In the second instalment of Dan Craven’s training diary, we catch up with him as he goes about winter training, the Namibian way. Cheetah racing is optional… Max Leonard and Laura Fletcher report.
Namibia is the world’s second least populated country, so you'd think there would be an abundance of open roads to train on, and a serious lack of traffic. And, while the traffic is nothing like the congested roads of London, or Bristol, abundance is hardly the word to use.
On a map of the whole of Namibia, Dan can pick out every paved road. Many of what we in the UK would consider B roads remain unpaved gravel death traps for road cyclists. This leaves Dan with limited options for his daily training rides: north, or south?
The long, straight roads present only two out-and-back options. They make training repetitive - though better than the turbo which is the last resort for those of us stuck in a European winter. The real killer, though, is the midday heat, which hits upwards of 40C. It demands a 5am wake-up call every day, to get the miles in and be back in the cool shade by 11am, before the temperature really ramps up. Amenities are scarce: in either direction there is only one water stop, at the 65-kilometre mark; and the lack of bike shops and other cyclists means that a puncture will force Dan off the road, into the back of a pick-up for a long, uncomfortable drive home. Although gruelling, training in these conditions has its advantages: the desert climate gives him a certain resistance to our local summer heat, and a tougher constitution for many of the races across the Europe he will be competing in this season.
Dan works closely with Marion Clignet, a coach based in France. Although Marion and Dan are in close contact, the distance between them - physically and culturally - can also make it a challenge for Dan to complete the tasks she sets out for him. On a relatively cool day this January (26C), the schedule demanded that Dan spend the day concentrating on climbing - a task that in most places would be easily achievable. Yet the biggest road climb for Dan is roughly only 500 metres long. “It does drag a bit beyond that,” Dan says, “But even so, to make the training worthwhile I had to do 1.5km stretch with that 500-metre climb and one-kilometre drag eight times.”
Later that weekend, another request came in from Marion. For a more relaxed day, she suggested that he do a group ride. But even this is more easier said than done: the town of Omaruru, which covers a land mass roughly one-fifth the size of Mexico city, has a population of just 14,000, and the next closest towns are 250 kilometres in either direction. Dan knows a few other cyclists, but only one friend is anywhere close enough, speed-wise, not to hinder a training session.
So what can you do? On one of the clear, cooler days, we ventured out by Land Rover to a local game reserve, the Schoenfeld Farm owned by some of Dan’s school mates. The idea, somewhat in jest, was to shoot images of Dan in the pristine reserve, with some of its abundance of wildlife - namely, one of its three stunning cheetahs. With some coaxing involving a large leg of mutton, the cheetah was persuaded to race. And, somewhat predictably, the world’s fastest mammal won the race. But Dan’s comfort amongst the wild animals could only be bred in from a young age - he certainly did give full chase.
On the subject of animals, one last advantage of being in Africa is the diet. There is an abundance of fresh food from local farms: the best perk of training in Africa is hearty meals on the backyard barbecue, or ‘braai’, a few times a week.