Cross is here
The season has come round fast, I had a great summer, for the first time in a long time I’ve not had any distractions and have been able to focus fully on training, resting, eating, sleeping and most importantly my time on the beach eating watermelons with Matt! After a while since I last pined on a number, its exciting to get back into the swing of racing.
Looking back, the cross season for me used to start early October, queue - autumn leaves, crisp mornings and some rain. All of which provide a perfect combination for my favourite kind of cross race.
The last 2/3 years the seasons seem to be getting earlier and earlier. The suns still beaming and the weather is HOT. Racing in the heat is personally one of the many reasons I chose not to race on the road this summer and one of the reasons I've not travelled to the USA this year. My body just doesn’t deal well with the heat, I’ve not quite worked it out yet but after a few bouts of heat stroke and fainting, I've decided to listen to my body this time. I've tried everything from living and training in the heat, playing with electrolyte consumption, saunas, ice in my bottles etc. but I guess sometimes we just need to accept our body thrives in the conditions which its happy with. Maybe why I'm a cross rider. Cooler, wetter weather come to me!
After the MTB nationals back in July, I took a proper holiday for the first time in a while to fully reset ahead of the cross season. Once I got home I felt fully refreshed and ready to get stuck into some cross-specific training and work on my weaknesses.
Next on the list was a trip up to one of my favourite places, Andorra. I actually only went there first the first time last year so I was really excited to get back up there. Soldeu is a tiny little village up at 1800m that's pretty isolated from the hustle and bustle and is typically not too busy at that time of year. It’s exactly the type of environment I needed to get in a good block of training and breath in some of that fresh mountain thin air. The 20-degree temperature change from Girona was a welcome advantage too! I spent my time up there working pretty hard. Every day consisted of some kind of running, road riding, cross training and core work and was typically more than one of session per day. It was just what I needed. Even though my home is usually Girona in the summer, I don't really feel ever like I’m on a training camp. I feel enormous gratitude to be able to call this place home but as always our home roads sometimes get a bit old so sometimes I think that having a different place to go for a few weeks training can be really refreshing. It's also a chance to meet some new animal friends along the way, such as the local goats living next door! On the ride back up to our apartment every day we were greeted by some friendly goats who always wanted a chat (or my last energy bar) so that was always good motivation to get me back up those final meters of 15%! I also had Matts company for the first week, needless to say, he was probably the fittest retired cyclist by the end of his time there, I dragged him out for the odd vo2max session and cross training i’de say I put him through his paces before he headed out to start his new job back in the real world with British cycling :-).
After a few weeks up in the mountains I came back to Girona before heading back to the UK for our Mudiiita / GBCT cross camp in Bakewell, the life of a cycling gipsy! It was very inspiring to see so many young riders full of motivation ready and eager to learn for the coming season and be able to have some face time with them was great. As soon as the craziness of cross season hits us it's quite hard to have caught up with everyone as race days are always so busy. So this was a great chance to just have a chat with the riders, get their feedback and answer any questions they may have about racing in the UK and Europe. Ian Field was along to give some great advice too and I think that will be hugely beneficial for these future cross stars to take with them on their next adventures.
I sometimes take the (what I see as) simple things I know at and around a race for granted and its great to be reminded that I was one of those young riders once and realise how much I've learned over these last few years and how much I can share with them. Back when I was their age there weren’t any experienced riders who had been at various levels of the sport whom I could chat with, so I hope after sharing some of my own experiences with them it will inspire them as much as their motivation inspires me and will go on to race with courage and confidence to go for it and get stuck in. Win or lose every race is a chance to grow and so I hope that's what that camp will have provided.
A few days after the camp it was time to pack up everything I had in the UK and set off in the car back to my Belgian home, ready for the season. The annual mountain of packages from Zipp, Sram, Kask, Bioracer and Specialized were all waiting for us and ready to be delved into and sorted out for the coming season. It makes a huge difference to know these companies are behind me and I'm very thankful for working with them all as always.
So before I knew it the first real race of the season was here. Geraardsbergen, a course which I had never ridden before. I was excited and nervous to get underway with racing. It never gets easier standing on the start line for the first race of the season. Even knowing you have had a consistent summer of training, being back in the deep at a race is always different, and coming straight into a summer cross its always a shock to the system not just for me but for everyone. For a diesel like myself, it always takes some time to find that race Zipp and remind my head and body the ebbs and flows of a cross race. The Ferraris come out flying and you have to remind yourself of what your missions are in the season, keep your focus and keep “chopping the wood & carrying the water”it's a learning curve, that's for sure and one that is critical in order to move onwards and upwards. The course was great, it was a bloody tough one to start off with, a lot of kicks climbs and very fast. I was a little disappointed the one challenging decent was removed for our race before the start but either way, it was still fun. 7 laps up the Muur van Gerardsbergen was a nice way to really remind my body of racing at 180bpm for 50 minutes! No amount of training efforts can prepare you for doing an actual cross race and pinning on that number. I found where my race shape was at and I have a marker to start the season. Job done.
Next, I headed back to Girona, my base for the following three weeks. I went to race in Illnau Switzerland last weekend while the majority of riders had gone over to America for the first World Cups. I made the decision a while ago to skip these, its a bit of a risk because I know I will lose out on some points but my goals come later in the season and I feel personally that from experience without the added stress of those races I can be mentally and physically in a better place in January.
Illnau was another great course and another opportunity to get a race under my belt, it was a good battle for the podium spots and as always, I really enjoyed racing somewhere new. Most of the Belgian races I know like that back of my hand, I love that but I also like to step out my comfort zone and challenge myself on a new course and in a new environment.
We have another Mudiiita / GBCT planned early October with a group of riders coming out to race in Belgium. It's great to be able to give them these opportunities and give them as much experience as possible over in Europe. I feel like its something which is key their progression in the coming months and years. My early years of turning up to local Belgian cross races in my Renault Clio, with my bike and borrowed wheels and rollers was, looking back, some of the most valuable lessons I learned and it gave me the motivation to assess where I was and what I needed to do to become one of those riders I looked up to. It's being thrown in the deep end, a place which you can learn and then thrive, a place to push yourself and step out of your comfort zone. I guess Belgium cross racing is the best place to do that.
Onwards and upwards!
Thanks for the support.