and watching Richard tap out the fearsome climb like it was a quick lap of Box Hill was an education. Tailing the group on a sunnier day, on a quiet descent whilst nudging 95kmph was a bit of fun too. Al’s speed wobble nearly irreversibly soiled his new shorts. 

 The boys after a little climb at the end of a largely flat Vallee Claree effort. Photo  Ben Hodson .

The boys after a little climb at the end of a largely flat Vallee Claree effort. Photo Ben Hodson.

I got on the bike for Alpe D’Huez, Lauteret and Col D’Echelle - enough to remind myself that I can ride a bike, but a long way from form. A sharp reminder that strength takes time to build and less time to let go. Even short, regular efforts can help you maintain good base fitness and should be easy to fit in, but I’ve had less and less of that whilst we’ve been getting the shop up and running.

Nonetheless, I had a good few opportunities to test our now spec’ fit 2018 Boras again - they really are amazing wheels and transform an already awesome bike, and the new braking surface is incredibly good. I gave the bike a good thrash on the hills and roads where it was developed and had a chance to remind myself what this business is all about. 

Al - just returning from a pretty nasty pelvis injury - motored through 36,000 feet of climbing like a Diesel truck despite being in recovery mode and Ollie rode so strongly, massively developed from his impressive showing on the camp last year. Arran was impressive too. He’s a new boy and a top bloke and he’s got that dead stare when he’s working his arse off, so I won’t be surprised to see him back next year with some impressive results under his belt.

 View toward Italy from the car park at top of Col Du Galibier

View toward Italy from the car park at top of Col Du Galibier

Weather was a bit hit and miss, but this just adds to the drama. Riding was incredible as ever. It was the atmosphere and mates I’ve made this time round that will stick with me though, although if the humour gets any lower brow, we’re going to have to change the name from Pro-camp to Base camp. 

Our pro-camp this year ticked off Col D’Izoard, Vars, Lauteret, Galibier, Alpe D’Huez, Col D’Echelle and the climbs in and around the Serre Chevalier Vallee. 

If you want do something similar with us, buy a bike (!) and we’ll sort something out so you can come ride the bike on the epic roads where it all started to happen for us, or let Andy know and he can help arrange something bespoke for you around next years dates. 

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