Riding the Edge in Cyclocross, with Stephen Hyde

We explore the skills, technique, and nuances of cyclocross with three-time national champion Stephen Hyde.

Fast Talk Episode 181 Riding the Edge Cyclocross with Stephen Hyde
3-time national cyclocross champion Stephen Hyde

In this episode we’re talking cyclocross, a discipline that is as demanding as it is rewarding and educational. Because there are so many variables in ’cross, athletes are constantly being challenged and consistently faced with new opportunities to learn and progress. Whether that’s the engine or the skills. Whether that’s strength, power, finesse, or off-the-bike prowess. In cyclocross, you’re always on the edge, and that’s the focus of today’s episode.

The short duration, high-intensity nature of cyclocross sharpens the pointy end of fitness. Cyclocross also offers countless opportunities to improve many technical aspects of cycling. Want to exponentially improve your handling skills? Cyclocross is the answer. Always wanted to feel more “at-one” with your bike? Yup, cyclocross wins again.

Today we’ll hear from one of the greats of American cyclocross, three-time national champion Stephen Hyde, a longtime member of the iconic Cannondale-cyclocrossworld.com squad who now races for the Steve Tilford Foundation Racing team. We talk about all aspects of the sport, from dealing with the weather to skills acquisition to tactics and race-day prep.

We also hear from Alec Donahue, who once coached Hyde and who specializes in cyclocross coaching, as well as Dr. William Adams, who speaks to preparing for cold weather. All that and more, today on Fast Talk.

‘Cross is here. ’Cross never left. Let’s make you fast!

Stephen Hyde
Stephen Hyde of the Steve Tilford Foundation Racing Team.

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Episode Transcript

Chris Case 00:12
Hey everyone, welcome to Fast talk your source for the science of endurance performance. I’m your host Chris Case. Today we’re talking cyclocross a discipline that is as demanding as it is rewarding and educational. Because there are so many variables in cross athletes are constantly being challenged and consistently faced with new opportunities to learn and progress, whether that’s the engine or the skills, whether that’s strength, power, finesse, or off-the-bike prowess. In cyclocross, you’re always on the edge of something. And that’s the focus of today’s episode. The short-duration high-intensity nature of cyclocross sharpens the pointy end of fitness. Cyclocross also offers countless opportunities to improve many technical aspects of cycling. Want to exponentially improve your handling skills? cyclocross is the answer. Always wanted to feel more quote at one with your bike. Yep, cyclocross wins again. Today we’ll hear from one of the greats of Americans across three-time national champions Stephen Hyde, a longtime member of the iconic Cannondale cyclocross world squad who now races for the Steve Tilford foundation racing team. We talk about all aspects of the sport. From dealing with the weather to skills acquisition to tactics and race day prep. We also hear from Alec Donahue, who once coacheded Hyde and who specializes in cyclocross coaching, as well as Dr. William Adams who speaks to preparing for cold weather. All that and more today on Fast Talk. ‘Cross is here, ‘cross never left. Let’s make you fast.

Ryan Kohler 01:57
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Chris Case 02:40
Thanks for joining us today, Steven Hyde. It’s a pleasure to have you on Fast Talk.

Stephen Hyde 02:43
Pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me.

Trevor Connor 02:45
Thanks for joining us.

Introduction To Steven Hyde

Chris Case 02:47
So to those out there that need a little reminder. Steven is a three-time national champion in cyclocross he won in Hartford, which I raced at very snowy conditions, icy conditions, some nasty ruts as I remember. And then you went out to Reno, which was quite dry, completely different conditions, high altitude as well. And then Louisville in 2019, which was very muddy, a lot of elevation change on the course slick conditions, some ruts as well. I raced there. Nasty, but various conditions you’ve mastered it all.

Stephen Hyde 03:36
Yeah, for sure. I can remember if you definitely. I probably have some a couple of choice words for Worlds at Valkenburg a couple years ago. But you know, cyclocross is such an interesting sport. And I say sport as opposed to like, discipline, because it’s just so different, it’s always so demanding in so many different ways. You can never really train for the one specific thing for cyclocross really is because it’s just so dynamic. I mean, when I think about like a super dynamic race, you know, Worlds at Valkenburg it was just on the edge of freezing, raining for days and days and days, weeks up to it, super hilly, lots of wind, and just a course that would not stop changing. You look at the tactics people were using, and those that went out really hard early on, detonated look at Vanderwall. You know, the favorite who’s supposed to go out and, and absolutely dominate and he’s so good, and he’s in these hilly fast courses, or hilly sloppy courses or flat sloppy courses. But on that day, he just couldn’t get out of his own way. And it really required technique-driven patient race. And I personally remember that being one of my best rides, you know, it wasn’t necessarily my best placing but it was one of the best rides and the way that all things considered I kept together well. My plan went really well. I changed things on the fly, adapted and suffered to a very large degree but never gave up. That’s cyclocross on a really bad day. And there’s so many other races, especially early season, where we can look at just like hot grass, overheating, punchy kind of death march for 60 minutes. I know that’s a long race, but there’s a lot of damage to be done in 60 minutes so.

Chris Case 05:47
Yeah, so that’s the interesting thing about cyclocross, especially today, which is where the season seems to be getting longer and starting earlier. So it’s not just a nasty weather in the autumn months, type of discipline or sport anymore, you have to come in and be able to deal with heat depending on where you live in the world. But even the racers, starting their seasons, early in Europe are dealing with some pretty hot conditions. So you got a good point there that it isn’t just about dealing with wet-cold conditions, it’s sometimes about dealing with hot and heavy conditions when you’re really going hard. And maybe choking on some dust and the taste of blood that is a natural part of any early ‘cross race is only exacerbated that by the taste of dust in your mouth. So yeah.

What Is The Attraction Of Cyclocross?

Stephen Hyde 06:48
They complement each other well that’s for sure

Chris Case 06:51
Right. It’s interesting, too, because looking back at cyclocross in terms of its history, it was in some ways meant to be a good training session in a nasty time of year. So it’s short, it’s intense, you stay warm. But it now has this allure, the bad weather is sort of what attracts certain people. Would you agree with that? that it has some amount of charm for a select number of people? And if so, if you agree with that, why do you think that is? Is it just kids who like to play in the mud?

Stephen Hyde 07:30
I mean, some do for sure. It’s interesting, cyclocross attracts so many different people. You want to say it’s like this, it only attracts these masochistic lunatics, which it does. But there’s something so appealing to me personally, about just being kind of the last man standing, about just kind of enduring, it’s not a long race. I mean, these races are anywhere from 30 to 1 hour and 15, right. And so 75 minutes for a World Cup Isn’t that long. I mean, it’s not even as long as like cross country mountain bike race, you know, at 90 minutes. But it’s just as like repeated punches, punches, punches. Falling off your bike, how many times can you adapt? How many times can you race a course, a lap that, changes and degrades over 8,9,12 laps. You know, for me, it’s always just been an interest in doing something that shouldn’t be done to begin with. I grew up as a BMX guy. I did a lot of street, you know, skatepark dirt jumps, you know, we kind of built our own farm, right. I had friends with tractors, so we built very large jumps. I had, you know, my dad was a carpenter. So we built very large ramps, mostly very haphazard ramps. I worked in a print shop for a while, and we would take pallets and just kind of like put things together on the side of a building and absolutely, no one should ride on them. They’re totally dangerous, but we did it and you adapted to those things. So part of the appealed about cyclocross to me is that you have this repetition element to it, where you get to kind of session things, right. Think about going to a skate park. We go skating park, and you just session the same thing over and over and over and over. And it might be kind of boring to some people. But when it finally clicks for you, you realize like, oh, wow, that was worth it. And I kind of slowed down and did that. You know, it’s this skills acquisition scenario. But cyclocross you’d get like nine laps to try it over and over and over. And oftentimes, it’s that one lap that you do something right, that really matters. So for me, just the idea of like, this shouldn’t be done. This is a bike that shouldn’t exist. This is what we should all be inside for. I don’t know why that’s appealing to me. But I love it at the end when I’m standing there win or lose, it’s just like, yeah, that was interesting. Let’s try again tomorrow.

