Last minute prep for Cyclo-cross Nationals


By Gus Grissom
Well, it’s happened again: another great season of cyclo-cross has wrapped up. That is, of course, unless you are one of the lucky, adventurous ‘cross racers who has decided to give your season one final peak, one last adventure before cleaning those race wheels and dreaming of the ever-elusive “next year.”
Yes, it’s time for the 2015 USA Cycling Cyclo-cross National Championships. And this year the action will center on Zilker Park in Austin, Texas, Jan. 7-11.
So if you're one of the lucky ones preparing for your trip to Nats, what do you need to know? What should you think about in the final days before your big race?
Mentally prepare yourself for a "big-time" race.
According to Rusty Williford, coach for Fulcrum Coaching and contributor to Skills, Drills & Bellyaches: A Cyclocross Primer, the challenge for most first-time Nats racers will be managing the intensity of an event of this magnitude.
“Nats really has the feeling of a ‘big-time’ race,” Williford explains, “so if you are used to competing in smaller series or one-off races in your particular region, the scale of this race will be the first thing you notice.”
This scale, in Williford’s experience, creates a situation where a racer burns a lot of nervous energy in the day or hours leading up to his own race.
With this in mind, Williford advises racers to prepare themselves mentally for the event and venue as much as for the race.
“It’s tough,” he says, “because it’s a single-day event, one-shot. This means everyone has more stress, more distractions from the buzz of the crowd, more uncertainty about a field of racers they’ve never seen before, and the basic self-confidence issues of just not knowing where you stand in a national-caliber field.”
It can be overwhelming, he adds, if a racer isn’t prepared for the excitement. Every racer needs to remain focused on executing his or her own race-day rituals, preparations, and warm-up routines which should be well-established at this point in the season. So, while it is simple to do what racers normally do every weekend between September and January, it can be very complicated to focus on these details at a national-level event.
Get ready for a fast course.
But what should racers know about the course and venue itself to be prepared? According to Gary Metcalf, Founder and President of Cadence Sports, the group responsible for organizing the championships, racers need to be ready for a “fast course” that has been created by two of the premier course designers in the country, Keegan Schelling and Pete Webber. Metcalf explains that while Zilker Park has not traditionally been a cyclo-cross venue, these two have truly transformed it into a national-level one for this event.
“The course is very fair and very fast, with less elevation change than some racers will be used to,” he adds.
But one of the defining features, a series of limestone run-ups, will present an interesting challenge for racers of all experience levels.
“While the run-up is in line with all UCI regulations,” Metcalf explains, “it is being kept in a very natural state. This means that it’s not perfectly even and uniform. So every racer is going to have to pick his or her own best route. And the variable conditions are going to dictate quick decisions on nearly every lap.”
Plus, he adds, racers will rocket down an exciting manmade ramp on every lap. This ramp, Metcalf adds slyly, should be “very fan-friendly.” Heckle pit? Metcalf doesn’t say.
What about the weather in Austin?
As for conditions, Metcalf is quick to remind first-time visitors to the Austin area that “the weather in winter can change rapidly.”
He notes that it has been relatively dry recently and the course, which is mostly grass with a bit of pavement, should be very fast. But he adds that racers simply have to be prepared for any conditions.
“Sure,” Metcalf explains, “Texas grass can be pretty hard in the winter and there are always the chances of burrs causing punctures out there.” But he ensures every racer that Cadence Sports will oversee the mowing and maintenance of the course in the coming weeks to make sure as much potential for punctures has been removed as possible.
While Metcalf recognizes that Austin is not a traditional ‘cross venue and won’t likely offer all the snow, rain, and mud of a New England course, he is certain there is a little something for racers from every region and, as he explains, “a lot of variability for a Southern U.S. cyclo-cross venue.”
Manage the logistics efficiently.
Prior to the race, of course, there are lots of logistics for racers. Metcalf says, however, that the process of getting checked-in and set-up for the race will be very racer-friendly.
“Racers will be able to check-in, pick up numbers, and get all their questions answered at Bicycle Sports Shop on South Lamar Blvd.” This shop, the official bike store of the event, is less than a quarter-mile’s worth of bike lane from the venue and will be able to manage every racer’s needs, from packet pick-up to parking passes. Bicycle Sports Shop is the first place racers will need to visit. From there, racers will find ample parking at the venue and several options for warming-up.
“Everyone can warm-up behind their cars in the parking lot,” Metcalf explains. “But CycleOps will be setting up a neutral warm-up tent with about thirty trainers for first-come, first-served athletes. Additionally there is a paved road just on the back edge of the park that will be closed for racer-use only. So everyone can use this as a warm-up road if they are so inclined.”
Unwind and enjoy the national championship atmosphere!
After your race, of course, there are plenty of options for unwinding and reveling in the glory of the national championships. Metcalf would point racers to the constant presence of food trucks in the park, the vendors in the expo area, the beer garden that will be open from 12-5 on Friday through Sunday, and the Jumbotron that will be set up in the middle of it all.
“The great thing about this course,” Metcalf brags, “is that it’s perfect for spectators. From the central area, racers and fans can just turn around and watch the action on nearly every section of the course.”
And in addition, after the final event racers can take advantage of Austin’s reputation for live music with a post-race party on Sunday at Speakeasy On The Avenue.
So if this is your first “Nats” experience, heed Williford’s advice and “be prepared to be a bit overwhelmed” so the venue and event themselves don’t sap too much of your race energy. And if you are an experienced racer at the national level, prepare as you normally would for any “Southern U.S. cyclo-cross course.” Regardless, if you are coming to Austin to experience the 2015 National Cyclocross Championships, Metcalf assures you that “this venue is in the heart of Austin.” And Austin, in his words, has so much to offer visiting athletes that everyone who chooses to make the trip will have the capstone event he or she is looking for at the end of a action-packed ‘cross season.

This Article Updated January 2, 2015 @ 10:24 PM For more information contact: