Wednesday, September 3, 2008

How To Race Smart This Season

Rest. It's easy to overtrain, particularly in 'cross. There are so many aspects to work on--running, power, technique, starts--that you could go hard every day of the week. Tip: Don't. Take a day off, frequently. Cyclocross is so intense that most people will do fine with just a weekly race plus one other hard workout during the week. If you rest up for your next race you'll feel the improvement on race day.

Practice technique. All your fitness is wasted if you burn energy fruitlessly with bad technique. Following up on tip #1 above: instead of going for a hard ride Saturday before a race, go for an easy spin and then work on some dismounts, runups and remounts, focusing on smoothness and efficiency. Remember that feeling of smoothness when you are in the race the next day.

Pre-ride the course slowly. When you get to the venue, you may be in the habit of suiting up and going for a couple hard laps of the course for a warmup. Tip: Try a lap or two, slowly. Examine each section carefully and look for ways to go faster. Get off the bike and walk difficult spots forwards and backwards. Watch other racers (the leaders, hopefully) to see what they do. Get on the bike and practice each section a few times, trying different approaches, dismount points, etc. Then go and do your hard laps.

Check your tires. At every race, there is an optimal tire pressure for your body weight, your riding style, the course and the conditions. Chances are that's not the pressure that's in your tires when you arrive. Take a couple laps at different pressures to check the performance in cornering, on the bumps, pavement, etc.

Guzzle water before the race. Handups are awkward and a waste of time, and you may not have someone there to give you a bottle. Instead, drink a bottle's worth of water just before the race, and that should be enough to get you through. Remember to try this in practice to acclimate to drinking so much water, before trying it in a race.

Don't panic at the start, especially if you're not a sprinter type. It's far easier to come back from a too-slow start than to recover from a too-fast one. Know your body and don't try to over-reach in the early going. Instead, stay alert and watch out for the inevitable crashes and jam-ups--you can gain plenty of time just avoiding those. Later you can find your best speed and pick your way through the field.

Attack the difficulties. 'Cross is hard work. It's easy to hit your max on the course and just stay there. When obstacles come up, it's tempting to coast a little before the dismount--and that makes it easier to dismount too, right? Don't do it! The real hard work in a race is all the accelerations after you slow down for those obstacles. So, if you need to rest a little, do it in between obstacles where the penalty is less. When you come to the dismount it's time to go hard and carry your speed over the barrier. This is especially true of uphill dismounts or rideable hills.

Watch your opponents. If you're fortunate enough to be duking it out with someone for a place in the top 10, top 20 or whatever, watch them throughout the race. Look for their strengths and weaknesses that you can exploit. Are they hesitant at the obstacles? Plan to attack them on a difficult dismount. Are they strong on the runups? Make sure not to let any gaps open. Do they have poor technique? Relax--they'll probably burn out without you having to do anything. Meanwhile, know your own strengths and weaknesses, and don't be tripped up by them.

Make a plan for the end. This is a follow-up of #8. Once you know yourself and your opponents, do something about it. Don't wait for them to make the move if you are capable of attacking. The race isn't won by the one who rides the fastest all the time; it's won by the one who goes fast at the right times.

Engage your brain. If you didn't pick this up already, it bears repeating. Cyclocross is not a sport of just fitness, it's also one of skill and focus. Ride dumb and you will perform the same. Keep your wits about you all the time and you'll do well.

Ever Wonder What The Pros Ride?

Specifications: Tim Johnsons Cannondale/ Team Bike
Frame Cannondale Optimo CAAD 9 52cm
Fork Easton EC90X 1-1/8
Headset Ritchey WCS integrated 1-1/8
Handlebars Ritchey WCS Classic 44cm 31.8
Stem Ritchey WCS 4 Axis 100mm 31.8
Tape Fizik Bar Tape
Front Brakes Avid Shorty 6
Rear Brakes Avid Shorty 6
Crankset Cannondale Si Carbon Integrated 172.5
Chainrings TruVativ 46/42
Chain SRAM Force
Cassette SRAM Force 12-26
Bottom Bracket Cannondale Si Integrated
Pedals Shimano M-959
Seat Fizik Aliante Ti/Carbon
Seatpost Ritchey WCS Carbon 27.2
Brake Levers SRAM Force
Shift Levers SRAM Force
Front Derailleur SRAM Force
Rear Derailleur SRAM Force 31.8 clamp
Wheelset Mavic Ksyrium ES Tubular and Clincher
Tires Duagst Rhino 32
Tubes Salsa
Notes Tim switches from Ksyrium ES clincher and tubulars. He also has the choice of any tires available. For tubbies though he chooses Dugast Rhinos and Flying Doctors. The Flying Doctors are mounted on Mavic Carbones

In other words, nothing you or I can't run out and get at the shop. Now if I can only find a pair of legs to match!

17 Days and Counting


Tonight was an evening well spent in my opinion. The weather was perfect, the kids were already asleep, and I had tubulars to glue. There is something therapeutic to me about taking the time to glue a brand new set of wheels. Applying the first coats to a hand-built pair of wheels is like putting the icing on a cake. Sure anyone can go out and buy a pre-built pair of wheels, but there is something magical about taking a handful of spokes, a rim and a hub and sitting down and building a set of wheels.

While putting glue to rim I began to reminisce about all of the stories I had heard from two of the most influential people in my cycling life. Way back in 1994 and 1995I managed a bike shop, a little shop on Halsted known as Performance. I know some of you may scoff at the idea of calling Performance a shop, but I learned many lessons there, many of which have stuck with me through the years. I met two people while working there and still think of them often. They were both mechanics and they were good at their craft. Sure they could both be cranky, but they both took time out to share their secrets gleaned from years of experience.Both Frank and Scott were journeymen mechanics, Scott having worked at several shops since he was a teenager and Frank was a former Team USA mechanic back in the ‘80’s. Between the two of them I learned everything I know today about bikes, from frame geometry to fit, wheel building , and maintenance. Don't even get me started on gear ratios.

During that time I also heard many stories about the icons of the sport that we revere today. Stories about breakfast with Merckx, or stories about a French champion who preferred to be called Larry rather than Laurent, or Connie Carpenter wearing nothing but the Stars and Stripes jersey in the hotel the night after taking the national championship. All of these stories and the wisdom these two men imparted on me have stayed with me all of these years. Maybe it was the fumes from the tubular glue, but it was nice to step back 12 years as I spread the glue across the rim and remember everything Scott and Frank taught me about gluing wheels. I can even remember with almost crystal clear clarity the day Frank taught me to build my first set of wheels, tubular of course. His patience with me was reassuring and also refreshing. While life has taken away almost all of my time these days to do many of the things I want, sitting down to glue a tire to rim was a nice step back to when times were a bit simpler.

These two mechanics were the epitome of the word PRO before there was the meaning we have for it today as cyclists. From their tricks, to their stories, to their understanding of everything cycling. Everyone should be as lucky as I was to have been mentored by such great men. If you are lucky enough to have a shop that has great mechanics, watch them work, watch how they interact not only with the bike, but with the young mechanics that may only work there for the summer. Watch as a great mechanic can turn a wrench and tell a story with such ease. More importantly listen to what he has to say, he may just know what he is talking about.