Trevor Connor 10:16
Well, so my understanding of the history of cyclocross, this is the way it was explained to me. It was invented in Belgium. And basically, they were trying to figure out what do we do in November, December, January, when it’s cold, it’s wet, it’s snowy and miserable. And you don’t want to be out trying to do six-hour rides, and zwift didn’t exist at the time, there wasn’t a ton of appeal to be inside. So the solution was, let’s do something that’s really short, really intense, use your whole body to keep you warm, you get a good workout, and it could actually be fun in this miserable weather. And that was the impetus behind this and then became so much fun, It became a sport.

Stephen Hyde 10:58
Yeah, I mean, it stuck. Right? And, I think for a long time, you either did cyclocross, or you took really big chunks of time off, right? This wasn’t a period where you jumped on your mountain bike, or you went out and did some like cross-training. No, you probably worked, you probably went and worked a farm job somewhere or something like that. You’re probably muddy anyways so why not just take off your boots and try it on your bike? And it showed in the bikes they used right? It was an adaptation of the training bike. You know, how big of a tire can be fit in your normal training road bike? What can you take off of it, you know, these guys were using single rings back in the 60s in the 70s. You know, these setups that you see now that seem to make a lot of sense. And that is a new technology that really isn’t much of it. And even if you look at tire tread like there’s not that much difference between like the Grifo of like 1978 and what we use now, they’re the traditional tread. So it really does have like this interesting, kind of blue-collar appeal, right? I think you look at the countries that cyclocross has been really successful in, the people that race it, are so relatable to the general public. And I think back in the day, you could go race with, with marks or with any of the great Tour de France riders and gradually that started to shift into this really kind of high-end spectator sport and then gradually shifted into its own professional sport. The training and the peaking and the equipment, all of this stuff started to really shift over time to this point that we have this just crazy circus now.

Chris Case 12:56
Yeah, I really like the way you describe why you like it. You might not have been able to fully verse what its appeal is but it has that – it certainly is a challenge It’s not for everyone. – It’s a little bit punk. It’s a little bit offbeat. It’s a little bit nonconformists. It’s a little bit for people that are willing to take some risks. And I think any skateboarder you know, any BMX rider you know, anybody that rides BMX bikes in a skate park, or jumps off of pallets, isn’t afraid to hurt themselves. You know I don’t want to make it sound like if you race cyclocross you will hurt yourself. But I think you know there’s some similarity there in that you have to be willing to take some risks in any of those disciplines to progress. Because it takes repetition it takes falling down and learning what you did wrong to improve. And I think that is also part of its appeal is that it’s not, it’s not easy to get good at it In some ways.

Trevor Connor 14:09
I will go as far as to say if you want to do well at cyclocross, you’re going to crash and be ready for the crashes. The nice thing is, you’re not sliding across pavement at 50 kilometers an hour, you’re often landing in mud or on dirt and you get back up, you brush yourself off and keep going.

Stephen Hyde 14:29
Yeah, I couldn’t agree more with that. I mean, it really is the scenario of like, in order to get good at cyclocross, you have to find your weaknesses. You have this really steep learning curve. We you race road race, your imperative is to not fall down. I’ve had some you know, 40 mile an hour road crashes a few of them at this point and not a single one of them was easy to come back from It took weeks, months. In fact, one took a couple of years for me to really get my feet back underneath me when it came to how aggressive I rode, how many chances I took how confident I was in a lot of things. But with cyclocross, it’s a part of the racing and the training is falling down a little bit. Obviously, you navigate that. It’s not like you go out trying to fall down. But there’s an element to it. It’s something you have to embrace a little bit. And I think that’s this kind of idea I always come back to you of being the last man standing, or the last person standing when it comes to these races. I mean, Louisville nationals, for example. I remember, probably one of the only good pieces of advice Tim Johnson ever gave me. Sorry, Tim.

Trevor Connor 15:55
Thats a touch to how much advice he gave you.

Stephen Hyde 15:59

Chris Case 16:00
He’s probably always trying to give you advice to sabotage you. Right?

The Art Of Getting Back Up

Stephen Hyde 16:06
Yeah. But once he got on the other side of the tape, he was much better. But I do remember though, before that race, that course was just deteriorating a lot. And you know, you got to think about the elite races, they’re the last races that are on Saturday or Sunday. And these races start on Monday. And they go all day, you have races all day long, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. And if you have bad conditions, and we’re all riding between the same two pieces of tape. Those conditions are gonna get really bad towards the end. But there may have been a line somewhere on that course during the week and it very well may not exist anymore. You know, you hope in a cyclocross race that there’s two lines, you mostly settle for one line. And sometimes, in the case of nationals in Louisville, there was no line in a lot of places, there’s absolutely no good line. So you just, you had to kind of adapt and be on your feet all the time. And, you know, Tim told me, Hey, dude, you’re gonna fall down 100 times in the next race, you just need to get back up. I thought long and hard about that. And I was like, okay, just have to get back up. You just got to keep getting back up one more time. And I went through that 100 times through my head during that race, and I felt, I fell 10 times I don’t even know how many times I fell, or how many times Curtis had me on the ropes. I just had to keep saying like, Hey, man, you know, he’s gonna fall, I’m gonna fall, just get up and keep going. And that’s how I got through that.

Trevor Connor 17:39
And certainly,- you know that our topic of conversation here is how to deal with the cold and the wet, the mud, the snow. -Those are the conditions where you’re going to fall a lot. If you’re on a nice warm day in the grass, you probably aren’t going to fall very much. So I would say our first practical advice comes from Tim Johnson, which is when you’re dealing with these conditions, you’re going to be falling and just be okay, get up and keep going.

Stephen Hyde 18:05
Yeah, it is really practical advice, right. And it can work in so many different scenarios. But when we really start breaking down how different a course can be, and how different the conditions can be. Sometimes that fall is like, first to last. And sometimes that fall is just another part of staying in front group. Sometimes that fall brings you back 20-25 places, right? So it really is scenario to scenario whether or not you can actually come back from those things. So having that in mind, in every race situation, just get back up, just keep going is great. How do you apply that in different scenarios, how I’m going to apply that in 90-degree heat coming back from 20 spots? It’s going to be a whole lot different than how do I apply that in 40-degree weather coming back from five spots?- or something like that, or one spot or just getting a 10-second gap-It can be really difficult. It takes a lot of awareness of what is going on in the race. And obviously where you are at in the race, right? Whether it’s the first lap or second to last lap or the last lap. How much can you still give, how much is it going to take? What’s my best action plan here? Because it’s not always the same.

Chris Case 19:28
I would also say that it’s easier said than done in some ways. You as a professional- I’m not sure but I think I’ve got this right.- You have more to gain in some ways, by putting it all out there and risking something by going to the limit and potentially crashing. Because this is what you do. Whereas the amateur rider, I don’t think they can take the, okay, if I fall, I just get back up mentality and apply it in practice as easily. That’s my opinion. Would you guys disagree with that? I just feel like some people are averse to risk for one thing. That doesn’t mean they don’t like cyclocross, it’s just that they’re not willing to go to the edge that much, or they think I have kids that I need to take care of, or I have a job that involves me being able to stand. So I’m not going to go that far, you know, and I and that’s okay, that’s obviously okay. Because it’s supposed to be fun.

Trevor Connor 20:39
Well, I think of, there’s a ‘Cross athlete who I’m coaching, who just got into it a couple years ago. We’ve talked about the crash and I’ve told him, Look, you know, every season, you’re gonna crash multiple times, and you need to be okay with it. But he’s had this issue where he, if he crashes hard, it takes something out of them. And for the next five, six minutes, he just finds he can’t put out the power and he loses ground on the people that he once was with. And that’s a struggle. Because basically the only advice I can give them is you have to learn to push through that. But I can’t simply say, Well, during your skills practices, go and hit the ground really hard and get used to this, you can’t do that. So I’m actually interested in throwing this at you, Steven, any suggestions for athletes who are like that? they hit the ground they get back on the bike, but then they just find the winds taken out of their sail for a bit.

