This and That

I know it’s not a very ‘cross-focused title, but sometimes it is challenging to come up with a catchy title. I should be thinking of the search engines when creating my titles (so say the search engine optimization folks) but sometimes I just need to let my fingers do the talking. Okay, enough about the title, lets get onto the argy-bargey (thanks Phil, Paul and the cool dudes at the Velocast for this fine word)….

First off – big news – I have update my sponsors page. I’m honored to be supported by such a fine group of companies. Without their support, this sweet life I lead racing my cyclo-cross bike all over North American and Europe simply wouldn’t be possible. So click on over to the sponsor page to read about these great companies. Just to make it easy for you, I proudly present my sponsors for the 2010 – 2011 cyclo-cross season:
KingsBridge Disaster Recovery: the leader in business continuity and disaster recovery planning software.
The Cyclery: this Ottawa bike store has all your cycling needs covered and the friendliest mechanics in town.
Stevens Bikes: the fastest cyclo-cross bikes around. Just ask the current Women’s World Champion.
Outdoor Gear Company: dealers of fine Giro helmets and sweet Mavic shoes and wheels.
Clif Bar: tasty Shot Bloks, Clif Bars, and Luna bars. You’ll never go hungry with Clif in you jersey pocket.
Champion Systems: custom sublimated clothing for an affordable price – now there is no excuse for bad kit.
Bell Lap Coaching: coach Steve has the skills, the knowledge and the dedication to take you to the next level.
Oakley: Jawbone, Radar, Full Metal Jacket, Enduring… Plus smooth t’s, luggage, caps. Be fast and look good.

In keeping with the updates theme, I’ve also updated my 2010 – 2011 race calendar. I still need to fill out the racing while I’m in Belgium, but I’ve got the World Cup and elite women’s races listed. Like the past three seasons, I’ll be racing with the junior boys when there isn’t a women’s race on the calendar. Anyway, click on over so you can see where I’ll be out having fun and chasing my cyclo-cross dreams this season.

Have to say it is full-on cyclo-cross mode around here these days. Recovery rides are spent in the woods riding my trusty Stevens bike. The trick is of course on these recovery days to keep the legs from getting to excited… To do this, I focus on small things such as: eyes up at all times, constantly pedaling, riding with my hands on the tops rather than the hoods (to curb the over-braking tendencies), to only use the rear brake, and to focus on a high/smooth cadence. By doing this I’m able to maximize my time on the ‘cross bike – even though I’m not ripping around at top speed, I’m still training my body and mind with some crucial skills that come race day, will be second nature.

Today, though was not a recovery day… Nope it was all about that crucial first “45”. The start is perhaps one of the most important sections of the race. A solid start can help you get into a hard-charging group and often can help you avoid the “first corner” pile-ups that happen as the course narrows from the start/finish straight to the hole shot. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you may remember that I have not had a good history with my starts. I’ve had trouble getting amped up for the start and for really putting all my energies into blasting off the line. Well, this is all history for me now. I’ve been working all summer on short intense sprints, my mental attitude to the starts, and really I’ve recognized that if I want to be in the race – I need to start better. So today I drilled myself into the ground with five 45 second start intervals. This may not sound like much but when each of those intervals is done at full gas, five is plenty. I like the numbers I’m seeing. I like the explosion I’m getting in my legs. I’m learning how to use the entire bike to propel me forward. I can tell already that my starts are going to be better this year. Great way to be feeling on this mid-July afternoon.

The rest of the training week is full of tempo intervals and lots of time in the saddle. Nothing like the Sunday long ride to put a smile on my face. I’ll also get out on my ‘cross bike each afternoon for a skill session. Focus will be on barriers, dismounts, mounts (flat and uphill) and uphill/downhill turning.

I’m really looking forward to getting back to Belgium. I wish I could be out riding at Averbode and Kasterlee this weekend! Not to mention hanging out with the ‘cross gang before and after the races. Soon enough though I’ll be back in Blauberg for a winter of racing, training, and soaking up life.

Moving Forward

It is mid-July and I’m starting to feel the rewards of the long hours and efforts in my legs, lungs, heart, and soul. The early summer months were spent doing more riding than I’ve ever done before – lots of long rides, lots of intensity, lots of time with just me, my bike, and my iPod. Focus was on cadence – getting my legs ticking over at a speedy rate, spending lots of time in my tempo zone building and pushing forward, lots of long steady rides that built up physical and mental endurance.

