29 December 2018 – by Scott Heyhoe
As you can read on the website, I came back to cyclo-cross (CX) after a break of some 35 years. In the good old days, CX was a winter fitness activity, and as a kid, I only had one bike. I’d ride to the race on this, do the race (on slick tyres), and ride home. Great fun and great for building fitness. Fast forward 35 years, and CX is the fastest growing form of competitive cycling. I did fairly well in my first season back, finishing in the top 30 most weeks (out of huge fields of 80 or more), and 14th in the Regional Championships. This season, I was regularly placing top 20. I was definitely fit enough to be competing for a top ten most weeks, but my technical skills were just not good enough. This didn’t stop me from entering the Masters National CX Championships at Gravesend Cyclopark in Kent in January of this year though!
I thought that I’d just turn up on the day and give it a bash. However, four weeks before the Championships, someone posted a link on a CX forum to a CX coaching day. This was to be held two weeks before the Championships, on the Championship course, in the presence of the actual course designer. This felt like too good an opportunity to be missed. The organisers really did themselves and everyone else very few favours by hiding away the information about the day on the British Cycling website, not in the CX section, not in the Coaching section, but in the GoRide section. All very odd and no wonder I’d not spotted it before.
Anyway, the day itself was absolutely fantastic. There were some top coaches, plus the course designer, plus some elite riders to demonstrate skills. We were split into two groups: intermediate and advanced. Every rider had entered the Nationals, so the standard was good across the entire group. One thing that struck me was the number of ladies. Fantastic to see. Also quite a few masters (over 40s and over 50s).
We did a proper CX warm up – some interesting one-handed riding, and plenty of dismounts and running. Then we moved onto the course and completed one mini-section at a time. The course designer would explain what he’d aimed to do, the coach would describe the best way to carry speed and stay on the bike, and the elite rider would show us how it was done. We then got to have a go ourselves 8-10 times. Finer points of line, balance, speed, technique were all made by the observers. I learned a huge amount about hitting tricky sections at speed, where and when to dismount, how to ride through sand. We had a break for lunch at the excellent on-site cafe. Then more of the same in the afternoon.
There was a debrief at the end. As the organiser said, preparation for a National Championship should begin weeks before. Check out where are the pits, where will you park, how far from car to course, where are the loos. Understand and control as many variables as you can, meaning that you just need to concentrate on the race on the day itself. You can read about that day in another article!
My recommendation is to seek out these coaching days, go along with an open mind and a determination to learn. There must be more of them – maybe in the wrong section of the BC website, but they are there!