Mark McNally is a professional road cyclist with Team Wanty-Groupe Gobert, a Belgian-based Pro-Continental outfit. Despite being in the second tier of professional cycle racing, the team benefits from a huge number of wildcard invites to the top races and in 2016 finished as the highest ranked team in the UCI Europe Tour.
In the past, Mark has been part of the British Cycling youth development system, where he became Junior European Champion on the track. But he followed his heart to Belgium where he now lives and races, making his way in the uncompromising world of pro cycling.
Throughout 2016 Mark brought us regular updates from inside the peloton, giving us insight on life as a pro and tales of racing that you just can't see by watching on TV. Last time we heard from Macca he'd just finished his season in style with some impressive performances at ENECO Tour. Now he's back in training for what promises to be his best season yet. We join him on the plane flying back from the team's pre-season training camp in Alicante.
As I sit here crammed onto a generic low budget airline flight, I find myself reflecting on the last week which had many ups and downs. I’m on my way home from my team's (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) first training camp of the year in Benidorm. The Spanish region of Valencia is a hotbed for cycling teams seeking good weather and lots of climbing to get ready for the coming season.
I’ll start at the beginning. The start of every training camp is an exciting time; new faces, new kit and new equipment. All the new stuff gives you an idea of what’s to come for the year how the team will gel, who will play what role and where in the team, and plus of course, the new shiny bits of bike kit and clothing make it feel like a second Christmas.
Once you’ve opened your new jersey and tried your new helmet and glasses on for size its time to get your new bike set-up. Most people who have ever worked with me will know that new bikes are never an easy transition for me. I usually spend a good few hours setting it up, measuring, adjusting and then repeating steps 1-3 until I convince myself its right. Then in the following ride I proceed to undo every precise adjustment I made until my bike feels like it belongs to someone else. Then I spend the following five hours arguing with myself whether or not I should leave it be and crack on, or at the next nature break adjust something else. This viscous circle usually continues until the rest day after the first 3-day-block where I usually start from scratch and put it back to where it was in the first place. Then I have a good stretch and realise I should have just let it be from the beginning.
At the beginning of the second block, with a bike that once again felt like my own - or maybe I’d just loosened-up from the first few rides, and because I'm more used to the extra altitude meters you do on a training camp, life starts to make sense again and I no longer have to spend the next five hours obsessing over saddle positions or lever heights. This leads to a more zen and somewhat more enjoyable riding experience.
It's strange how as a bike rider you can be so obsessed with the tiniest details and they can literally drive you insane. But saying that I think maybe its human nature and not just bike riders. I also find it amazing how the first block of a training camp you can feel utterly terrible like you’ve never pedalled a bicycle before. Then ten days later, after a thousand or so km’s and 40-odd hours turning the pedals over, it all makes sense again and you wonder how you could have ever despised such a harmonious thing as a bike ride in the sunshine.
I cast my mind back to a training camp I had with my old team: Madison Genesis. We went to the Pyrenees in France for a pre-Tour of Britain training camp. To be honest I wasn’t looking forward to it as the route master weighed roughly about the same as a 7 year old school boy, and I... well lets just say I weighed more.
Anyway the first day came and as always the day after a travel day my body was stiff as a board and like always my bike felt like someone else’s. To top it all off our lightweight ride leader had outlined a route with more climbing than I had done in the previous two month leading-up to the camp. I remember it quite vividly. My uncomfortable position due to post-travel-day-stiffness, the sweltering heat and the last climb of the day. As we started the climb, which I later aptly named ‘Death Valley’ I asked how long the climb was after maybe 5km of uphill slogging, to which I received the reply; ‘Its like this for a few more km then like Puig Major (the longest climb in Majorca) over the top.’ To say the least ‘one was not amused’ with such news.
Anyway I soldiered on left behind by the skinny chaps on the team. Luckily for me my two team mates; Tom Sculley and Eric Rowsell stayed by my side. They listened to my onslaught of complaining, expletives and general hatred for my surroundings. I even genuinely contemplated booking a flight home to which Eric and Tom gave a bit of moral support and encouragement by finding my predicament genuinely amusing.
So after we reached the summit of Death Valley it was down hill all the way home and after a nap and some food I came to my senses and decided against booking a flight home and carried on working hard and sure enough the last few days of the camp I was back to ‘living the dream’.
I guess the moral of the story is sometimes life is hard but you just got to keep plugging away and know hard work brings better things... and booking a flight home is never the answer to sore legs!
Next month Mark will report on his start to the racing season.