AQR’s Kate Potter writes for TORQ about her experiences on this year’s TORQ inspirational week in Spain (February). This week was fully booked with 28 riders attending and we have one more inspirational week left this year (with only 4 places remaining), so if you’re interested in joining us there’s still time, but not very much of it…
Matt Hart and Anthony Rowland from TORQ Fitness and Consultancy are familiar faces on the UK mountain bike race scene. If you haven’t met Matt before then just look out for the TORQ tuned winabago where you can sample TORQ bar and chat to the TORQ boys about the latest developments in sports science and nutrition. If sports science isn’t your thing then the boys can switch from serious coach to mad joker in a blink of an eye. More often than not you will see a dozen people standing around the TORQ set up laughing with Matt or in most cases laughing at Anth and his crazy caffeinated high impersonations of a monkey. I would like to say that Sasha Hart and daughter Milly, also regular faces on the UK mountain bike scene would be a calming influence on the TORQ boys, but after spending quality time with the TORQ family all I can say is that they are as energetic and mad as each other. Perhaps the effects of packing endless containers of maltodextrin and recovery powder is all one needs to remain in a constant vibe of happiness and cheer, even when sleep is at an all time low.
The TORQ tribe consists of mountain bikers of all ages and abilities, from fun to elite, to those who just want to see if they can ride for 100km or attempt 24hrs of solo fun. Besides the obvious enthusiasm for mountain biking, there is one more thing that draws spectators’ attention to the TORQ Team, their captivating butt logo ‘Eat Me’ and ‘Moist & Chewy’. When Matt asked if I would work as a support guide on the TORQ Training camp this winter, I jumped at the chance to be training alongside a great bunch of TORQ tuned cyclists who love the sport as much as I do.
The TORQ Training camp was held in Malaga, Spain from 21-28 February. It was a week for keen cyclists of all abilities to escape winter, and make the most of work free days cycling in short sleeve jerseys, well at least 27 of you did, my skin did make an appearance by the end of the week…but more importantly to see how many quality cycling hours our legs would withstand over 7 days. Jaclyn Smith points out that her favourite experience was ‘getting to ride day after day and just thinking about riding, (without having to think about daily grind stuff like work, supermarket shopping, cooking etc.) and getting to do it with some really great riders.’
There were 28 riders altogether and everybody had different expectations on how many hours their legs might last and at what speed they wanted to ride. For many like myself, it was all about riding and chatting for long hours every day, which might sound like a holiday, but base work can be pretty tough when your back starts to ache after 5 hours of constant pedalling power. I was not allowed to rest on the descents as Coach Hart didn’t want me or anybody else for that matter slacking. Darren Ryden soon realised that ‘it is possible to ride for a full week if you get the basics right with nutrition….but your butt will still hurt’ For others who weren’t so bothered about their base it was an opportunity to have a blast and every now and then try and rip Matt’s legs off. There was no pressure to ride until dark unless you really wanted to, and after lunch those who wanted to chill out by the pool could do so.
I would like to say that the week began with plenty of sunshine, but the first day was a day of survival, both for bodies and bikes alike. The weather can be unpredictable at the best of times, and today was one of those days as a guide you wish you had an office job. As the group headed higher and higher into the clouds the rain started and it was time to get off the mountain quick smart. As we regrouped and prepared ourselves for the chilly descent down to the village of Tolox, lovely Lydia Gould noticed her handlebar looking slightly crooked. In fact it was her stem that had broken and there was no way we were allowing Lydia to ride down the mountain on a bike that looked lopsided. Paul Sumption was quite taken by Lydia’s bike that only just made it through the week, best describing it as ‘being a mass of packing tape and bodges.’ As the group disappeared from sight, Lydia and I ran together, talking all the way I might add, alongside Jon who kept on his bike as he wouldn’t have kept up with our long running stride had he decided to join us J. Eventually we all regrouped, finding the rest of the group huddled beneath a bus shelter as the rain continued, while we assessed the best plan of action to get Lydia and her beloved bike back to the hotel. Fortunately a local man gave Lydia a brand new stem. He wouldn’t accept any money and was just happy to be have been able to help out.
The afternoon ride was cancelled due to more heavy rain, but an excursion to the local bike shop was organised instead, as there was more than just Lydia’s bike needing urgent attention. Our glorious leader Mr Hart decided that his bike was well over due for some tender loving care. While some opted for the more sensible option of a taxi ride to the local bike shop, Matt braved the storm as he wanted a few extra miles in his legs. My room mate Jaclyn Smith said one of the many funny moments on the trip for her was seeing ‘the bike man fixing Matt’s bike, taking the bottom bracket out and water pouring all over his floor, shaking his head at everything that was worn, broken, beyond repair, never lubed, serviced etc’.
The second day was still slightly overcast, but there was promise of warmer days to come. Matt decided that a road ride down to Marbella was the best plan of action, down to an ice cream café where we could eat cake and drink coffee. The ride took us down a long winding tarmac descent to the village of Ojen, where the views across the valley were simply stunning. I have always thought of Spain as a dry rugged country, but the white buildings and lush green backdrop of trees were unlike the Spain I had visited in the past. After 4 hours on the bike the group headed back for a hot buffet lunch at the hotel.
In the afternoon Matt offered an optional loop to those who craved more lengthy miles on the bike. The ride took us to the village of Monda and Guaro, before heading back into Coin. I rode with Jaclyn who is preparing for the Transrockies event with friend Darren Ryden. While the rest of the group blasted off, we had an enjoyable chat as we stuck to our base ride, which was a far more sociable intensity and checked out the awesome scenery along the way.