Now it is time to switch gears a bit and focus on race preparation. This means I’m still doing long rides but the intensity has been notched up and changed focus a bit. Cyclo-cross is all about accelerating, maintaining speed, and keeping this speed for the 40 minutes of technical and flowy riding. Throw in some barriers, stairs, sand, mud, tricky descents and you have one of the best ways to spend time on a bike. To get ready for this assault on the senses, I’m working on start intervals, accelerations, threshold work, long rides, and technical skill rides. I’ll start doing some criteriums and road races to get some race intensity into my legs and to continue to build up my mental confidence.

This is a great place to be. The summer so far has had its share and ups and downs with some injuries and health issues. But I’m not letting this get me down. As I’ve written before – “everyone has something”. I have learned to handle my “something” and not let it beat me. I’ve also learned that rest, recovery, sleep and proper nutrition are extremely important. It really doesn’t matter if you do the training if you don’t let your body recover and fuel it sufficiently. I’d have to say that so far this season of training has been a massive success – I’ve learned so much about what I can handle physically and mentally. I feel like a different athlete.

Everything is coming together off the bike as well. I’m pretty happy to announce my sponsors for the upcoming cyclo-cross season. Without the support of these companies, I really wouldn’t be able to chase my cyclo-cross goals and live the dream. Thanks to the following outstanding companies for their support:
KingsBridge Disaster Recovery
Stevens Bikes
The Cyclery
Outdoor Gear Canada
Clif Bar
Bell Lap Coaching

Cyclo-Cross Skills and Drills

Today the training schedule called for 60 minutes of recovery. So like any other eager cyclo-cross racer, I rolled over to my local park with my barrier and flags. Nothing like playing in the park on a Friday morning to put a smile on my face. This little park is a decent place to work on skills – it has a slight incline/hill for setting up the flags and thanks to the soccer field there is room along the side to set up my barrier.

The focus of this session was “back to basics”. Really break down the dismount and mount technique and focus on fully turning the front wheel while traversing the flags. I also gave myself mental cues to focus on keeping my eyes up and maintaining steady pedal pressure going into, during and out of the turns. “Keep pedaling” and “Eyes up” were ever constant in my brain.

I started the session with a “riding the lines” drill. Basically I ride the white lines on the soccer field and focus on making fast turns at line intersections – all the while remembering to look up, to keep steady pedal pressure and to play around with how far I can push the tires, bike lean, and body lean. After this it is time for dismounts and mounts. To warm-up I don’t use the barrier – rather I cruise along the field slowly and focus simply on dismounting properly and then focusing on a smooth mount – there is no running, no lifting of the bike, or heavy breathing.

I find doing these warm-up drills get my body and brain focused on the motions of cyclo-cross and really gets me ready for the faster paced barriers and tighter turning drills. Next it was time for dismount and mount practice with the barrier. I start these drills at a slow pace, gradually building to a faster speed – if I find myself making sloppy mistakes (such as missing the pedal, stutter stepping, etc.), I slow down again and focus on clean smooth technique. One of my goals today was to focus on getting back on the bike quickly, I have a tendency to take to many steps after the barrier.

Next up was turning – thanks to the little slope, I was able to set up my flags to allow me to practice turning uphill and downhill. This works a number of skills at once – keeping the eyes up, constant pedal pressure, really using the upper body to turn the bike, fully turning the front wheel, getting used to letting the bike “fall” down the hill, using only the back brake, and also working on braking, pedaling and turning all together.

Final phase of the session was connecting the barrier and the flags. Ride through the flags up the slope, turn and descend through the flags, then attack the barrier, pedal a bit, turn around and attack the barrier again, and then back to the flags. I just keep repeating this little drill – I get two barrier sessions and lots of turning in with each “repeat”.

To cool down, back to the soccer field – riding the lines and some slow and easy dismounts and mounts.

There you have it! This is how I spent my morning training session. Because today is a recovery day, I did not do any of these drills at full speed – rather I focused on technique and being smooth. The mantra of “go slow to go fast” definitely holds true when working on cyclo-cross skills.

This morning I was riding the Stevens Super Prestige I raced on at the World Cyclo-Cross Championships in Tabor, Czech Republic. This message on my stem brought back some excellent feelings: