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Right now it’s 85 degrees outside without a cloud in the sky or a patch of snow in the mountains. It’s easy to forget that soon, the leaves will change colors, the temperatures will plummet and cyclocross season will be here. It seems like the excitement for cross starts earlier every year, as the sport gains popularity and prestige in the U.S. If you’re looking to have you best cross season yet, whether that means throwing down on Wednesday nights at Lindley or contesting big races across the country, the preparation starts now. In this post I’ll be highlighting a few crucial components that are necessary to ensure you’re ready to go when the whistle goes off this fall.
For many of us, the cross bike has been collecting dust in the garage since the end of last season. If you’ve been riding your cross bike in gravel grinders or otherwise this summer, then you will have a better idea of how it’s working and what you need to fix/replace before the season starts. Otherwise, you need to give your bike a once over to ensure it’s in working order. First order of the business is to clean it. Remove the wheels and rub everything down with a soapy sponge and then rinse it off with a hose. Be sure to dry everything immediately to prevent rust. Take special care of the drive train. Use a strong degreaser to get it all nice and shiny again before lubing the chain. Now shift through all the gears, adjusting the derailleurs as needed. If you have major shifting issues, you most likely need new cables and housing. Same goes for the brakes. Check to make sure they feel smooth when you pull the lever. If it’s sticky or clunky then replace the cables and housing. If you’re running hydraulic brakes, check to make sure they feel firm when engaged. If they’re spongy or weak, bleed the system and replace the brake pads. Also be sure to inspect your tires for cuts or excessive where. If you’re running tubulars, make sure the tire is still well glued to the rim. If there are weak spots, re-glue the tire.
It’s probably been a long time since you’ve done any specific cyclocross skills practice. A good place to start is with a few dozen dismounts and remounts on a flat grassy field. Be sure to incorporate barriers into this drill as well to simulate a race environment. I’ve often heard mountain biking skills equated with proficiency on the cyclocross course, but cross bikes handle completely differently than mountain bikes, so it’s crucial that you practice on the cross bike. I find some of the best practice comes from drilling the same skill again and again. Choose a particularly tricky corner or other feature and do several dozen repeats on it at race speed. Your skills will improve and you’ll have practiced using good technique while at high speed and race intensity. I often warm up for skills sessions with several practice starts. When practicing starts, you want to make sure you’re in the right gear (I find that 46/23 or 46/25 is ideal depending on the starting straight), that your cranks are in the right position (most people like nine and three o’clock), and that the pedal you aren’t clipped into is rotated to a position that will allow you to naturally clip in right off the line. It’s always better to practice skills (starts in particular) with a small group, to further simulate a race environment.
Anyone who’s raced cross once will tell you that to be competitive you need to be very fit. If you’re coming off a summer of road and mountain biking, you’ll have a solid base from which to build from for cyclocross season. Cyclocross races are shorter and thus more intense than most road and MTB events. This is why it’s important to stress high intensity threshold work in your training. A great set of intervals are over/unders, as they provide a good simulation of a cross race. One set is 8-12 minutes at or just below threshold, with a twenty second burst to 150% of threshold power every two minutes. Complete two to four sets on a steady climb. Another great workout is circuit training on your cross bike. Find a short circuit that takes around 3-5 minutes when riding all out. Try to incorporate at least one mandatory running section and several technical corners or other sections where it is difficult but possible to stay on the bike. A great way to start is with the easy lap/hard lap drill, which is exactly what it sounds like, with the hard lap above race pace, and the easy lap slow but maintaining good technique. You can build to multiple hard laps with less rest. This a great way to build fitness and skills at the same time.
The most notable difference in cyclocross-specific training is the incorporation of running. As cyclists, we often avoid running like the plague. Running training for cross doesn’t consist of running for extended periods of time. In the U.S. at least, the most you’ll ever have to run for cross is never more than twenty seconds or so. To prepare for this, I like to do several hill sprints lasting five to ten seconds, sometimes just running up the hill and sometimes shouldering the bike as well. The steeper the hill, the shorter, faster steps you should take.
Now go fix your bike, practice those barriers and pound out some intervals. Cross is coming faster than you think.