Monday brought Spanish sunshine at long last, but the weather report mentioned showers in the afternoon. I remained covered up to the extreme, while the rest of the group overdosed on sun cream. The plan was to ride on road for one more day to give the trails time to dry. There were a few groans of disapproval, as mountain bikers made up the bulk of this group. However once we left the busy roads behind the group were rewarded with quiet rolling hills and more stunning views across the valley.
Monday was a sleep in for many, but for Viv Hazelton and I it was an early walk into town to find proper muesli, as we had eaten the hotel dry. As we made our way into the town of Coin we walked past sweet shops, bars and even mobile phone shops, but to our despair no supermarkets. The two of us took drastic measures and in my best francais, with lots of hand gestures, I tried to communicate with the locals…’Ou est les supermacados? No, no please don’t run away….’ (well it was a combination of french, spanish, and my native australian), but very few people understood our desperation for proper muesli! Viv and I explored the streets for over an hour until some luck finally came our way and we returned to the hotel with our boxes of cereal, only to discover that the hotel had already topped the muesli jar up and bought extra packets to cater for Viv and I.
The rest of the day was spent relaxing, reading, eating, well I should say overdosing on TORQ bars,…but for me more riding. My aim this week was to ride for 40 hours. I met the group after lunch and for a change of scene we headed off road to a national cross-country course that was within a 5 minute ride from the hotel. The aim of the day was to work on technical skills, understand more about pedalling dynamics, but also to have some fun on our bikes off road. The actual course has fast rocky single track and some nasty short steep climbs that were ideal to test our skills on. The group divided into three with Matt, Anth and I taking our group to a section of trail to work on technical climbing, descending, and riding switchbacks. There were some challenges thrown in along the way and a timed section to complete. I must say my group excelled and before too long I was the one in need of some skills training or just more sleep as I failed to make it up the final climb….but as you all know ‘I will be back!’
It was also interesting to point out to people that no matter how strong your legs are if you don’t practice your skills and rely on a granny ring from time to time you won’t always ride every technical climb that comes your way. Stephen Corbyn finally admitted to Matt ‘I need a granny ring no matter how strong I like to think I am.’ And Darren Ryden also pointed out ‘Strong legs and lots of experience isn’t necessarily enough to get you up and over technical obstacles, but having Kate behind you shouting instructions seems to work every time.’ But I can’t take all the credit, especially when Darren made it to the top of that final darn climb and I didn’t!
Two more full days left and Matt promised the group some quality off road riding. Matt didn’t disappoint as we headed to the village of Tolox where a nasty steep muddy climb awaited the group. It was one of those sloggy climbs where you just have to keep pedalling and hope the tyres will push forward rather than sink. I managed to make up for yesterday and refused to give in to the trail. I didn’t want muddy shoes, so was determined not to let the mud get the better of me. Before too long grip returned, but the climb continued, and it went on and on…..and on. The views were amazing and it was hard to believe this was the same area we had ridden on the first day when the rain had set in. By the end of today the group had ridden close to 7hrs and behind the look on every tired face there was a smile. It was a ride well done, especially for those riders who aren’t used to riding for that length of time.
The final full day of riding was my favourite ride of the week. The sun was shining and finally Ms Potter could reveal her Aussie tan or what was left of it. Leaving the arm warmers behind at the hotel was a brave move as I was certain my decision would bring rain. The ride started on undulating roads surrounded by glorious countryside. Eventually we came to a long fire road trail that started steeply, but soon returned to a gentle gradient with amazing views across the Sierra de Alcaparain. There was certainly no need for arm warmers, and I was grateful for the sea breeze.
All the riders returned to the hotel nicely knackered, but there was a feeling of accomplishment from all who survived the week and pedalled through the discomfort of riding a bike for over 30 hours, which for many is more than you would ever manage in your typical 9-5pm working day week. One last word from my climbing superstar Darren, ‘For someone who has never ridden that far in a week before I was surprised at how well I coped with the crazy amount of exercise. Breaking the week up with a skills day worked really well and it was great to see that Matt had found some technical challenges that made many of the more experienced riders struggle…’ But as I said earlier I will be back!
The TORQ Inspirational weeks continue with the next one being held in Luchon, French Pyrenees in association with A Quick Release Holidays. On a TORQ Inspirational week guests learn more about fitness, nutrition and mountain bike technique and skills. Plus the Transpyrenees event is an added option to anyone wanting to take part in an endurance race with plenty of single track and testing climbs. It is a perfect package for any mountain biker who wants to improve their riding on all levels. At the same time it is not an elitist week that only caters for serious, live only for racing type cyclists. Matt proves that racing and serious training don’t have to be so intense that all the fun is squashed out of it.
Since knowing Matt I have learnt that I can train and race hard, but still compete with a smile on my face. Every race is an experience against good riders, but whatever happens I can also see the funny side of mountain biking and enjoy the sport for what it is. With this attitude I finally feel that I can get the best out of my training, enjoy racing, and make the most of every mountain bike adventure that comes my way. TORQ Inspirational weeks bring out the fun of training and racing, making you feel part of the TORQ tuned family that Matt Hart has created.
What TORQ products worked best for the riders –
‘Gels and drink as they don’t upset my stomach, defo a good test of ingesting a large quantity of one product. Recovery powder works but makes me fart!’ (Paul Sumption)
‘Recovery is the one you feel most benefit from’ (Simon North)
‘They all do what they say on the box, but it would be hard to go without Recovery’ (Jaclyn Smith)
‘Torq natural, really good way to top up my carb levels without eating to the point of immobilization in the evening!’ (Simon White)
If you would like to read about other inspirational weeks that TORQ have run, click on one of the links below –