Mark Cavendish has joined up with his new colleagues at Omega Pharma-Quick Step for a team building camp in Slovakia – and in what will no doubt be a shock to the system following the close season, the Belgian outfit’s riders are staying in a barracks at an army base. Meanwhile, Saxo-Tinkoff riders on their team's pre-season camp inadvertently interrupted a French couple carrying out an amateur glamour photoshoot on a mountain on Gran Canaria.
Former Belgian champion and multiple Tour de France stage winner Tom Steels, now on Omega Pharma-Quick Step's management, has been in Lest in Slovakia for the past few days to put the finishing touches to the programme for his team's retreat, which lasts from today until Thursday.
While details of the activities planned aren’t being revealed, they don’t involve bikes but, according to pictures leaked on the Omega Pharma-Quick Step website, do encompass assault courses and sleeping out in the open.
"Thanks to the support of our Slovakia-based partner Janom, this year we were able to organise our annual Team Building efforts in an absolutely unique location, that is to say, at a military base," reveals Steels.
"Our guys and our staff will spend two days working on a series of activities that have nothing to do with bicycles but which will surely help us to form a cohesive group before the start of next season and allow us to understand some of the team dynamics, which could turn out to be important to better get to know some of the skills of our new members."
Steels wouldn’t be drawn on exactly what activities the likes of Cavendish and Tom Boonen would be getting up to.
"I can only say that we are going to be experiencing some special times," he hinted. "With Guy Ivens, the activities co-ordinator, and with the extraordinary support from people we've found here in Slovakia, we will create unique scenarios calling for discipline, respect for the rules, adaptability and reciprocal help. These are all elements that our guys will encounter during the season. It will be a pleasant surprise for everyone."
From experience of similar activities, we’re guessing that means ‘pleasant’ in hindsight rather than when you’re cold, muddy and wet and then need to tackle an assault course.
Bjarne Riis is famous - some participants might say infamous - for pioneering the use of outdoor activities at CSC, now Saxo-Tinkoff, including survival training as part of the pre-season plan.
Last week, the Dane took Alberto Contador and the rest of the team to Gran Canaria, where they took part in activities including archery and rock climbing, and also got out on their bikes.
What Riis probably didn’t have planned though was that on the summit of a climb, his riders would surprise a Frenchman taking some nude pictures of his blonde girlfriend en plein air in what they no doubt thought was a secluded spot.
The impromptu meeting didn't make it into the team's own report - but it did get a mention, complete with photo, in the print edition of Italy's Gazzetta dello Sport last week.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.