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‘This is probably a bad idea’: Rob Britton’s bike packing worlds training camp

Preparation for worlds was a 1,700 km trip from Calgary to Port Renfrew, B.C. with 60 lbs of gear and a couple of friends through the Canadian Rockies

Photo: Jamie Sparling’s Strava

Rob Britton was back home in Calgary after a big ride at worlds. A snowstorm that had rolled in after his arrival back from the road world championships in Innsbruck where Canada had finished fourth amoung nations and Michael Woods took bronze in the elite men’s road race. Britton’s luggage hadn’t made it back from the championships so he was in full off-season mode unable to ride and without laundry to even do. After weeks on the road, and a huge block of training and racing, it was time for a bit of rest and recovery.

Planning the craziest training camp in worlds history

The idea for a bike backing trip across the Rockies from Calgary to Port Renfrew began taking shape before he considered even riding worlds. “A few days before nationals I woke up and decided I kind of wanted to do this bike packing thing,” Britton recalls.

Lucky for him, an expert on travelling by bike was also in Saguenay, Que. After Svein Tuft won his 11th career Canadian ITT title, Britton had a brief chat about the idea that was only starting to take shape. Tuft famously rode around camping in the mountains of western Canada with his 80 lb dog Bear before turning pro. “He was doing it before it was called bike packing. Later on in the summer I put more thought into it and ask him for his top five tips so I don’t die,” Britton said.

Tuft answered his questions and provided some valuable tips, some Britton had already thought of and others that proved helpful. “Svein has done so many things over the years,” he said.

After nationals, Britton started planning the route. “It was going to be all back roads. Crazy passes, 200 km days with 60 lbs of gear. Nine to ten hours riding some days back to back to back. I think we did 1,700 km over two weeks.”

It was his idea from the get-go but he got his buddies Jamie and Taylor to commit to the trip. “I think the subject of the email thread was ‘This is probably a bad idea.’”

The trip went from an idea to an evolving plan that would continue to take shape over the next months. Worlds in Innsbruck were still not really in his racing plan, usually by the end of the season Britton felt too fatigued to consider taking a place on Canada’s roster in the elite men’s road race.

That would change later in the summer when Kevin Field, the performance director at Cycling Canada, convinced Britton to take a spot he earned on a team. His powerful engine and strong climbing ability would be useful to Michael Woods aspirations on the Innsbruck course.

“Originally I wasn’t in but he [Field] just was adamant. He told me to suck it up and my girlfriend pulled my head out of my ass,” Britton said. “I’ve always done super well with volume and medium intensity. I was super honest with what I had planned and Kev was totally on board. Maybe we just got lucky but it worked out.”

Bike packing through the Rockies

On Sept. 12, a mere 12 days before his scheduled departure for Innsbruck from Vancouver and 19 days before what was billed to be the hardest elite men’s worlds course in a decade, Britton and his friends set off into the mountains. Their bikes loaded up with gear including tents and large battery packs to charge their devices in the wilderness of the Canadian Rockies.

After nine days, 1,700 km and over 80 hours of riding, Britton and his friends rolled into Port Renfrew. It was the day before his birthday which coincidentally was on the same day as a gravel event he helps organize called the Last Ride, exactly a week before worlds.

Britton had always thrived off big blocks of base training and over the nine-day trip, he’d get a lot of it. Intervals, he said happened naturally on the long 20 to 30 km passes they traversed.

“The last couple of days we were on the road with some long climbs. To the dismay of the guys I was riding with, it probably almost cost me some friendships, I did do some long tempo threshold work to crack the heart open a bit and just see how the body was reacting this deep into that much riding,” Britton said about the form he came out of the ride with. “The numbers were really good after already 70 hours of riding. I had never done that much volume.”

Riding the gravel event without packed bikes was a big change but Britton said it felt great after hauling so much gear for nine days.”The Last Ride was on the Saturday, it felt awesome without 50 or 60 lbs on the bike. Sunday, I flew out to Munich from Vancouver then on Monday afternoon I was riding outside of Innsbruck. That felt really weird,” Britton said about being back on his road bike in Innsbruck.

New perspective on training

Britton’s bike packing trip wasn’t the only one completed by a pro before worlds. Irishman Conor Dunne who was unceremoniously left without a team after Aqua Blue Sports imploded did the now social media famous #nogotour with American Larry Warbasse in September. Dunne rode alongside Britton in the worlds breakaway.

“There’s was MacBook bike packing, mine was more carrying literally everything you have,” he said about the complexity of his trip compared to their credit card bike touring. “We were charging our mobile battery packs to get through. It’s a little more rugged in the Canadian Rockies than what they were doing.”

“It was kinda funny knowing that multiple bike packers were at worlds, maybe it’s the way of the future,” Britton joked. “We will see [Alejandro] Valverde doing it before world’s next year,” he added with a laugh.

Britton came out of the trip with some good fitness. Part of his ability to be so fit this late in the season he attributes to the trip.

“It’s a nice way to relax the brain. I am sure I would have done worse if I tried to stay in Calgary and train for worlds,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s going to happen again a lot in the future. The idea of it excites me. It’s a massive investment in time and effort to put it together. But once we are out there it’s very refreshing not to be doing intervals.”

Part of the bronze medal team

The trip set Britton up for a pretty remarkable ride at the world championships. He rode in the breakaway and finished the race, the last rider to cross the line 19 min 37 sec after his teammate Woods took the bronze medal. He almost didn’t finish the race after being one of the last riders to be distanced by the lead breakaway riders, and promptly caught and passed by the charging peloton.

“I stopped in the feed zone with just over a lap to go. Zach Bell was there, Hugo [Houle] and Antoine [Duchesne] were there as well. They kinda busted my balls a bit. The prospect of going up a 30-minute climb and that ungodly hill at the end wasn’t something I was looking forward to,” he recalls. He obviously did get back on the bike and rode much of the final 40 km solo. “In hindsight, I am really really glad I pushed through. Someone has to be last place. I would have regretted stopping.”

“That last climb was so hard. Probably one of the hardest single moments I’ve ever had on the bike,” he adds.

Britton’s offseason is now fully engaged. “I’m not going to be doing anything for at least a week until this melts, it’s snowing right now so offseason is very much engaged,’ Britton said. “Just chill out. Very much just put my feet up and go through the photos from the trip.”