It’s All About Technical Skill, Not Power

Stephen Hyde 21:38
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that’s such a common theme. It’s more common than not. And even in the professional level, and the elite level you see that. You can watch an athlete and see when that focus gets turned off in just about every sport, we talk a lot about those flow states, right, how do you get into that trance-like state? Where you kind of check all that ego that you have, right? And what I mean by that is not like I’m the best, but what am I thinking about? What have I kind of pre-determined to have happen in this race? And does this completely derail that for me? That can happen to me that can happen to any single person out there. I think the big differentiation here is that when we talked about kind of riding that edge of- I’m trying to think of a better way to say this, but- the edge of disaster, right? How do you kind of push yourself to really be on your limit. I think that’s the big difference in an amateur rider versus a professional rider. How much of a percentage of the race can one ride at the edge of their ability? And how well can they transition between holding back and going all out. And I think the biggest difference that you see, in those athletes, and really successful athletes, you know, obviously, the stronger you are combined with a stronger skill set, the easier it is at certain speeds, right? Me versus Vanderpol at race pace, it’s a lot easier for him, he is a physiological monster. I can’t do anything about that, I can absolutely match my skill set to him. My physiological state is maxed just to match his 80%. And so that pushes me to be riding that edge of disaster for a much larger percentage of the race than it is for him- or someone like him, you know, not necessarily pinpointing him here. -It’s just that when I go practice, and I feel like some of the biggest questions I have around that I get from athletes looking to get better at cyclocross are like, what intervals do I do? How much volume do I do? How much of this do I do? Should I get in the gym? How much running should I do? Well, I think the reality is like how much of that skill edge work do you do? And how well do you actually know yourself from a skills-based standpoint? And I would argue that not a lot of people are actually that aware of where they are on a skills-based level. And it shows tremendously on race day. It shows tremendously on practice days. As a coach, I can give athletes through many programs, I can give an athlete a prescription for a certain offroad of workout, right? And even most of the prescriptions for these offroad workouts start very, very easy. I remember in the episode with Katie Compton, she talked about starting at a really slow pace, when she does any skills work, right? I think you’ll see that across the board with any good skill-based athlete is this ability to kind of check that ego go back to a beginner’s mindset, and cultivate this ground-up mentality. No matter where they’re at on a real skill level, you can take- you know, I consider myself a pretty high level of skill, especially when it comes to riding a curly bar road bike off road. Somewhere it really shouldn’t go, tires that really shouldn’t be doing that.- I attribute that to being able to take that step back, you know, every year, getting on that cross bike, like it’s the first time I’ve ever gotten on a cross bike. Having that list of process work that needs to go on, like, how do I go practice barriers? I practiced with them like its my first time I ever practiced them, from the ground up slowly walking, right? You find that area where like, Oh, I lose focus here. I’ve met my ability for today here. One thing Alec Donahue talked about on the last episode with him was talking about in skills practice, most athletes only have around like 45 minutes of really usable bandwidth, for skills practice. And I think what that often comes down to is not having kind of a gradient, or ability to gauge what kind of effort they’re actually putting into this skills-based work. We look at intervals, and we say like, Okay, well, I should be doing 380 watts for three minutes. And some times, if you’re really aware of yourself, and what’s going on, and you’re smart, it’s hot, I’m going to do these at 360, and I’m going to get the job done. And if I’m flying, I’m going to do them at 390. And this is great, it’s everything’s amazing the Temperatures down or whatever. We don’t do that a lot of times with the skills-based work, we go through, we practice the things that we’re really good at fast. And the things that we’re not good at, we also practice them fast, we fall on our face, and we get really frustrated. I think everybody can relate to that I’ve never met a single person that once we get into the field can’t relate, they may not be able to relate in theory, if they’re talking about it- you know, everybody has great skills-based writer until we get into the field and then it’s just like, oh, we got a lot to work on right?- It’s the same for me. You know, I’m humbled every time I go out and ride with another world cup level rider. I got to do a camp with Robin a couple years ago and even just riding in Spain in some little dinky park or out on the beach doing sand reps. I feel absolutely pummeled on a recovery day, doing sand reps you know, and that gave me the impetus to go home and really start from the bare basics. Really check that ego at the start and say okay, bare minimum, what do I have to do here? Do I have to change equipment? Is my fit not right? So it’s a multi-faceted thing. There are layers and layers and layers to that onion if you will. And I ultimately think that for a sport like cyclocross skills are paramount. You take a really strong rider, and they can absolutely get murdered on course, by someone with relatively low power, but really high skill level.

Trevor Connor 29:04
Well, I think of that athlete I was just talking about who’s recently got into ‘Cross and he’s got a good engine. out on the road, he could do 340-250 watts for an hour. His first year doing cyclocross, he was averaging 220-230 in the races. And he was asking me, why is that? Look, if you can average 350 out in the road, you’re never gonna average 350 on a ‘cross course, but that’s a big difference. And my response to him is, that’s all skills. And as he’s been working on the skills, you’ve seen that average power come up, not because he’s getting any stronger. But because he’s handling the course better. So he can, he can actually use more of his power.

Stephen Hyde 29:46
Absolutely. And that’s a really good breakdown of how these courses actually break out. There’s two things that I really hear about how to break down power or the efforts on cyclocross sports. One is that it’s all really sprints, and the other that it’s a time trial, right? I guess it depends on who you’re asking and where they are, right? One athlete very well may ride it like a time trial. And one athlete very well may just ride it like a bunch of sprints. And I think we look at a normalized power file, as opposed to an average power file. That’s where we really start seeing differences. And the faster riders are going to be resting more, where there is rest, but they’re going to be going a lot deeper into the red when it comes to putting the gas on. Where you see a rider resting is in the technical sections,- those places where you can’t pedal so your are forced off- Any other time you’re either slowing down, or you’re going through a technical section. There’s not really a time in a cyclocross race where you can rest. So rest comes in two seconds, rest comes in three seconds, one and a half seconds, it comes all those little turns where you can stop pedaling for just a few seconds. So when you see an athlete really start to improve, especially a strong athlete like that, who can go out and average these really high average powers. It’s often- and you can see this in training, you can also see this racing, you know, if you go break down a 15 minute set of laps, or 20 minutes set of five-minute laps or something like that, or four or five-minute laps.- And you take that rider and you say like, okay, I want you to go do four laps. And I want the first to be the easiest, and I want the last to be the hardest. And you look at that normalized power and look at that heart rate file. 100%, that heart rate file, and that power file is going to be high and the first part of it, it’s going to plateau in the middle and it’ll either plateau all the way to the end or it will drop. If you take a really experienced rider and you say, hey, I need you to find speed here. And I need you to increase overall speed over the lap, you’ll see that the normalized power starts to rise around the middle of the last session, you’ll see that max heart rate at the end as opposed to in the middle or in the beginning. And the traverse of that is that you’ll also see deeper peaks in where they’re resting. So in order to go deeper, you have to rest more. And so riding the edge of skill doesn’t come when you’re pedaling hard. Riding the edge of skill is how hard can you ride the edge skill and still recover from a section So you can go hard. So that’s a really difficult thing to actually practice, you know, it’s easy to talk about, but getting an athlete to actually do a moderate to slow lap of cyclocross is really hard. You’re so amped up, and everybody just wants to go hard. But the reality is even doing an endurance type lap on a cyclocross course, is,- from a heart rate perspective, an interval or – if you really break that down and you look at it, you’re like, oh, with the same amount of perceived effort that you did to ride around the perimeter of the park, on the road, doing that on the cyclocross course, ended up actually looking more like tempo, almost threshold level effort. So, you kind of have to build in a governor and a checking system in order to actually find where your limits are, because it’s just difficult to find where your actual lower limit, it’s very easy to find your upper limit. But if you don’t know where your lower limit is, you don’t know where you fall on that spectrum. I just think that’s a really critical thing. And it’s just something that we don’t really talk about very much.

Trevor Connor 34:15
And this also goes back to the importance of skills. If you are recovering during the technical parts. -If your skills are bad, no, you’re not going to be recovering on the technical parts, you’re gonna be trying to get through the technical parts. -So you need those skills so that when you hit those parts, you can relax and make sure that you got the legs for the less technical parts where you can put down the power.

Stephen Hyde 34:41
Absolutely, and the athletes that you see that have that, cyclocross in the time trial mentality, tend to fit that profile pretty well. The same effort to get through a technical section is applied to a straight away and vice versa. So yeah, it does end up feeling a lot like a time trial if that’s the way you race it.

How To Embrace The Elements?

