We've signed-up Team Wanty-Groupe Gobert (WGG) new boy Mark McNally - the lad from Liverpool with the heart of a Flandrian Lion! Throughout the 2016 season Macca will keep us up to speed with his life inside the pro peloton. WGG are a UCI Pro-Continental team who receive a healthy number of wildcard invites to some of the biggest and best bike races in the world. Each week we will bring you a little insight into the highs and lows of being a young rider trying to make it to the top level of professional cycling. This week - "Back To Reality" tells of Mark's shock of returning to a "normal people" life in Belgium after spending time with all his teammates at their first collective training camp in Alicante, Spain.
After 3 weeks of really enjoyable sun, cycling and sleeping, I was met by a rather rude awakening back in my adopted home of Belgium. A stark real world combination of food shopping, bills and speeding tickets. Welcome home Macca! It already feels like a lifetime since I arrived in the Spanish seaside resort of Benidorm into glorious sunshine and 20C of warmth. Aside from escaping the cold, the other main highlight of the first training camp of the year is of course getting all the team swag for the season - new bikes and new kit. It was like Christmas all over again and we couldn't wait to get testing out all the new equipment.
From the first day our 22 man squad was split into 2 training groups of 11. We did 3 x 3 day blocks of high mileage, with varying hill efforts and through-and-off, as well as sprint lead-outs on the flats. I loved being at training camp, especially after an overly busy Christmas and New Year. It was great to get back to some kind of normality and hit the "reset professional cyclist" button. I dived head first back into the mode of eat-sleep-cycle-repeat, kicked-off with a 4 day block staying with acquaintances in the hills above Alicante. This was followed by two weeks with the new team in Benidorm, getting to know new teammates and sponsors.
One memory that sticks out is from the day we went up an ascent called Vall d'Ebo - a climb many teams use for 20 minute tests. I found myself in what I thought was a half-wheel battle with experienced pro Enrico Gasparotto. For 18 minutes of this 20 minute climb he let me believe I was flying - even giving him a hard time. In the last 2 minutes he brought me crashing back to reality as he unleashed the class and danced away from me. Still, for myself at this time of year the numbers on my wattometer were pretty good - even if i had been given a bit of a reality check.
During the camp it was the birthday of our legendary wise old Manager Hilaire van der Schueren. We all received a message in the group whatsapp to come down to a café on the sea front in Benidorm. When we arrived Hilaire bought everyone a pancake and a coffee to celebrate his birthday, which was an unexpected but very welcome treat for us all.
Another day we stuck a GoPro on the bike to capture a bit of footage - I'm sure we'll be able to share that with you in a future post once it's been edited.
I've been given my early season race program now and I'm really pleased that I will start in Qatar and Oman - not least because it's another chance to get a bit more sun on my back! Then it's back to the harsh reality of a Northern European Winter. But the Spring will soon be upon us and for me that's what it's all about. That Spring block of Classic and Semi-classics are where my ambitions lie this season. Hopefully a few solid early performances will put me in contention for some of these races that I've dreamt about since I was a kid. Before I get on the plane to Qatar at the end of next week I've got another few days of Belgian wind and rain. I'll check in next week with an update of how the training is going...
Follow my training and racing on Strava.
Follow @MMcNallyCycling on Twitter and check out his website: markmcnallycycling.co.uk