Spanish for Irish

Conor's winter regime

Spain
Riding

Cycling has both metaphorically and literally taken me to some interesting places over the last few years. However I felt that this winter I needed to put a little twist on the stereotypical season preparation and spice things up in comparison to my usual routine. Full time sport can be an all-consuming bubble and I’ve discovered that it can be mentally refreshing to step out of that bubble every now and again. I feel extremely lucky to be able to chase my dream, riding my bike everyday. During the winter period I am in reality, free to ride my bike wherever I want, with no race commitments for a good three months.

So for that reason I decided to live with a Catalonian family in Villarreal, Spain for a month this winter! My teammates thought I was slightly mad and I think my friends thought I was slightly mad, especially as I would be missing Christmas at home. I was confident it would be a beneficial experience; guaranteed sun, warm weather, new friends, properly experiencing a different culture and most importantly something a bit different to my usual winter training routine.

However, I would be lying if I said I didn’t wonder what on earth I’d signed up for as Hans, my team soigneur, dropped me off with my new Spanish family after the An Post team camp in Calpe and drove away into the distance. What had I gone and got myself into! Shouldn’t I be home for Christmas? Where will I buy my beloved porridge oats? Will I be kidnapped and forced to work in the circus? The momentary panicked thoughts of a hypochondriac giant are rapid and nonsensical.

All worries were swiftly swept aside however as I met my Dora, my host for the next month and her three children. My first experience of Catalonian hospitality and friendliness had instantly putting me at ease. Immediately I was made to feel like one of the family and happily, I settled into Spanish life! Dora’s cooking has been wonderful, filled with local produce from the surrounding mountains with rabbit, thrush (the small bird variety), walnuts, vegetables, venison meat and even thistle soup! I have also eaten enough oranges to cure an 18th century Navy ship of scurvy, picked straight from the garden. I am a big fan of the Mediterranean diet. Although I only wish I could indulge a bit more in the cake side of it!

The 2015 season and its mountains, hills and canal bridges are always present in my anxious thoughts.

Before arriving here I’d found it hard to get any sort of information on the surrounding roads for training, which was something that kind of appealed to me. I wanted to discover roads for myself and have a bit of an adventure in the process. At the time of booking this trip and committing to coming out here this had seemed like a great idea, but setting out on my first long ride I was nervous about whether I had made the right choice. I can be quite a nervous control freak with my training and I find any disruption to the usual routine initially unsettling.

These fears were monumentally unfounded. As I first entered the mountains that completely surround Villarreal, I was instantly blown away. The roads were deserted, perfectly tarmacked and the scenery was literally out of this world. My first ride I climbed for about 2 hours non-stop, winding along on this old mountain road it seemed like I was the first person to ever use this road in the modern day. Upon reaching the top I was treated to the most ridiculously brilliant view in every direction, I was actually laughing to myself it was so amazing. In the truest sense, I had arrived in cycling paradise. That was training for the next four weeks sewn up.

One of my other fears was that I would maybe find it slightly lonely staying in Spain on my own for a month. This was another unfounded fear. I think it is impossible to not make friends here; everyone is so friendly and unreservedly welcoming. To the extent in which I was invited to the owner of my gym’s Christmas dinner after only meeting him on two occasions! The dinner was fantastic, not turkey but the biggest pot of shellfish you have ever seen in your life.

Also, on the subject, my gym’s owner Juan is a massive legend. To have an ex-Spanish and European bodybuilding champion watching over your exercises is a definite plus! I have also made a few friends in town, which has made for perfect downtime in the evenings and also made for great company on a trip to Valencia.

So far, it has been a brilliant experience and I’m really glad I decided to do something a bit different this winter. I feel I have really got to know Catalonian culture, meet some new people and at the same time train well in guaranteed warm weather. It has also satisfied a bit of an itch to explore, something that was top of my agenda when I first began riding and I feel I have neglected in recent years.

Above all else I think this block of uninterrupted training should set some good foundations for the 2015 season with An Post – ChainReacton, which I’m hoping to hit with all I’ve got!