Trevor Connor 35:03
This has been fascinating. So getting back to the, what do we do when you don’t have that nice sunny day in the grass, where you’ve got muddy or snowy or wet conditions How do you handle this? And I just want to say one thing about this before you take it away, which I think is important for all the listeners to understand. Because a lot of riders when they encounter these conditions, they don’t think of it this way. When you hit those conditions, if you’re there in a muddy snowy day, it’s going to slow you down. The goal here is not to try to be as fast as you would be in perfect conditions. But you have to remember it’s going to slow everybody down. And the goal is to have it slow you down less than it’s going to slow down everybody else. And I’ve already told this story on the show, but this is exactly what I’m talking about. I had a ‘Cross athlete who I was coaching who lived in Vermont. He was getting ready for nationals- so up in Vermont the month before nationals he was riding in the snow every day. -And the race is in California. So he gets down there expecting it to be good weather. And the night before the race it snows and he calls me in an absolute panic saying it’s snowing, what do I do? And my response was, thank whoever sent the snow because you’re racing a bunch of Californians. And he was looking at it as this is gonna slow me down, which is right. But my response was, it’s gonna slow you down, but a heck of a lot less than it’s gonna slow down all those people who don’t know how to ride in snow.

Stephen Hyde 36:36
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, everyone kind of -no matter where you’re at, you have a base level leg up. Depending where you go, right? Some people are going to have adjusted to altitude, and they’re just going to be naturally at a different level. Apples to Apples when we show up at altitude, and some people live in really just nasty conditions. And that’s what they have to ride in. And, they’re naturally going to have a leg up once we show up there and, you know, down the line, right? So, I’ve always had this really big fascination with- Firstly, books, and sword fighting books, and I just love it, you know, like Sun Tzu the art of war.- I think they’re so interesting because they distill the battles or wars, or how to kind of overcome an enemy. And I relate that to bike racing in a really direct way. Bruce Lee, he was in the art of kung foo. This is about six years ago, I even read this, so we’re gonna butcher it. But essentially, it’s something that I’ve always lived by, but he said, become a master of all forms, but fight with none. And I find that so applicable for so many things in my life, but also in bike racing, and I’ve been able to relate them in bike racing , especially in cyclocross, in this really direct way, you know, from training to racing. Whereas I take my season and I break it down, and I look and say, like, Okay, this is a long season. For a lot of people, cyclocross is a short season. But for me, it’s a long season, it’s five months. I mean, that’s almost half a year, sometimes it’s six months. And a lot of it is spent in different parts of the world. So if I get caught up in saying that, well, I’m this one particular type of rider. I’m really good at, fast, hot grass grids. Oh, I’m a mud rider. Well, I’m good in sand. You know, you pigeonhole yourself in this way of, well, I find that type of rider then that’s the only kind of conditions that I’m going to be good in. But I think it’s a really humbling thing about cyclocross, and bike racing in general, where you can have a specialty. But really, that specialty doesn’t show up until you get to a certain level. You might have that base conditioning for certain elements, when you show up to a degree. But once you’re at like the World Cup level, you really only get a specialization until you’re into that top 10 on a pretty regular basis. And then that skill separation starts to actually show, those cracks actually start to show. So I guess the question here is like how does one train for varying conditions, varying course types, varying weather, varying physiological demands, ect. For a long season or for short periods, when,- you know, like for me, I’m going to train in New England over the summer, it’s gray, really humid, about 88 degrees every day. And it’s kind of dry half the time, pouring rain the other time.- So I start to look at like the weather. And I start to say, like, okay, here’s my general plan, right? Here’s my Outlook, here’s how much volume I’m going to do, here’s how many days of map work I’m going to do, here’s how many days of skills work. But if it rains, maybe I’m going to move that skills day, so that I can take advantage of that rain. The one day, I’m going to move it over to a course that I have set up that has a bit of a bog in it. And I’m going to learn to kind of both slide around and use the varying degrees of torque differences. Maybe I’m going to go over to Ed Hamel’s field where we’ve all done cyclocross practice forever. And I’m just going to go put a stake in the ground that do 180-degree turns, in wet grass. If it’s hot, yeah, I’m trying to do map efforts. You know, I’ve got these really hard efforts I’ve got to do, but if it’s super hot, and I’m just not conditioned for it, I either really have to modify that. Or maybe sometimes it’s best to just do some endurance, and give it a couple of days and wait till the weather breaks. building things at a practice. I have two days a week of base level where I’m offroad practicing. And I have about six or seven courses here in the valley, that I’ll go ride on any given day. It’s not all sand, it’s not all run-ups, It’s not all trails, It’s not all mud, It’s not all grass. So moving those practices around and saying like, Okay, today, I’m gonna practice this thing. Sometimes that comes down to Well, it’s really hot. And maybe today’s skill is actually just learning how to do a warm up in a hot park without blowing myself up so that I can do these efforts. Sometimes the skill is doing the efforts in the heat and learning how to really hold back. Yeah, it’s all about, like where you’re at, what kind of conditions you have to work with and how much you can prepare to do it. You’re not always going to have a situation where you have the right makeup of conditions for your goal event. But it takes a certain amount of patience and an ability to be aware that you’re in over your head. And to be able to go back calmly into your consciousness and pull out some skill that you have deep down in there. So you know, for me in Hartford, it was like, I found some really good wheels. And instead of getting right back to the front and crashing another time, I took my time and I learned from the people that were around me. I think it’s a really unique thing about cyclocross, we have laps and laps and laps and laps, it’s like a criterium. You can’t ride the first 10 laps very well, you have another 30 to go before you even need to get it right before the sprint starts. You know, sometimes it’s 60 laps or 90 laps before you actually even have to have those perfect laps. And thinking about like grading your effort in how to kind of train for these things. You don’t have to have the perfect elements to train for a specific thing. As long as you have a practice that suits learning on the fly. So part of that weekly practice for me, isn’t practicing a specific skill per se. It’s again, practicing being in over your head, when I’m riding the edge of my ability, how can I practice in nine laps to get one perfect lap, because that’s all it takes. There’s races where you go out and It’s a 12 lap race and you right off the front and for 12 laps are perfect. And everything is amazing. And you don’t think about anybody on the sidelines. And none of the conditions matter to you you’re just on fire. You don’t skip a beat. And there’s others days where it’s an absolute struggle from lap one. You missed your pedal, you went off in a rut, you hit some tape, you went off course, there’s any number of things that can happen. So when we talk about skills acquisition, in the ability to kind of refocus within a race scenario that comes on those practice days, that comes on like I’m not going to give up Because I’m not going to change the plan, because I keep slipping up on this root. I’m going to take the next three laps to figure out why I’m slipping up on that root in real-time, and make that adjustment. And if you can make that adjustment in practice, and then increase that speed, because you made that adjustment, then you’re able to relay that into a real-life scenario, such as racing. And use those like nine or 10 laps as like your first practices until you get that 10th or 11th lap, just perfect.

Alec Donahue Shares The Importance of The Right Clothing

Trevor Connor 45:33
Let’s hear from Alec Donahue, a senior coach at cycle smart and a past expert national mountain bike champion. He shares his thoughts on dressing for bad weather races.

Alec Donahue 45:43
Well, training if it’s like spring or you know, it’s not ‘cross season, but we’re getting a lot of cold rain. It is good to go out on the ‘cross course. And you know, give some laps a go and get some exposure to that. And dressing for ‘cross is comical how big your bag of clothes is for a 30 to 60-minute race. And so dressing is everything or a big part of things. I think in those cold weather months, you notice that being a little heavier is an advantage in those like muddy, cold, hypothermia races where like the climbers that beat you all year are just shivering all their glycogen out of their legs even before we start. And so yeah, body mass actually does have a play and this.

Ryan Kohler 46:44
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Trevor Connor 47:37
So hearing what you’re saying that this is a philosophy and approach and it’s learning how to kind of ride on that edge. I would still like to get into a little more of the specifics. I know you’ve had a lot of experience in riding in these sorts of conditions. And I’m just thinking of our listeners, a lot of them who might be very new to cyclocross, and are just building the basic skills. What would be specific suggestions you would have for dealing with that kind of sloppy, rainy, muddy type conditions?

How Do You Find The Right Line?

