One of RIDE’s staff members, Gina Ricardo, is also an active racer. She has competed in some NRS races after taking up cycling only one year ago. The enthusiastic 19-year-old isn’t afraid of hard work, nor does she complain about changing diet or doing some things differently to what typical teenagers may do. She is professional in the office and a valued staff member, but she was keen to see how she might fare in a program devised by the Australian military in partnership with the Australian Institute of Sport. And thus, Gina signed up for (the infamous) AIS Boot Camp. Here is a brief overview of her experience…
De-selected but satisfied…
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I rolled up to the AIS on Sunday night for the selection camp. I had heard horror stories from various riders about the SAS military style training, of sleep deprivation, hunger and constant fatigue. The stories weren’t too far off… but one thing I didn’t expect was how much fun I’d have.
It’s an elimination style-camp, with girls selected – or deselected – on the basis of meeting a series of challenges. Each challenge is designed to be relevant to some aspect of racing in Europe; physiologically, mentally, emotionally or skillfully.
The SAS/military influence is where things start to get really interesting. Each session is conducted in small groups by one or two instructors and a number of helpers who greet you with neutral expressions and little emotion. You are constantly under observation but feedback is not given at any point; during or after. You are also allocated a number and referred to by that number to take away any sort of personal aspect to it.
By the end of day two, the whole group was exhausted and four girls were sick.
An example of one of our jam-packed days was an early wake-up on around 6.5 hours of sleep followed by a 20 minute walk, a power profile test (6sec, 15sec, 30sec, 1min and 4min sprints), two hours of skills/crash proofing, a 70 minute ride with a hill climb TT challenge and a 60 minute team building exercise with stressful time pressures! This was then followed by an intense two hour de-brief after dinner (a daily highlight) where we were drilled about our decisions and performances (sometimes to the point of tears), then another 20 minute walk back to our cabins.
Days 1-3 were part of phase one, involving a series of (intense) tests in and out of the lab designed to judge “where we are at” with a focus on physiological aspects and skills. From what I understand, it was kind of like the warm up for the rest of the camp…
Unfortunately (or fortunately) I was one of the 11 riders de-selected on day four. It was the largest cut in the history of the camp, but made on the basis of being fair and equal to everyone – we simply didn’t have the physiological capabilities… yet.
For my part, it was definitely the right call. My whole body was aching and run-down from the lack of sleep (hello bloodshot eyes and runny nose) and the idea of moving into the second phase – long miles and fatigue – with riding up to 200km each day on top of other fun activities and less than seven hours sleep each night, was not looking like a very healthy option.
My lab results, fitness and skills have exponentially improved since the beginning of the year and it is something that I am extremely proud of. I still have a lot of work to do – but this will just come from time on the bike and more racing.
Even though I was expecting it, being told I was de-selected was still followed by a crushing, gut-wrenching feeling. It was like a TV show; numbers were called, the group was separated into two, one group was told they were progressing to the next round, the other group was sent home. The mood was lightened when the head coach told us he was glad he could “stop being an arsehole” and talk to us properly.
We were then given a more intensive one-on-one debriefing with a discussion of the reasoning behind our de-selection and what we need to work on in the future. And then, like that, we went home with no goodbyes to the remaining eight riders.
All in all, it’s left me super-motivated for training and racing and excited for the future.
There was a real sense of comradeship during my short part of the camp, of being part of a team and helping each other out. I suppose that’s one of the cool things about going away on a camp like this, you get to hang out with mates and just focus purely on cycling and all things related. Yes, there is that competitive edge; and yes, we all want to be selected and complete the camp but at the end of the day we’re all there because we love bike riding and racing.
I’d like to thank all the staff at the AIS, coaches and everyone involved, for running such a professional and well-organised camp and for giving me the opportunity to learn more about myself as both a cyclist and a person.
And finally… Wishing the remaining eight girls good luck.
– By Gina Ricardo
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RIDE Media publishes both the Official Tour de France Guide (Australian Edition) as well as RIDE Cycling Review, a quarterly magazine all about cycling.
RIDE Cycling Review is now available in a digital format via Zinio.