Cycle-Smart Cyclocross Skills Camp
by David Keppler • September 11, 2018
This year, due to scheduling conflicts and other reasons, it looks like I'll be racing a lot more Cyclocross than I was able to race Mountain bikes. I'm relatively new to cross and have never been much of a road rider so my skill set is a bit limited when it comes to cross specific techniques. Fortunately, living here in Western Massachusetts, I had the opportunity to attend the Cycle-Smart Cyclocross camp in Southampton Mass over the second weekend in August.
Cycle-Smart has been a coaching organization for more than 15 years, the brainchild of Adam Myerson. I had met Adam on more than one occasion and found him to be an intelligent and well-spoken person and obviously an incredibly experienced rider. I knew that participating in a training weekend with Adam and his fellow coaches would be beneficial, educational, and fun. I was not disappointed.
The venue for the camp was some beautiful land on a vineyard in Southampton mass. Turns out the owner is a fan of Cyclocross and a good friend of Adam's. I had registered for the second of two camps offered and we were lucky enough to have two national champions (U.S. and Canadian) for coaches along with a full roster of elite level racers and coaches. Hard to find a better venue to expand my skill set and get my 'cross' on before the season actually starts.
Saturday started early and cloudy. We were in for rain throughout the day but were fortunate enough to avoid any thunderstorms or other natural disasters. While getting my bike ready and my gear on, I noticed license plates from half a dozen states as far away as West Virginia. Due to impending weather they pushed the start time up an hour so we were all registered and ready to go by 9 a.m.
The format of camp consisted of blocks of time to focus on one particular skill at a time. Adam would demonstrate and discuss the impending skill work for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and then we would break off into groups to work on that skill for an hour or more. They divided us all, based on our own assessment of our skills, into 3 different groups: Beginners were riders that either hadn't ridden Cross at all or had maybe one or two races under their belt and wanted to start with the basics. Intermediate riders (including me) were those that had a fair amount of experience with a handful of races under their belt and wanted to improve on their skill set. The advanced riders were just that; riders who had extensive racing experience that wanted to hone their skills and get some extra pointers from the pros. There were many repeat riders who had participated in the camp one or more previous years.
Regardless of which group you participated in, we all worked on the same skill at the same time. Granted, the experienced riders progressed faster and moved on to more advanced techniques than the rest of us, but everyone got extensive exposure to all of the core concepts. The first concept was remounting and Adam covered all the basics and broke the technique down into very understandable, and repeatable, steps. I found some of the pointers in this portion of the class to be the most helpful of the whole weekend. My remounts are still the weakest of my cross-specific skills, but I am gradually improving by implementing numerous suggestions that Adam and the other instructors shared with us in this block of time.
Through the course of the day, as the rain began to fall and the grounds proceeded to get soft and slippery, we covered dismounts, shouldering, turns, and starts. Each topic was covered in detail and we had ample time to practice and get the movements dialed in. Even as the rain continued and the day remained gloomy, everyone was smiling and paying full attention to any advice the instructors would offer.
We had a wonderful vegetarian lunch in the middle of the day and continued working on the core techniques until about 5 p.m. At the end of the day I was surprisingly tired but couldn't help but feel that my understanding, and execution, of the skills we had covered was far beyond what they were earlier that morning.
Saturday evening involved an open discussion at Smith College where we were able to ask training questions of Adam and the other coaches that were present. It was pleasantly relaxed but also very informative and topics, ranging from race-day nutrition to 'training while traveling' advice, were covered in great detail. As the day ended I was exhausted but also excited about getting back on the bike for Sunday.
Sunday presented cloudy weather again but thankfully we didn't get any rain. The grounds were still slippery and most of the training corners were quite muddy, which worked out great for our cornering work. Sunday morning saw us get back into technique-specific time blocks and we covered more cornering pointers, j-hopping, tire-pressure tips, and some general racing strategies. That brought us up to lunch time where we were well fed once again.
The afternoon involved a short road ride over to the Solar Fields which is a network of trails that have some specific cross-related obstacles built up by the Cycle-Smart riders. We spent the rest of the afternoon putting to use the skills that we had been working on for the last few days. There were steep descents, steep climbs, tight corners, roots and sand to put all of our new knowledge to the test. It was extremely helpful to be able to ride directly behind our instructor Michael as he called back his strategy for braking along the trail. That was definitely one of the most directly helpful parts of the weekend. I learned a lot about how much farther I could push my speed than I had tried in the past. Great fun.
At the end of the afternoon, and the weekend, we were all full of new knowledge and excitement about the upcoming cross season. I met some wonderful people, learned some very valuable lessons, had some great food, and had an overall excellent weekend at the camp. My Kona Major Jake was the perfect tool, as usual. The camp is put on every year so I am already considering taking it again next year. If you ever have the chance, and want to get some invaluable advice and training from experts in the field, make a concerted effort to attend the Cycle-Smart Cyclocross Camp in Southampton. I guarantee you will not regret it. Thanks for reading and keep the rubber side down.