Stephen Hyde 48:05
Yeah, right. So that’s one that, again, something that you may not see until race day, and you actually may not get that chance to even go and practice it. So it’s hard, you know, I do a lot of sand training, we have a course out here that just has a lot of sand. And I think that one skill that is really applicable across the board is not being able to put out a lot of power per se, but it’s being able to use whatever power you have, in a really efficient manner in about a two-inch wide, or one-inch wide rut. So the reason why I like sand is that it forces me to ride in the exact same spot over and over and over. So when I go out and practice by myself, I may have an entire field or an entire area where- and this is regardless of the soil composition, right, like it could be sand, dirt and grass, whatever it may be.- If I boil down my practice, it really is to do my entire practice in about a one-inch wide swath of track, right? So that becomes applicable because in muddy conditions often there a forms of racing a line, right, we’ve all seen the brown line, or the dark spot. And sometimes that spot is not good to ride sometimes actually look for the green, like It’s kind of a really grassy course. actually riding on the harder greenstuff can be a little bit grippier. However, if you can ride a 33-millimeter wide section, for say, three to 10 feet. And you can put out power doing that, whether it’s sand or mud or ice, you will have a skill set that is really just paramount to anything else. So I would say that. I would say find a place where you can ride ruts. whether it’s a three-minute lap somewhere in the woods, or It’s a 10-minute lap, whatever it is, focus on whatever turn you’re going through whatever kind of obstacle you’re doing. Focus on a really, really, really small line. That’s more difficult when there are other people. But you can also use that to your advantage if you have group practice. So we have a Saturday group practice out here. And, you know, for me writing throughout the week, there’s a really fine rut in just about every corner, because I’m very precise with that. And about an hour into Saturday’s practice, that thing’s about two feet wide. And so it’s often we have to kind of slow everything back down. And find that minutiae of what the real skill is here. is it doing something really fast or doing something really efficiently? So whatever skill you are doing, -if it’s trying to find mud, or if it’s trying to find ice, or you know, traction in ice, or if it’s trying to ride in sand, -the skill really is slowing down to a very basic level where you can ride it slowly, but really efficiently, and increased need for there.

Trevor Connor 51:38
Now preparing for, say, a snowy course, building those skills. Is it very similar? Or are there other things that you can work on to be able to ride in the snow?

Stephen Hyde 51:48
Yeah, it’s similar, right? And here’s where cyclocross really gets nitty-gritty, it is equipment. You know, some are more fortunate than others to have a lot of different equipment. As a professional, we use a lot of equipment, right? We have any number of different gearing combos we have any number of different tread patterns. You know, sometimes it’s even down to brake pads or pressures, right? So understanding kind of like, the equipment you’re on, and what it does well. So if you’re lucky enough to have a couple of treads, ride those different treads, you know find those different conditions that work best. If it’s a mud tire go find that wet and go ride out in the mud. Maybe even try it on a dry day. I think I’ll say this about tread. Always- in practice anyways- always, eventually, try to ride the lowest tread possible in the conditions that you’re in. And I think you’ll see that, especially on the World Cup level, is that often you’ll see like a really muddy race in Belgium or something like that. And you’ll be like, oh, they’re on mud tires. And I made this mistake when I first went over there. I remember Spa- Francorchamps was my first race in Europe. And if you guys haven’t seen that race, it’s insane, It’s absolutely bonkers. And I remember, there was these really muddy sections, and I went through and I put my mud tires on and I got on the line. And I was like, that guy’s on file treads. Those guys are all reflows. What the heck am I doing? And I realized that there were zero sections if done correctly, where I needed traction in a straight line, the ruts did everything. If you can drop down in a rut, that’s where your attraction is, the closer to the hard ground you can get, the better off you are. And sometimes those bigger treads, keep you from actually getting down into the ruts. So the one mistake that I see a lot of people make is overriding the treads, you show up to a course with mild loose conditions, and boom, they’re on straight mud tires, and you’re just bleeding speed at that point. So it can be really beneficial for any condition to just learn your tread pattern and learned to ride a really low tread pattern if possible. One thing I’ll say about the kind of snow and ice is that, the conditions with snow and ice on a cyclocross course may be extremely different than what you may have at home. You’re like, it’s snowed eight inches, I’m gonna go right in my yard. That’s not what a cyclocross course looks like. You’re not plowing through snow, right? You’re not plowing through like hub deep snow. It’s actually really packed. Oftentimes, it’s maybe a little bit melted right? Because it’s usually, for the men and the women, it’s midday sun’s out and a little bit slick. So just understand that it’s not always going to be favorable conditions. Learn to be patient and just keep going.

Trevor Connor 55:08
Yeah, I’ll actually take that a step further, if you’re traveling snow in one place isn’t gonna be the same. If you’re racing in the northeast US, and there’s snow on the ground, usually the grounds are going to be quite hard. Out in Colorado- it took me a while to get used to this- you can have a ton of snow on the ground, but at least down in the foothills, the mud never freezes. So it feels softer.

Stephen Hyde 55:34
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, one year, we went to Overijse, which is a race in Belgium. It’s pretty near Brussels, very hilly, and it’s a great ‘cross. It is really cool if you haven’t seen it, look it up. It’s old, it usually hasn’t been a series. But I think now it’s part of the World Cup. And I remember driving to it was just dumping snow. But when we got on the course, the snow didn’t actually changing the conditions whatsoever. It was already wet, so even that almost inch of snow on there didn’t actually affect our traction one bit. There were still ruts, there’s still grass where it was. So we ran the same tires, it didn’t actually end up mattering that much. I think this is a good example where you really see the difference in ability and riding on that hard-packed rutted out, ice. I remember at Hartford riding behind Jonathan Page, and this is when I’m a hot mess, you know, I crashed. I’m whatever I’m way beyond where I thought I should be. And I’m coming back through and I pass a rider and a pass rider. And I’m starting to put efforts down and I remember getting to Jonathan Page’s wheel. And this is the last year or second to last year that he was racing. And I always looked up to Jonathan, he’s such a smooth rider. And I remember getting to his wheel and going I’m not going anywhere. I still have like eight laps to do and I’m learning a whole lot right now. You know, I was crossing over the rut, sliding my rear tire, I was overusing my brakes. And here’s this guy just barely touching his brakes, riding half as hard as I was. And I’m having a hard time staying one his wheel. So I took a whole lap, to just sit on his wheel. And it was like, Hey, thank you. See you later. But thanks. That was amazing. I’ll thank you after the race remind me to buy you a drink that was incredible. So it really does come down to you know, you think conditions are gonna be one thing, but really race day, it’s just kind of surprisingly. So, you’re going to get there with the equipment that you have. It’s not like you’re going to go buy some new tires race day. So be comfortable on your equipment, and be comfortable riding different pressures. You know, I think that’s a really big element of cyclocross, that it’s almost this mythical element of cyclocross tire pressure. I think most elites and professionals, -I’d say all elite and professional riders- are still riding tubulars. You know, and there’s a reason for that, they stay on at low pressures, and you don’t pinch flat at low pressure. So understanding your equipment, and understanding their uses and how applicable they are in different events. You might end up writing a file tred on ice, but your first inclination is likely to get the heaviest tread you possibly can. But again, it’s not about straight line traction, it’s about dropping into a rut, and using that as like a rail to get you around the corner or something like that.

How To Train For Cyclocross?

Chris Case 58:57
Yeah, I was going to,- you know, you’ve been giving us a lot of not only practical advice, but some philosophy here and I’ve really been enjoying it.- I do have some questions about how you train this. You’ve mentioned a few scenarios. Do you prefer to train by yourself? Or do you think that you gain more by training with others? And do you have a recommendation for the amateurs out there listening?

Stephen Hyde 59:27
I think there’s an application for both. I think probably from a timing standpoint, it’s important to be able to train by yourself and I think a lot of people have a hard time with that. I mean, it’s difficult to be self-directed. You know, it’s difficult to be critical of one’s abilities and to actually humble themselves, in order to actually train at the level they need to train at. And I say have an experience, both seeing it,- you know, directly with clients and with other riders, other professionals,- but dealing with it myself more than anything, is that ability to actually check in with yourself. Are you making notes? Are you using whatever training platform, you know, today’s plan or training peaks? Are you using notes on that? Are you making recommendations for yourself? Are you being honest with the level that you’re really riding at?, If by yourself, you can go out and make things really repeatable, just like an interval, if you can make it repeatable, and you can make it measurable, then you can see progress. But you can’t see progress if you don’t know how slow you can go around it, right? So anytime you can ride with other people, I obviously recommend it, it’s much more fun. It’s good to be able to kind of get pushed, but I think there’s a time and place for the offroad practice that ends up becoming a practice race. I think one thing that we have a difficult time coming to and understanding for our Saturday practices is that this isn’t a race. And while we might have 10 or 15 people, the goal of the practice is not to beat the other person it’s not to be the fastest person on the lab. It’s to, again, get within your own capabilities, and figure out what makes you the fastest for you and not be dropped by another person. And I think that practice is twofold. You know, one, it’s a reminder, that practice is not about racing. Yeah, we are practicing to race, but the practice itself is not a race. I don’t think anybody goes out and does intervals, side by side with their friend that has 10 more watts on their threshold than them. That’s exactly how you ruin your workout. You go home with your tail between your legs going oh my god, that guy’s so much better than me. And oh my god, I couldn’t even finish my workout I’m terrible. So going out, and only doing practice races, I find that can be a little bit harmful at times.