See you on the course,
This past week I had the opportunity to attend the USA Cycling Cyclocross Development Camp in Helena, MT, along with fourteen other up and coming junior ‘cross racers from around the country, selected for camp based on last year’s race results. Last season alone I spent almost two months in total traveling to seven states for various races and camps, so the fact that camp was so close to home was an added bonus.
It was 53 degrees when I woke at 4:45 a.m. to get ready for RATPOD, the 2015 installment of a 130-mile course that starts and finishes in Dillon, Montana. It had been a long year waiting for a shot at redemption. In 2014 I had unceremoniously thrown in the towel before I reached the breakfast station and rode back into Dillon. Cold weather, lack of sleep (one month old twins) and being unprepared for the rain and sleet that was hitting me caused me to fold. Later that day I had beaten myself up over it enough and vowed “Next year!”. It was now next year and I was ready. Then I got the text.
It has been said that there are three types of fun. The first includes activities which are fun to plan, fun during, and fun to discuss afterwards. Example: an easy sunset hike with friends, a blissful powder day. The second type is fun to plan, involves some struggle during, and is fun to talk (brag) about after the fact. This might include learning to waterski, riding a tough trail, or finally flashing a challenging climbing route. The third type of fun is, in fact, only fun after it’s over.
I’ve lost count of all the highsides, lowsides and endos on my cyclocross and mountain bikes. All that’s lost is maybe a little skin and possibly some bar tape. Not a big deal. After a few days the memory of the crash becomes vague and joins the memory montage of hitting the dirt with a thud and a grunt before dusting myself off and continuing on my way.
These accidents have always occurred on dirt though, and never asphalt, which I thought about as we pedaled along on a windy but otherwise pleasant Sunday a few weeks ago. Funny how well my road bike always works, I thought to myself, yet my ‘cross bikes and my mountain bikes are always in the shop. Oh, duh, I never crash this bike. And with that I rubbed wheels with the bike in front of me and went flying face first onto the chipseal at 35 miles per hour.
After a strong performance at Rocky Mountain Roubaix last week, Team Rockford-Owenhouse was motivated coming into the MSU Cycling Team’s Bobcat Classic. Pete Krebs and Scott Urban contested the B race while Alan Adams, Justin Raynes, Jeff Rasch and I (Henry) were ready to throw down with the A’s.
Scott reported an easy start to the B race, with a moderate tempo up the first climb. At the top of the climb the field was hit by the brutal winds which plagued racers all day. Scott attempted a breakaway with a single companion along the backside, but was unable to make the separation. Gas-Intrinsik rival Guy Mackenzie attempted a solo breakaway on the long descent, but was caught soon after as the peloton turned east and head up the canyon back towards the start and the 1000 foot climb to the finish. Scott took 4th at the finish, only 45 seconds behind the lead group, continuing the awesome form we’ve seen from him all season long.
Team Rockford brought a strong crew of seven to the Rocky Mountain Roubaix. Alan and I were in the 1,2,3 field, Jeff Rasch raced Masters 40+, Matt and Scott were in the Cat 4 race, Pete Krebs raced Cat 5 and Rory Rasch represented in the juniors field.
Alan and I were in the first group to head out. After driving through snow on the way over and observing the brewing storm clouds we were prepared for some classic Montana spring weather. With the appearance of Cannondale pro Sam Schultz, the rest of the field knew it would be a fast and furious day of racing. With the help of Landen Beckner, Sam drilled the pace on the first dirt section, and then set a steady tempo out the frontage road en route to the circuit. Once we hit dirt again the lactic acid levels soared as most of the field (myself included) found ourselves burning matches just to stay in contact.
I have been racing for a number of years and thought I had tried about all there was to offer. Last year I was lucky enough to have a good friend of mine strongly encourage me to do the Tusher in the Crusher; he promised it would be like nothing I have ever done before. Half pavement-half dirt with over 10k feet of climbing in little less than 70 miles and I was sure it was going to be a hellish experience for this old crit dog. Turned out to be anything but!
This year TRC has approximately 15 riders signed up and given my newfound zeal, I have been scoping out the local roads from every vantage I can to figure out fun and exciting preparation rides. This past Saturday was one I have been excited about for a while, but never got around to trying. We had a good, solid group of riders when we departed Three Forks.