Late last year Cycling Plus invited its readers to enter a competition giving them the chance to train like a pro cyclist in preparation for the 2018 L’Étape du Tour.
Well over 1,500 threw their hat into the ring to be part of Team Alpecin, but only three were lucky enough to be selected.
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It appears that there is an internet-based conspiracy theory that the German city of Bielefeld ‘doesn’t exist’… Apparently, it all stems from a conversation at a party in 1993 and somehow spread across the web. The story goes that you’ll never meet anyone who’s from, has been to, or knows anyone who has been to Bielefeld (which is, of course, a construct of the Illuminati…)
We can put the ‘Bielefeld Conspiracy’ to bed, it is definitely a real place free of, as far as we know, ritual sacrifices or people dressed like the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu.
For the 12 cyclists, drawn from six European countries, who gathered in North Western Germany in March it turned out to be a pretty magical place where dreams might just come true.
Bielefeld is home to the Dr Wolff group, the company behind Alpecin shampoo and long-time supporter of both professional — backing Alpecin-Katusha with riders including Marcel Kittel and Alex Dowsett — and amateur cycling.
It was those amateurs, including Brits Murray Cox, Laura Cook and Les Pegler, who spent a weekend getting an insight into what it’s like to be paid to sprint or race a time trial.
The first team meet was, even to seasoned editor Rob Spedding who’s shoehorned his way onto the team, eye-opening.
After a presentation led by the team’s entertaining ‘directeur sportif’ Jörg Ludewig — a three-time Tour de France finisher — the riders from Germany, Austria, Italy, the Netherlands, England and Scotland were inundated with information, advice and gear. And they had their hair and make-up done for photo and video shoots too.
Dream come true
“The first Team Alpecin meeting was like a dream come true. This was the phrase of the weekend, regardless of whether it was uttered in English, German, Italian or Dutch,” reflected London-based Scotsman Murray.
“Amazing hospitality, incredible generosity and more top-quality swag than you could shake a stick at. My teammates from the UK and the continent seem like an excellent bunch of people and I’m looking forward to getting to know them all better and riding with them.”
“It did feel like we were stars all weekend,” agrees Les, a former policeman, soldier, marathon runner, modern pentathlete and lifetime cyclist from Evesham. “The fitness test we took showed I’m not as fit as I thought, but we’re going to be provided with advice and solutions to help us overcome any problems we have or are likely to encounter.”
Like Les, Murray — a long-time cyclist whose busy job means he has been spending a lot of time training indoors recently — was also surprised by the results of the ramp test in which riders pedalled on an ergometer bike with power being ‘ramped’ up by 20 watts every three minutes.
“I didn’t expect that my FTP [Functional Threshold Power] score in the lab would be within a country mile of those from the virtual power score generated by my turbo trainer and home software,” he admits. “But I was surprised, and excited, when our coach Florian said that his training plan could give me an extra 30–50 watts by the time we get to L’Étape.”
For Laura, with her background in running, the fitness test was less of a concern than her lack of cycling experience — she’s only been riding seriously for a year. “I was relieved that there are other ‘beginner’ cyclists in the team.
“It was a real ‘pinch me, is this really happening’ experience?’” Laura continues. “The investment from Alpecin and its partners is more than anyone expected, which has made me extremely proud to be part of the team and added to my motivation to show them that I was worthy of such an investment! I’ll be out training in the Alpecin kit. I’m not worried about being seen as a full kit w****r because I’m not pretending to be in a pro team — I am on the team!”
The Étape team will be loaned a Canyon Endurace Ultimate CF SLX, loaded with SRAM eTap, Zipp 303 wheels and a Quark DZero power crank.
The team uniform comes courtesy of Katusha, with off-bike gear from German brand SportScheck, GameChanger helmets from Abus, Northwave Extreme RR shoes, Sidas custom insoles and Oakley eyewear.
On the road, monitoring is by Wahoo’s Elemnt and nutrition is provided by Squeezy. Foam rollers from BlackRoll and muscle stimulators from Compex are also among the kit list.
Tacx smart trainers and Zwift membership are part of the prize package and each rider will receive personalised coaching from Florian Geyer at Radlabor.