Chris Case 1:02:22
Demoralizing probably too.

Stephen Hyde 1:02:24
Yeah, right.

Trevor Connor 1:02:25
I was gonna say, at a skill session with a group, the best thing is to have a whole bunch of people that are more skilled than you. And then instead of trying to match them by putting out more power, get behind them and try to match them on the skills, try to learn from them, try to follow him through the corners through the ruts, see what they’re doing.

Stephen Hyde 1:02:46
Absolutely, what a blessing that is to actually have people to push you and to have an aspiration. Right? I think we all need that, to improve any large degree, I mean, that’s why we are doing any sport. We aspire to be better than we are, we aspire to be like someone else or to be at a different level than we are. And so when we talk about whether it’s better to train with other people or by yourself if applicable. Then you have this really interesting scenario where if you can do say, one day a week with other people, and pinpoint specific deficiencies or skills that you’re good at. And then take that second day, that low-key day,- you know sometimes I prescribe for my athletes, actually skills on a rest day, either-or, either you’re short spin and take that time and go do some really basic work, or take the day off, right? -You can kind of go back with that information gleaned from those practices, especially if you’re a good note-taker, whether it’s in your head or, again, you have a paper note or journal, or you’re using one of your platforms. Make those notes and go back and say like, Okay well, I was being gapped up. Be honest with yourself, hey, I was getting murdered here like, absolutely, I got dropped, in this scenario. It’s trying to figure out that kind of gap analysis, right, where you do that with your athletes in terms of performance, do that with yourself on a daily basis. Prepare that gap analysis and say, this is what went wrong. Don’t prescribe, oh, I need to be better at this. Start with this is what was happening, this is what went wrong. Break down what skills need to be developed in order to do that, and then work on them one by one. Take those home, and I guarantee you over a couple of weeks time you will absolutely develop the muscle memory, and the reaction that you need to take those skills apply in a higher pressure scenario.

Trevor Connor 1:05:04
That’s that’s a really good point. I also want to point out- going back to the doing skills with the group, I think it was Grant Holicky who said this on the episode that we had him on for cyclocross and this is a different form of a gap analysis- If you’re out doing skills by yourself and say, you come to this corner that’s all muddy by yourself, you might go, Oh, that’s impossible I got to hit my brakes and take that slow. If you’re going out with really skilled riders, and three people ahead of you go through that without touching their brakes, and they’re nice and smooth and just kind of flow through it, then you can’t say, Oh, I have to hit my brakes that’s impossible. You go, Well, they just did it. I got to try myself.

Stephen Hyde 1:05:47
Yeah, absolutely and actually, on that. One of my favorite bottom-up skill sessions.- And this is something one can do on any bike, at any time, year-round, on any ride, because it doesn’t take any effort -is find an area, it could be around a bunch of park benches, it could be a short flat trail or something like that. But finding an area that you can control speed very well,- I have a little park down the road by monotuck. It’s got kind of a Rutty little meandering, single-track trail around it and it’s short. And there’s another park near Robinson, that’s really good for this, anything really windey. Around Boulder, you guys have all these awesome paths.- If you can find a little short circuit, start at really base level, and I mean, base-level like really slow. Have a goal of riding at increasing paces, until you have to hit your brakes. So you could do this for an hour, I found myself zoning out and doing this for multiple hours at a time, just getting so into it and so energized by it. But being really honest with it. And this is actually really fun with a group where you say out loud, you know, say you find a lap, and it’s 10 minutes, and you’re going to do that lap with five other people. Every time you hit your brakes, call out what number of hitting your brakes that was right. So like you’re going through and you’re like, Oh crap, one! You go through and every time you hit your brakes, you slow down a little bit, and you ramp back up that speed really slowly. And this teaches you a lot of things, you know, it teaches you to be very realistic about your skill level. It teaches you to focus on a really deep level, it teaches you a minutia of awareness with bike-body separation, that is really difficult to attain. And it can really help you dial in your equipment to a really large degree. This is a good opportunity to raise or lower your bar, pull your hoods up a little bit, check your tires, tire pressure. You know, I find that doing this on-road tires, has been really beneficial, or on my beater practice treads. We just go and find minimal traction areas with lots of turns and find a realistic speed that you can do it at. And accomplishment that you can get out of doing something like that and making it through a whole thing at the pace that you think is really exceeding your limit without hitting your brakes. I get so much more out of that than I’ve ever gotten out of a set of five by five or something like that.

Trevor Connor 1:08:40
This is also way if you’re doing a skills practice with a group, and you’re all really competitive, you can get that competitive side without having to go really hard. You can have the contest of first person to use their breaks has to buy the beers afterward. Something like that.

Stephen Hyde 1:08:55
Yeah, absolutely. Right. You go back,you start back at the beginning, you all gather around in a circle. You say like, okay, how many? You know, I had one, oh I had 10, right? And you’re like, okay, cool now you get in the front, guy with 10 get in the front, and then we’re gonna ride behind you and we’re gonna work that out. I think workshopping skills practice can be a really, really, really good way to learn. One practice that I really like to implement in our practices- which we haven’t done this year, but I did last year- is bringing people up into small groups, one or two riders, and having them do a lap on each other’s wheel. At basically tempo, heart rate, and go through all the technical sections and ride pretty close. Basically do a lap and then do an easy lap. So the lap I’m talking about, it’s about a five-minute lap. And so you do that race pace and stuff about five minutes, so that runs out to about six minutes at tempo and then you do that again as an easy lap and you discuss what you saw.

What A Race Day Looks Like For Stephen Hyde

Chris Case 1:09:57
I almost hate to chime in because you’ve been given so much Good advice, Stephen, but let’s turn our attention to some race scenarios. Why don’t you break down a race day for us? And let’s start with a cold wet day. What do you do for warm-up? What do you do for gear choice? How do you race that race tactically and technically differently than some other race scenarios?

Stephen Hyde 1:10:25
Yeah, sure. I think this is a really good talking point and it has a lot of variation. And honestly, if you talk to 10 different people, they’ll probably give you 10 different answers. But from my experience, again, cyclocross is so equipment heavy, and I think that could be a little bit of a barrier at times, yet, maybe demystifying some of that may help. So if we’re talking about a cold wet scenario, which is, it’s kind of what we praying for on cyclocross, right? Let the heavens open up and let us be miserable forever. I think having good clothing matters a lot, and you don’t have to have a ton of it. One thing that I learned pretty early on from Jeremy Powers was, if there’s something that you may need, bring it and bring two of them. And that’s always served me really well. And oftentimes, there’s things that I really rely on when I need them, but not necessarily all the time and I might have three of them. And that might seem overkill, except for I’ve lost one or I have ruined something, you know, whether it’s shoe covers, a jacket, or cleats something like that. So if I were to go through a breakdown of like a really wet cold day, it would start in the morning, often, with cyclocross, we’re doing back-to-back races. So usually you kind of wake up pretty fried, have your breakfast, and oftentimes, I’ll go out for a short spin in the morning. I’ll have breakfast, and then I’ll kind of go out for a short spin maybe 20 minutes or 30 minutes super easy. If the weather’s really bad, I’ll just do that indoors, or I might swap that out with, say like, a yoga session, or sometimes even go down to the hotel spin bike. If you don’t have the ability to do that, or if your race is really early in the morning. It’s not necessary. It’s just nice to do. It’s nice to just kind of get the blood moving for me anyways. Then cyclocross gets really interesting because typically we have time to break down the course itself, right? So there’s usually a pre-ride, there’s usually kind of a course inspection window. And often these are the hardest times, especially for amateurs. Where you may be doing all your own bike washing, you may have very limited equipment choices, you may want to use your kind of “B” equipment to do that course rides, you can save your “A” bike. If it’s cold, I often opt to warm up before even getting on the course, if it’s decent weather, I’ll just go out for a little spin in the parking lot, or around the block a couple of miles. Sometimes if it’s a really easy course, we’ll just jump right on. But usually, a cyclocross course is hard enough, just trying to get around it, that you need some amount of warm-up, I see a lot of people jump right out of the car right on the course. And I think that can be a little bit much, it can be a little bit of a shock. And depending on your level of training, it can be a little bit of your effort for the day. Especially if it’s deep mud or something like that. So often, I’ll do a little bit of warm-up 20 minutes or so on the rollers, or trainer and get out on the course. My recon laps are almost always the same. I do about three recon laps, I do one very slow and I just really see what the conditions are like. And sometimes if it’s really muddy, there’s a significant amount of standing around just looking for where the lines. I will watch a few people on the course and say, oh, they’re riding through that, I’ll try that when I come around. Checking out any significant obstacles or technical sections, really just kind of getting a lay of the land. My second lap will be a lap where I ride at say endurance. If it’s pretty heavy, I mean, there’s not much you can do just you’re doing almost threshold to get around. But then I’ll still either walk hard sections, or I’ll just ride them mellow and just try to do them. And then usually I’ll do like a hard lap, where I’m riding at a decent pace, you know, endurance or tempo. And then I’m really riding some of those sections hard. So you’re getting some shorter accelerations, you’re getting to ride stuff that you need to be able to ride that edge of technical ability on at a decent clip to really see if that equipment that you’re on, or if the ground you’re on is going to hold.

