Cyclocross worlds are 3 days away and I still can't really believe I'm here. It's all seemed just a crazy plan for so long now that I almost managed to convince myself that it was. But here we are. After I won nationals, I remember someone asked me whether I'd consider going to world champs and I'm pretty sure I laughed out loud. But then I talked to the Supercoach, and she reminded me that here was a type of racing for which it was possible to train in limited time, and that here was a new challenge that would keep us all happily occupied for the Summer. And so the plan began.
My preparation over the past few months has been really interesting. It's been the product of teamwork between a whole lot of people, both at the VIS and outside, and sharing this will hopefully give you an insight into the amazing people I get to work with. I feel very lucky.
Most of you reading this will be aware that cyclocross is huge in Europe, where kids practically exit the womb riding bikes. At local club races, riders rock up in giant camper vans with their photos plastered all over them. Being a cyclist is not only a legitimate occupation, it's kind of like being an AFL footballer at home. Actually, I feel exactly how a Belgian cyclocross rider would feel if they rocked up to play in an AFL grand final. So, from the beginning, we had our work cut out for us.
Our biggest challenge, though (and there are LOTS) was time. Because I didn't have time to learn to be a complete cyclocross rider, we instead pulled apart the Hoogerheide race course 4 months ago and focused all my preparation solely on tackling that course. It became kind of like a war game, which I love, and it's certainly kept us all challenged. Nick Owen, our physiologist in the cycling program at VIS, tracked down You Tube clips and 3D maps, and together with Supercoach Donna Rae-Szalinski we worked on standing start sprints for the 300m starting straight and stair runs to replicate the 30%, 30m hill on course. Harry Brennan, who is my strength & conditioning coach at VIS, planned a gym program that incorporated a mix of strength work and plyometrics to get better at running over obstacles. In terms of physiology, I've had to change the type of rider I am, from a multi-day tour specialist on the road to a 45-minute CX specialist in the dirt and mud. It's meant having to improve my power and explosiveness, which for me requires a lot of work because it's not my natural skill set.
The second piece of the puzzle was improving my dirt handling. I love mountain biking, but I'm not naturally a technical rider, so I have to work pretty hard on my skills. My cross bike has gone everywhere with me over the past few months! I have a regular MTB crew ride every Wednesday before work, and for the past few months I've been riding my CX bike on the singletrack, chasing the guys on their MTBs. I also raced a couple of stages of Forrest Festival on it which was pretty fun.
The next piece of the puzzle was getting some CX-specific skills. Over Christmas I went to Adelaide and did some skills work with Neil Ross, who is one of the best MTB coaches in Australia, and a CX guru. He designed a skills session that replicated parts of the Hoogerheide course, and we used loose dirt and dry leaves to replicate riding in snow and ice. He also taught me some neat shouldering & blocking techniques which are unique to CX.
In terms of race preparation, I couldn't come over to do a whole world cup season due to work, so instead I did a bit more crit racing and enjoyed being able to train outside in an Australian Summer rather than slog through a European winter on a wind trainer. Mostly it went to plan, although my plan to get a sneaky 45min hit out in the national champs road race went slightly awry. I raced a UCI CX race in China in September, which was a good introduction to the standard I can expect at international level CX racing.
Over here in Bergen op Zoom, I've got a killer support crew consisting of the amazing Pete Young, logistics expert and Head Pirate, and the awesome Paul Larkin, who has come all the way over to be my personal mechanic. These guys do all the hard work and all I have to do is ride my bike. I am super lucky.
So sorry again that this is such a boring post. It's been a fantastic journey over the past few months, and quite an adventure. On Saturday we'll find out what worked and what didn't. I'm excited.