A few years ago, my mind was blown. I remember pre-riding the course behind teammate and Ohio Valley fast guy Phil Noble. Phil has this great ability to find those little snippets of the course where you could gain an extra pedal stroke on hard ground. At Gun Club, the little patch of pavement coming out of the U-Turn by the grill was a great example. You’re saying, “I know exactly what you’re talking about Joe Biker! You could totally get 2 big pedals strokes in there to bomb the gravel decent.” Yes! Yes! No. No. You don’t get it. Ya see, what I learned that day from Phil, while as big of a revelation as mayonnaise on French fries, was just a small tip to the valet. It was a glimpse of something bigger. I’m about to lay a “Get Him To The Greek” furry-wall mind blowing on ya. I’m leaving the winning lotto ticket for the waitress.
What've you been doing since like freaking August? Intervals! Yes. We’ve all been doing intervals since late August, because uh…well…that’s what idiots like us do to train for cyclocross. You gotta do intervals. Hill repeats. Lactate threshold. 85%! It’s all about the intervals, being the Duke of Devou Park, Master of Mt. Adams. 8 minute intervals. 3 minute intervals. 30 on, 30 off x4, 3 sets.
The thing is, no one is doing sandpit repeats. No one’s doing LT intervals through a creek crossing. You’re certainly not doing 10 second intervals through the barriers. The sandpit, barriers, run ups and creek crossings are just there to confuse you. Shut up legs? No. Shut up brain. If you’re easing up on the straightaways and catching your breath through soft corners, you’re doing cyclocross backwards.
Think about where doing two and three minute donkey wheezing snot driveling lactate threshold intervals would’ve paid off at Gun Club. Through the start and finish area straightaways? Yes. After the little single barrier run-up and into the soft cornered out and back section of the course? Yes. Headed up to the bridge? Yes. After the big “run-up?” Ding! Ding! Ding! There’s your 2 minute intervals. There’s your 30 on and 30 off. Those are precisely the sections of the course where you should be burning your matches.
(GUN CLUB WARM-UP COURTESY PETER HILLS)
Next time when you scout a course, look at it in relation to your training, your intervals, where you’re going to go all out, where you can recover. What I learned from Phil wasn’t about where I could gain two pedal strokes. It was about gaining the first two pedal strokes going into the real hard parts of the course, where I could open it up full gas. Danish Nat'l Champ Joachim Parbo once said to a group at the Devou Park CX Clinic, it’s not about who gets through the barriers first. It’s about who gets up to 25mph after the barriers first.
At Gun Club, there wasn’t much ground to be gained between the sand pit and the single barrier run-up. There weren’t gaps to be goosed on the hillside switchback, the creek crossing or the twists and turns that returned riders to the pit area. The obstacles of a cx course are where having a lower heart rate and a clear head can prevail. Obstacles mean recovery. Getting on the gas sooner out of obstacles and holding onto that speed into the next recovery section is where gaps are created and wheels held. Now go download some Dead on I-Tunes and get on the trainer.