Stephen Hyde 1:15:08
So then it’s really just get cleaned up as quick as possible, you know, sometimes, especially for amateurs that may be right before your race. So you might have some rain here that you put on over your kit, over your skinsuit. And you pop that off, maybe you swap your shoes, maybe just wash them off, grab your “A” bike and go to the line. Otherwise, for me, it’s a change of kit, and rest, journal, or think about what my race scenario may look like.Then eat some food, and then hydrate and start preparing to get warmed up. So then about 40 minutes before a race starts, I’m on the trainer. If it’s really hot, I’ll go outside, I won’t do it on the trainer. If I have the ability to go ride on the road, I’ll do that to save myself some heat exhaustion. But if it’s cold or rainy, I like to save, my kind of bandwidth for those conditions as much as possible. I know a lot of people that are like, well, you got to get used to the bad weather, but I’m okay racing in it I don’t need to go out and warm up in it. I’ll save it.

Chris Case 1:16:26
Yeah, you’ve dealt with enough bad weather, you know what it’s like, right?

Stephen Hyde 1:16:29
Yeah, I have a general idea of what’s about to happen. And usually, it’s about 45 minutes beforehand. It’s a 30 minute warm-up for me, I kind of go through the zones get pretty warmed up. You know, one mistake I see a lot is people stay on the trainer too long, where they go too deep on the trainer. Really breaking down a day of cyclocross, it may be a 60-minute race but it’s three hours of riding on a typical day, some times it can be almost four hours of riding. It depends on the course, on if I ride to and from the hotel, etc. So, understanding what you’ve trained for and taking that into account when you start doing your warm-up. I think a big mistake is getting on the trainer or starting to warm up without a plan for that warm-up. Nerves are your worst enemy when you get on the trainer. You look around, you see everybody going hard. You might have thought like I’m going to do five minutes easy, but you look over and you see your competitor go and super hard. There you go right off the bat. S for me, I have a plan, I’m ready to go and have a really strict time limit. You know, a couple of ramps up three minutes, no longer. A couple of accelerations in the legs and kind of make sure that I’m ready to go 15 minutes before the start. And then I roll to the line and I’m ready to go.

How to Prevent Freezing Injuries?

Trevor Connor 1:18:01
We recently had Dr. William Adams on the show. He’s the Associate Director of Sports Medicine Research at the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee specializing in heat stress. However, he knows a lot about the cold as well. He shared some thoughts on racing cyclocross and bad weather.

Dr William Adams 1:18:17
I think being sure that you are wearing proper clothing to help- One to provide some insulation to help maintain body temperature. -But to really help to prevent some of the freezing injuries that can occur with exercise in cold environments. You know, with exercise you’re going to be producing body heat, so your body’s going to be producing heat to do that. But you could be at risk for having some freezing injuries such as frostnip or frostbite if your body’s not adequately covered with clothing that can help prevent those injuries from occurring. So, I think being prepared from that perspective, making sure that you’re wearing proper clothing that’s going to help minimize the risk of some of those cold-related injuries from occurring, it can be very helpful. In those instances, we’re putting topical agents on the skin. It could have some potential drawbacks. Where if you’re putting a topical agent on the skin that’s going to have the sensation of being warm or hot. It may not be appropriate especially in the sense of you’re out exercising in a very cold environment where the risk of the freezing injury is rather high and you’re putting balm on your skin to have a high sensation. Yeah, that balm may have a hot sensation on the skin and he may feel that sensation, but that balm is not going to protect the skin In it of itself, and the skin cells and those tissues and structures and under the skin from that cold exposure. So it could provide a false assurance that it’s effective when in reality, it could be detrimental.

Trevor Connor 1:20:19
You bring up a really important point because remember a cyclocross race, as you said, for the pros it’s 75 minutes. For most of us, it’s an hour or less, but it’s high intensity. And particularly when you start getting that cold wet weather it is glycogen depleted, you are going to burn through the glycogen in your muscles. You only have enough glycogen, at those sort of intensities to last about an hour. For a lot of us, it’s a little bit less. So what you don’t want to be doing on the trainer is too many big efforts or spending a ton of time at threshold, where you’re already depleting your glycogen, you’re really not going to have a chance to restore any of that before the race. And if you’re going into the race, you did all your recovery leading up, you did a great race dinner, but then in your warm-up, you burn through 10-20% of your glycogen, you’re gonna be in trouble in the race. So you want to be careful about doing too much.

Stephen Hyde 1:21:24
Absolutely. It’s a trap, right? We get nervous, we go through that. And especially depending on our level of nutrition, I think that can play a really big factor into it. We travel a lot for a cycling class. So whether you were able to eat well for the couple days prior to your event. Or whether you just drove in 10 hours, that night before and ate at McDonald’s and plop down in your hotel and grabbed the waffle off the table and went. That can have a really significant role in your ability to perform. So if you feel like your nutritional levels are not adequate, if just you just don’t have the calories to perform today, you need to take that into account. And Trevor, like you said, it’s cold, we burned through a lot of calories when it’s cold and when you’re wet likewise. You know, you might not be cold all the time,- you know, it’s not always cold and wet at the same time. Sometimes it’s rather warm and wet.- But when you start moving, you start cooling off a whole lot. So you do have to take that into account. And so having food on hand, it can be really critical. Always have your meals planned out, your key meals, your breakfast, your pre-race meal, your post-race. But also having food around, having a scratch bar in your pocket or having gummies. A huge one is making sure you have calories in your drink. I think that can go a really long way, you know, you see everybody with a water bottle in their hand drinking but you don’t see a lot of people eating they forget to do it. So making sure that you have some calories consuming just about all of the time before your race is supercritical.

Inside The Race With Stephen

Chris Case 1:23:08
Can you take us inside the race now a bit and talk to us about how you approach a race of this kind? Or do you have to wait and see how that first lap goes before you know how it’s going to play out?

