Once again Manilla Presca Cycling main man Keith Guest gives us a climb by climb account of their week with us…

I have just returned from my 2nd training camp with my team, Manilla Cycling, and after last years successful camp I booked my flights in April and was eager to get out.

Unfortunately in the run up to the camp I had some personal issues which I will touch on later in my review, needless to say I arrived in Evia unfit, not really looking forward to the week ahead and generally not in good spirits.

Day 1 – As per last year, the day started with a very early drive to catch the 6:30am flight from Manchester and we landed in Athens with 8 degree coldness and a bitter wind whilst the UK basked in an early summer! Thankfully the rain that was forecast held off, we arrived at the villa, built the bikes up and headed along the coast for a 20 mile shakedown of the bikes and a little leg loosener before dinner. 21.96 miles, 597ft climb

Day 2 – woke up to not the best of weather again, still quite chilly and cloudy with no sign of the sun and today the climbing started. We started with a warm up on the road to Chalkida and turned off onto a new route for all of us and a steady 3.8 mile climb @ 4% average to get the legs used to what the week had in store. A loop around the mainland and we headed back to Chalkida and along the back roads to Theologos and a climb we’d all done before. I stopped for a 5 min breather before the climb and set off, determined to PB it, thankfully I had Phil Smith with me for the full climb encouraging me on as I’d have cracked and stopped if it wasn’t for him, as it happens I PB’d the 6 mile climb by 3 mins! 67.6 miles, 4459ft climb

Day 3 – We awoke to wall to wall sunshine and not a cloud in the sky, and a planned 84 mile ride to Porto Buffalo. We all set off along the coast for 20 miles before the 1st climb of the day, just a gentle 1.7 miles @ 4% and then a bit further up the road another 1.3 mile climb @ 6% before the drop down into Porto Buffalo and some of the most stunning scenery you will ever see! Admittedly I didn’t get to see much scenery on the descent as I clocked 52mph! We went a little way along the coast road enjoying some stunning views across the gulf before turning back and stopping in Porto Buffalo for a 10 min breather. At this point I started to become aware of pain in my left knee so took the opportunity of a sticky bottle to aid me a little bit up the climb back out to the main road. Once there we had another climb back up for 2.3 miles before another fast descent to sea level, at this point I decided once I’d hit 50 miles I was stopping and getting in the van due to the increasingly worrying knee pain. Adam & James completed the full 84 miles and a tough day out. 50 miles, 4702ft climb

Day 4 – rest day and after some good stretching and a hot tub session and some ibuprofen my knee was feeling better. Someone thought it would a good idea to climb up to an old fort on the island for a bit of sight seeing on our way to coffee’s in Chalkida, this short climb was only 1 mile but averages 9% and was brutal in parts, not what a rest day should be lol. Into Chalkida and we stopped for lunch and coffee before riding back along the main road with a stop off at Lykos winery for a wine tasting and tour, great experience and some lovely wine, could’ve stayed there all night!! 33.7 miles, 1518ft climb

Day 5 – Beautiful weather greeted us again for the planned 63 mile ride up to Seta, the highest village on the island and an 8.1 mile climb @ 4.6%, the avg grade is offset by a false flat and descent close to the top, this is a brutal climb! Last year I did this climb in 1hr 2 mins, and I was determined to PB it, I can happily say I did it this year in 57.39! Once in Seta we stopped for coffee’s before the amazing descent through the valley, in all truth we were glad to descend as there was a lot of snow still up that high and it was cold. Back down in the valley and the weather was stunning, riding through the countryside with some short, sharp climbs before another 4.6 mile climb @ 6% which eventually took its toll and I decided to call in the cavalry and jump in the van. This turned out to be a great idea as Cole had a flat rear tyre and we had no pump so I gave him my rear rim and sent him on his merry way. 45.3 miles, 6183ft climb

Day 6 – Parnitha awaited! Hottest day so far and a lovely 20 degrees to ride in. I was very nervous about this climb with it being approx. 16 miles @ 5% and HC category! I made the decision to jump in the van with Steve and miss out the first 2 climbs. We set off with a bit of flat to warm up before the climb, and what a stunning climb it is. I had nothing to worry about as it is my kind of climb, steady away and one you can get into a rhythm on. We reached the top after almost 2hrs of climbing and negotiated with the Greek Navy guards that we could take photos not looking at their satellite installation! Drop back down a mile or so and we stopped at the refuge for lunch. The descent was unreal, this is by far my fave climb & descent now. A further 5 miles of riding from the bottom of the climb back at the van and I decided to call it a day and jump in the van conscious of keeping myself pain free for the last day. The rest of the guys completed the full ride and we met them back at the ferry port. 40.1 miles, 5331ft climb

Day 7 – wall to wall sunshine again greeted us for our final day and again as per last year we were joined by a number of riders from the local race team NPO Chalkidis, the plan was 30 miles on the flat, 1 big climb of 5.8m @ 5.2% avg and then stop for coffee’s with them back in Chalkida. I had already decided I was going to try and smash the climb and did so setting a power avg 1w off my FTP and taking 6 minutes off my time from last year….happy lad!!! The atmosphere with the local team was excellent and the sight of 20+ riders trundling along at a good pace was excellent to see. Once back in Chalkida we opted for beers in the sun whilst the locals chugged coffee!!

After lunch we set off back to the villa and gave Cole a great lead out to claim the GCHQ Return KOM! 67.5 miles, 3965ft climb.

My total for the week: 326.16 miles & 26,755ft of climb!

Our host Steven, yet again, goes out of the way to make sure you are well fed, well looked after and want for nothing, the phrase “goes the extra mile” is often used and is often not deserved, however I can safely say that Steven absolutely goes the extra mile for his customers. The food he cooks is divine, the routes that he plans and the advice he gives is gold, and he is always happy to join in with banter and have a good laugh around the dinner table.

So back to the issues I touched on earlier…..in early December we had a bereavement in the family and I really struggled with motivation to train in readiness for the camp, I don’t mind admitting that I struggled with depression and even the day before we set off, I would happily have not gone and stayed at home. I discussed my issue with our team principal and decided to treat the week as a holiday and I had planned to have 2 or 3 days off the bike and just get myself right, as you can see, I rode every single day!

The very first night we were in the villa and all sat around the table cracking jokes I felt like myself, and this good feeling lasted through the week and only got better as the miles & climbs passed, back home now and I feel a million dollars compared to before I set off….. GCH isn’t just a cycling holiday, it’s a place where you can put your woes to bed and find yourself again!

If you are one of the many that choose Spain for your yearly training camp, I implore you to choose different next year and don’t follow the crowd, I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Roll on GCH Training Camp 2020.