Thursday 19 November 2009

gettin' cross

I love this image from Duncan Here Come the Belgians- it's been inspiring me over the past month to do exactly that. To get out and cross, sometimes alone but mostly in company. And it has paid off. Pushing myself in the company of better riders (thanks Dave H), running through technique with others - it's all helped hone those cross skills still further.

I had the good fortune to be coached many years ago by Ian Small, a legend on the NW cross scene. Ian has been involved with cross for longer than he probably cares to remember, and still competes every weekend in the Veteran Over 70 catagory. When I got into cross, Ian was in the minute (ie 4 members) club I joined, Zodiac. He was also coaching the National Cyclocross Development Squad and kindly ran evening cross sessions in Manchester. Those group sessions were hard - warm up, stretching, runs, technique and mini races. All floodlit and often in the worst of weathers. Those sessions provided the bedrock for good technique - technique which still is hard wired today. I am not the strongest in the mud, not the best downhill, not the canniest racer, but I am as quick as most riders out there at getting on and off, and over barriers or obstacles - those basic cross skills.

One of my recent group sessions included a welcome visit to my neck of the woods by Otley Rich. Though he lives in Yorkshire we can forgive him this indiscretion. Rich is a classy rider - light, very strong and with a smooth style and extensive experience to match. He has a distinct sartorial style too. On every occasion that I can remember last year on the road when we have ridden together, he has rode away from me on the hills, pedalling serenely in a bigger gear. It gets frustrating sometimes but is nonetheless great to watch.

This season in cross races, the roles have been reversed - Rich has been close on my heels but not quite there at the finish to beat me as would be expected on previous form. Training together round my local cross circuit it became apparent to me where I was countering his greater strength and fitness - off the bike, over or around an obstacle, and then back on the bike again. With Belgian Mark, we worked together on barrier technique and on mounting, especially on uphill sections. Like many riders, Rich had a tendency to jump too high, landing slightly heavy on the saddle and losing momentum in the process. Barriers were approached a little too slow and the foot section started a little too early, rather than taking a single stride before and then over the barrier. I enjoyed thinking too about those skills - they were passed onto me and I have taken them for granted over the years. Explaining the little details and the subtle tips to others confirms my own familiarity with the technique. Doing stuff at race pace on a simulated lap or course is also essential. It is one thing to string together a beautiful coast into the barriers, set up for a single stride and mount in a flowing motion when fresh, but when your heart is up in the red zone, your vision blurred and your arms exhausted from previous laps, that smoothness becomes a real struggle. The engrams or patterns of movement that you have hard wired previously become all the more important.

I urge you then, to find a local group, get a few friends together and do some skills work. Design your own course in a local park or wood. You dont need a lot of space, just some imagination and a mindset where you aren't bothered being observed jogging alongside a bike, randomly hopping onto it and picking it up for imaginary barriers that only you can see........

As for Rich, I suspect he will be beating me soon armed with his new toolkit of techniques. But only if he blags his way nearer the front row of the starting grid like I do to ensure a quick get away...........

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