The Joel Filliol Training Group—or the JFT Crew, as they call it—is made up of some of the top Olympians and Olympic hopefuls in the world. And while Olympic preparations are typically done out of sight of the public in far-flung locations, we’ve been granted an inside look in this exclusive photo story of the JFT Crew—including world champions Katie Zaferes from the U.S. and France’s Vincent Luis—in Girona, Spain, as they prepare for the high-stakes game of Olympic qualification.
Many of them have been to the Games before, representing a number of countries; some are world champions and medal contenders competing against each other once the gun goes off; all are elite athletes, teammates, and good friends. Alongside Zaferes and Luis, Olympians Marten VanRiel and Jelle Geens (both from Belgium), and U23 world champ Emilie Morrier (also from France) are also based in Girona. Twenty minutes away in Banyoles, Spain are their teammates, the Spanish couple and superstars Mario Mola and Carol Routier.
Zaferes’ husband, Tommy, gives members a rare look here at a week in the life of this elite multi-national team.
Wednesday Recovery Ride
A typical Wednesday for the JFT Crew (VanRiel, Morrier, Luis, and Geens pictured) involves an easy swim, an easy bike, and an easy run. The training plan doesn’t involve any days off, so all recovery is “active recovery.” When the group has a 3-4 hour easy ride, they will try and choose a more scenic loop, like this one along the water, to help with the motivation and mental recovery.
Thursday Solo Hill Reps
Thursdays consist of both a steady run and a hard ride (Luis pictured here). The hard part of the day comes in the form of 5-8-minute hill reps at an “as you feel” effort to make sure no one overexerts themselves. There are never specific numbers that need to be hit—the main goal is to get the effort in the legs and lungs.
Between Wednesday’s long training hours, and Thursday’s leg strain, it’s important to flush the muscles. The athletes usually get two one-hour massages per week, and on the days they aren’t getting a “real massage” they will self massage with recovery tools, like Zaferes does here with a percussive massager.
Friday Hard Swim
“No-swim Thursday” is followed by endurance swim Friday. The group tries to work in pairs so each athlete has a swim partner to help push each other—Luis and Geens pictured here. Because Friday’s hard swim is endurance based, most swimming is done at around 85-90% effort with no sprinting or max efforts.
After a hard endurance swim, Friday involves a cruisey bike ride to flush the legs a bit before a big weekend. There is never a run on Friday, so after an active recovery ride, athletes take the evening off—recovering the legs so they are ready to go for the most important run workout of the week on Saturday. Here, we see Luis rolling out his hamstrings with a roller.
Saturday Hard Run
Saturdays start off with the longest run of the week—between 90-120 min. depending on the time of year and type of workout. This session builds the amount of effort/stress each week until two weeks out from a race. The JFT Crew (pictured here with Zaferes and Morrier leading) usually warms up together, and then splits off into groups when the session begins.
After the session, the JFT Crew regroups and warms down together through the flowered Spanish fields, typically debriefing about how the session went and—more importantly—what to order at the bakery afterwards. After the bakery brunch, the group heads to the pool for a recovery swim. For some, this is the end of the day, for others, there is an optional 30-minute run.
Sunday Hard Ride
Sundays are typically around four hours and involve a mix of individual and team TT efforts. When races are approaching, the group sessions get a little longer. The group always rides out together, splits up into smaller groups for the efforts, and then regroups when the TTs are over to ride home together. Here, Luis and Zaferes lead the pack.
Sunday Evening Chill
After the hard Sunday ride there is a steady run. This can be done anytime after the ride is over. Some choose to do this right off the bike, others do it a couple hours later if they have a massage, and some choose to put this off as late as possible and finish when the sun sets. But the one thing that remains consistent with everyone, is that they can be found in this recovery position at the end of the day. Here, Luis rests and uses a muscle stim recovery system.
Monday Easy Ride
Easy Monday! Everyone’s favorite day. Here, the team finds an opportunity for everyone to go as easy as they need to flush all the fatigue from the big weekend out of their system. It’s an easy swim, some gym, and an optional easy bike. No days off, just consistent active recovery. Here, VanRiel, Luis, and Zaferes ride the shaded rural Spanish roads.
Monday has the least amount of hours training, so this is usually the day when athletes will plan to do their clerical work. This can involve travel plans, race recon, emails, sponsorship obligations, media interviews, and more. As international racing is incredibly complicated, organization is key: Here, Zaferes checks immigration documents and “just add water” food options for her upcoming Olympic qualifying race in Yokohama, Japan.
Tuesday Hard Swim
Tuesday is arguably the most intense day of the week, involving a hard, speed-oriented swim (Luis and VanRiel pictured here). Later, a bike with sprints in the early afternoon, followed by “Track Tuesday” in the evening.
Tuesdays are intense, but the goal is to never finish feeling like you couldn’t possibly do any more—there is no racing in practice or time trials on the JFT Crew. Since there are no days off, everyone in the group knows it’s all about consistency. Here, Luis leads the group through their track workout.
It’s Not All Work
The photographer, Tommy Zaferes, pictured with his wife enjoying the beautiful Spanish countryside.