Today was the first day of the much-anticipated UCI cyclo-cross training camp. I stumbled onto news of this camp in the summer, thanks to some poking around the UCI web site by my number one supporter. A quick email later and I was registered and set for a week of cyclo-cross training.
Many thanks to Matt Knight of the CCA for handling the registration process and helping me find out more about the camp. If the rest of the camp is anything like today, this is going to be one heck of an excellent week!
So the camp is basically on-site course training at Koksijde – the location of the World Cup on Saturday. I really didn’t know much about the Koksijde race course. I had just heard that it is quite sandy and that everyone says it is “special”. Well, they got that right. This course is mega-sandy and this does make it very “special” i.e. super challenging.
Anyway, back to the first day of the camp. I’m lucky this week that I’m able to get a drive to Koksijde and back each day with Rudy De Bie (Belgian National Team coach) and the coach for the camp. This saves me a lot of money on hotels and also I get to relax in the car and just chat and hear different stories. We hit the road pretty early this morning since we had a two hour road ride scheduled at 9:30 (so we left here at 7..). Got to De Panne (just outside Koksijde) and met up with Kate Potter (Australian mountain biker and cyclo-cross racer) and her husband Ian. They have a small hotel to themselves this week so we unloaded Rudy’s truck and then he set off to get the three Danish riders also participating in the camp.
Then it was off for a windy ride. This was wind like I’ve never ridden it before. There is quite the storm situation happening in Europe right now and the coast is particularly rough. At times I felt like my bike was sideways in the wind – making for some hard morning training. But after a nice lunch break and chatting with Kate, Ian and Rudy we were all ready for the afternoon session. We hooked up with the Danish riders (two guys and one girl) and went to check out the course.
Wow – what a course! Never have I ridden on such a course. The entire course is intense. There is a lot of sand. There is also a lot of grass. But the grass is not nice friendly grass. It is soft and kind of bumpy – seems like there is a deep layer of sand below the grass. So you feel like you are on the gas the whole time. There is short uphill sand run but it is the hardest 200 meters of your life. And then there is the descent right away – in super deep sand. Sounds easy to descend in sand… Nope. It is even more challenging than riding in the flats!
We weren’t able to ride all of the course today. But we did see some of the key sections. Already after riding the course for just 90 minutes, I know I have improved. I picked up a lot of tips and advice from Rudy about riding in the sand, the transition points, what to do in the start, etc. A super valuable day.
We did some “hot” laps and attacked the sand, sand run, sand descent. Then we’d recover a bit and then hit the finishing section with another key sand section in it. Recover a bit. And then do it all over again. Super fun.
I have to say that this sand dwarfs any sand I’ve ever ridden in before. It makes the 100 meters of volleyball court sand we have in races at home, seem like nothing. This sand is something else. But it is fun. Really fun. Sand riding as I learned today is a skill. Just have to learn the skill. The things I was told today: keep the feet turning over, stay loose on the bars (don’t hold on tight), don’t steer the front wheel – let it go where it wants. Just need to remember to do all this and hopefully the sand won’t suck you down. It is funny because one time you can get quite far through it, then the next time you stall out really early, and then the next time you can get all the way through. As Rudy said “also with sand you need to have some luck”.
I can safely say that I am definitely lucky to be participating in this camp. Especially with such a small group, we are all getting a lot of help and advice.
Now it is time for me to get my stuff out of the washing machine and get it dried so I can be ready to do it all again tomorrow. We’re heading out later tomorrow. We’re all doing our road riding separately and then meeting up for the afternoon. This makes it a bit easier for myself and Rudy as we don’t have to leave so early.
I’m only one day into this training camp and I do believe that this will be a very valuable week for me. I’m learning so much – just from being around Rudy and getting his advice on training, racing, recovery, eating (chocolate is not good for bike racers…) and also from meeting the other racers and learning from them and feeding off their energy. It is also super nice to be with a group of people all week. Helps chase the “quiet” time away.
Well, I best be off. Still have to get up a bit early tomorrow to get in a spin on the road before the drive to Koksijde. I’m sure I’ll have more lessons and stories to tell you tomorrow. Tomorrow the entire course will be set up and even the road section will be closed to traffic so that people can train. Nothing like being in a country that embraces bike racers so much!
(Thanks again to Matt Knight and the CCA for supporting me and registering me for this camp. Super valuable week.)