How long do you take to rest and recover at the end of the season and how do you like to wind down?
I normally spend around four weeks resting – it depends whenabouts in the year the World Championships fall. I normally like to set November 1 as my return to training point every year so that I have the same amount of time to regain fitness.
This year is no different, the only problem is I got sick in the off-season. Normally, I could go on holiday to relax and unwind, but this year my family and I got food poisoning which wasn’t ideal.
How has illness affected you?
Ironically, being ill during the off-season makes you less anxious because you’re not in a rush to get fit for anything. You accept it and get on with it.
That said, it is still very frustrating. You spend all year sacrificing spending time with the family and then it gets to the point where you actually can spend time with them, but you’re not on your best form. That’s just what comes with being a professional cyclist, I suppose. You still get plenty of time with them during the off-season.
How do you typically spend the off-season?
Philip and I spend all of our time off in the UK seeing our family. We see everyone from grandmas and granddads to cousins. It’s really nice – even though there’s a lot of family to go around!
We’ll be back for Christmas. We’ve done one round of seeing family and we’ll be back at Christmas to do it all over again.
How does your diet change in the off-season?
I’m quite lucky in that there aren’t many strict rules I need to adhere to. Early on in my career, I used to put more weight on during the off-season than I do now, because I wasn’t as aware of what nutrition I needed to stay in peak physical condition. I used to indulge and then had to train harder in winter to lose weight, which wasn’t much fun!
Now, I’ve got a much better idea of what to eat and what to avoid. I have a balanced diet and I don’t feel as desperate to indulge in the off-season. I might put on a couple of kilos, but that’s fine – I can lose that quite quickly.
Do you have people around you who can advise on this area if need be?
I have a team nutritionist that I have access to any time I need them. I also have health checks at the start of the season and then I’ll go on training camps where they can record our weight and BMI.
The people I work with in this area are great at what they do and it’s fantastic to have such a talented team around me.
How do you go about replicating race conditions during the off-season?
In November and December, the most important thing is not to panic about lack of intensity. It’s all about base miles – if you ignore this part of the build-up, you come unstuck later in the season.
You really need to give yourself a good base for endurance before worrying about intensity. This will come with time and practice.
Have you already started writing out your training plan for next year?
Yes, I have, the plan is pretty detailed and outlines when I need to be training at the highest levels of intensity. As you’d expect, it’s built around the Olympics.
I’ll start racing in February at the Strade Bianche, I’ll do the Spring Classics in May and then I’ll take a small break. After that, I’ll start really ramping up the intensity in the build-up to the Olympics.
I’ll obviously have to focus on my results in certain races to ensure I get selected for the Olympics, but I’m confident I’ll get there.
What factors will you consider when training for the Olympics?
The road race track itself is a bit of a classics course – it’s very up and down. There’s no major climb, it’s more about relentless recovery-effort-recovery, so I’ll be focusing on my intervals in training.
Rio was a massive mountain and I had to focus on my climbing, but Tokyo will be a totally different competition.
I visited Tokyo in July and got to see the course first-hand. I really liked it and I think it’ll suit me. It’s very similar to Liège–Bastogne–Liège, so it’s important for me to get a good result there for my confidence going into the Olympics. I’ll be targeting that as a priority.
Do you get much chance to catch up with other cyclists at this time of year?
Yes – I live in the south of France and there are lots of cyclists who live out here and have just come back for the off-season. Everybody’s got the same focus, which is base miles.
I trained with Luke Rowe and Geraint Thomas just recently, so it’s always handy to have some wheels to follow! Tiffany Cromwell is my closest friend out here – we have a really good relationship and we train together a lot. We have a lot to talk about when we see each other!
What advice would you give to other cyclists about staying motivated during the off-season?
It’s essential to make the most of the small opportunities you get to get outside and train. If you’re able to hold onto just a little bit of fitness, this will give you much-needed momentum going into the new year and makes it much easier to regain your sharpness when the season resumes. Just one or two sessions a week are sufficient if you train with at a high intensity.
If you’re not too keen on training outside in cold weather, there are lots of indoor cycling centres you can try and plenty of online training sessions you can find. Running is another time-efficient way of exercising during the winter.
Finally – it’s a bit of an obvious one, but what is your main motivation for next year?
Definitely the Olympic Games. I’d love to go to my third Olympics and get a Gold medal – I’ve got a Silver medal, but I want to go one better this year.