Stephen Hyde 1:23:20
Well there’s two tactics to play, you know whether it’s hard from the gun or wait till you’re ready. And if it’s super muddy like that, often it becomes very selective. Mud is kind of the great equalizer in a lot of ways, ice as well. When it comes down to a course that is just deteriorated. Half your competition is gone right away, if you’ve prepared properly, at least from a fitness perspective, and like we talked about earlier about how to kind of learn in race scenarios or prepare for these things. You can check half your competition off immediately as soon as you get off the start pavement. Whether it’s somebody’s not technically proficient enough, and they’re just wasting watts, maybe it’s somebody that is really technically proficient but not as strong and they will be there for a really long time. Oftentimes, you have to buy your time you know, with races like that. Certainly, there are situations where you come off the pavement and you’re just on a roll. In almost every scenario when the course conditions are,- no matter who’s there, whether it’s a well-kept field or domestic field.- If the conditions are bad enough, there is no racing anyone else, the tactic really does come to how do I paste this not explode. You know, how do I not bonk? How do I not run out of energy? How do I do nine laps of this? How do I not crash? How do I make up time? How do I not bleed time? You know, if you’re at a decent level, and you race these people on a regular basis, you know, I talk to masters athletes all the time that know more about their competitors than I do. They’re like, Oh, this person, they did that in this race, they did this, this, that this. Have that level of sophistication when it comes to your competitors because it really matters on days like that. Because you can stop and say like, well, this person is going to ride so hard in the first lap that I will detonate so I cannot race them. You know, going back to that Valkenburg world, that was the hardest race I’ve ever done my entire life bar none, absolutely the most brutal thing I’ve ever done. And I don’t think I cared about a single other person out there. You know, my goal was to get top 15. And I literally just blocked out every other person on the course. And I just did my lap, I knew what it felt like to go hard. I knew what it felt like to stay within myself. And only I can say whether I’m riding a course very well or not, especially in those conditions. You can’t presume to understand where someone else is at, especially when you don’t have the bandwidth to look over and check him out. It’s not like you’re gonna like oh been watching him forever, like no, you’ve been looking at a one-inch spot on the ground for 45 minutes, you didn’t even notice anything, you don’t even notice spectators. So pacing can be really important for those types of events. It doesn’t always have to come down to tactics, tactics, especially around other people.

Trevor Connor 1:23:39
One final question I had for you. And I don’t know if this is easy to answer or not. Do you have any tips for people?- You’ve mentioned it throughout the episode today. And it’s such a thing in cyclocross that you don’t get elsewhere. Because of the changing nature of courses and that is,- how do you read that terrain lap after lap to know how you have to make adjustments to better ride it?

How Importnat Are On-Course Adjustments?

Stephen Hyde 1:27:22
Yeah, that’s a really good question. That’s actually something that I spend a lot of my time pondering about cyclocross races to be honest. You know, if you’re lucky enough to be in a group, I think the best thing you can do is to sustain a level of effort and consciousness that you are aware of what’s going on with the other riders. And, you know, I’ve heard it said a lot of times, like, oh, the best thing you can do in a cyclocross race is get to the front of the group. But I often find that- depending on who you’re with and depending on the scenario, obviously, there are a lot of caveats here. -But sometimes being at the back of that group may be the best thing. If you don’t feel like that group is going to split at any given time, or you feel like that group is really well matched. Take me, I’m just gonna use my experiences here, take me, Curtis White, and Terry Warner, right? These are guys that I raced constantly. They’re always my kind of over-competitors, you get to know them really well. But sometimes there’s somebody that jumps into it, and you have no idea who they are, yet, they seem to match you relatively well. So sometimes you can say like, Oh, this person, may crack at this point, this person may have a difficult time in these conditions because that’s just kind of the rider they shake out as. But often it’s sitting back and watching, do a lap or two laps behind people. And you know, I said earlier that sometimes,- most of the time of course has two lines at any given spot and we’re lucky to have two lines, most of the time, it’s a single line.- I am often behind people taking relatively low-risk “B” lines, in order to see if there’s a difference. And sometimes that difference in this probably comes down to a little bit of fitness to like if you have the fitness to spare, to some degree. Taking a couple of bad lines to see what they’re really like or to maybe change your perception,- a little bit of like, Oh, that looked like a bad line. I perceived it as a bad line but turns out actually, it saved me a second here, save me a half a second, Actually, I was able to not pedal through this section and I didn’t lose any speed turns out -and sticking that in your back pocket and utilizing those when it’s necessary. You know, Trevor, you said that one thing that you notice about the top riders is that they’re able to do these really consistent lap times?

Trevor Connor 1:30:15
Yeah, kind of getting at they don’t ever have those bad laps where they really just start to slow down.

Stephen Hyde 1:30:23
Yeah, right. They have laps where they speed up though, right? So I think one thing you’ll see if you really break down like a World Cup cyclocross race, the first lap is just ungodly hard. The second lap is the same, but by the second lap, it’s usually broken apart. And so this is where you start to see people settle in a pretty fair amount.- Now, depending on the dynamic of the race, depending on who’s there, depending on the conditions, this may differ- however, often what you see is a couple of laps of shuffling, and shuffling and shuffling. And usually what that is, is somebody saying, they’re taking stock of where they are, what they have to give, what they have to lose, and also taking stock of what everyone else is doing. Hey was that person able to actually ride this line? Am I able to put a line in my back pocket? And so you see a very consistent lap increase, laps break apart, laps come back together, laps break apart and they come back together. But it’s typically within about a 15-20 seconds differentiation until it isn’t anymore. And that’s usually with two laps to go or sometimes one lap to go. And then all sudden you see a negative 30 split on that lap. And that’s the culmination of that first 90 % of the laps of getting it right and seeing where someone else may get it wrong, or seeing trends and someone else’s ability in riding. Where they ride, you know, they always got the left-hand side on this one. If I can hit it, this lap 30 seconds faster than I can go up the right-hand side. That’s my move. That’s my time, and cyclocross races are often won by a mere couple of seconds. And it takes an entire race to figure out where those couple of seconds come from.

60-Second Take Homes

Chris Case 1:32:18
Well, we could keep going forever. Honestly, there’s so much to talk about here. We’ve got a wise Stephen Hyde with us today. But Stephen, I want to put you on the spot, we do have to eventually end this conversation, I want you to try to encapsulate this episode, this discussion into 60 seconds give us the most poignant pieces of advice from our discussion today if you would.

Stephen Hyde 1:32:44
Alright, I’m going to distill 60 seconds into five minutes now. I honestly would say that our discussion really boils down to – in cyclocross in general- goes down to understanding where you really are as an athlete, what you bring to the table, and how to acquire skills that are necessary to really move the needle. And that isn’t always physiological work.

Chris Case 1:33:13
Trevor, what would you have to say,

Trevor Connor 1:33:15
Mine is gonna be very similar, which is the importance of doing that skills work. Turn it into games do with buddies. I love that we’ve heard multiple times now that you need to take it slow and really practice that skill as opposed to just saying it’s another form of racing. But that to me, is going to make a huge difference in cyclocross, and I can tell you from my own experience, I can’t remember his name. They used to be called the tree trunks the six-foot-six

Chris Case 1:33:46
Trabone and Wick yeah.

Trevor Connor 1:33:47
Yeah. So I can’t remember which one it was. But one of them used to come to the Cascades a lot to get his final form before the ‘cross season. And I remember he and I were always about similar strength. So I kind of went, Oh, I think I could probably be a decent ‘cross rider if I seem to have a similar engine. And then I did a ‘cross race with him. And he laps me for the third time I went, Oh, there’s a lot more than an engine involved here. And that’s the skills and they make or break ‘cross racing. Chris?

Chris Case 1:34:19
Well, I think I would actually end with something we didn’t really talk about too much at all. But I think it’s a necessary part of cyclocross in order to want to work on those skills and want to ride in these conditions and want to progress at this. Like Stephen said, a sport that involves taking a bike that doesn’t really belong on the surfaces and trying to, you know, quote, unquote, master it. And that’s just an attitude that you have to have to be good at cyclocross. You have to have some patience,- or a lot of patience I would say- especially if you’re new to it, and you want to get to Stephen hyde’s level, it’s going to take a really long time, but you probably will never get there. But you’re going to spend a lot of time trying to get there and trying to improve. So patients, and just that ability to see the reward in taking risks, not to necessarily hurt yourself, but to find the edge of your limits. And once you get there maybe question whether that’s actually the limit or not, and try to go a little farther And I think, again, not something we really talked about too much in the episode but it’s underlying everything in cyclocross from my point of view.

Chris Case 1:35:46
Well, yeah, a pleasure to have you on the show, Stephen, and yeah, we definitely want to have you back in the future

Trevor Connor 1:35:54
It was very insightful really appreciate it.

Stephen Hyde 1:35:57
Thank you I really appreciate it.

Chris Case 1:36:02
That was another episode of Fast Talk subscribe to FastTalk wherever you prefer to find your favorite podcast. Be sure to leave us a rating and review. The thoughts and opinions expressed on Fast Talk are those of the individual. As always, we love your feedback. Join the conversation at forums.fasttalklabs.com to discuss each and every episode. Become a member of Fast Talk Laboratories at fasttalklabs.com/join and become a part of our education and coaching community. For Stephen Hyde, Alec Donahue, Dr. William Adams, and Trevor Connor. I’m Chris Case. Thanks for listening.