Cyclocross Features Insight Interviews

Cross-examination, part 1: cross is coming

Inside the muddy skin of an elite cyclocross rider

With a distinct lack of racing action throughout this unprecedented (how many times have we heard that word used!) time, we head into the winter with more eyes than ever focusing on cyclocross. 

Already booming both in the UK and round the world, the success of cyclocross riders both in the field and in other disciplines has had more light shone on it than ever before, with the likes of Mathieu van der Poel, Wout Van Aert and our very own Tom Pidcock, showing the merits of a winter filled with competitive action. 

In a series of articles on The British Continental over the coming months, we’re going to get under the often muddy skin of an elite cyclocross rider and find out exactly what it takes to become a National Cyclocross Trophy champion. From training to lifestyle and everything in between, we hope to give readers a no holds barred insight into what it really takes.

Photo: Mick Brown

Although there are many ways to reach success in this sport, we will be exploring how the current U23 National Trophy champion, Toby Barnes, achieved his key goal for 2019/20, and what he is doing in preparation to defend his title and reach even higher goals in the 2020/21 season. 

Where it all began

Like many young athletes, Toby talks about watching the Olympics as his inspiration to really step on the bike and develop that desire to compete. Joining his local club, Lichfield Cycling Club, at the age of just seven, he competed in road, track and cyclocross throughout the youth disciplines.

“I think it’s important that young riders don’t specialise too early” says Toby. “There are so many skills a young rider can learn from racing all types of disciplines. The experience of racing one week inside a warm velodrome, to standing shivering in a muddy field the next, is one you never forget.”

The Cero – Cycle Division Racing Team rider found most success in cyclocross and started to concentrate more on this discipline as he entered the junior ranks, where he would ultimately achieve numerous National Trophy podiums and represent Great Britain at World Cups and the 2016 European Championships. 

“Looking back it seems strange that cyclocross became my focus, as my family have no history in cycling and when we first began racing bikes, we weren’t even aware cyclocross existed!” jokes Toby. 

That being said, Toby would still compete on the road during the summer, knowing that having a varied approach was still crucial to his development at that age. 

Making sure my training fit around my school life, and not the other way around, was an important factor in my educational success

As most people reading this article will be well aware having done it themselves, balancing education and cycling can be a difficult task as a young rider, with many weekends away racing, and evenings spent training.

“I knew that I always wanted to stay in education and come away with good results to fall back on if I did not make it as a professional cyclist. Making sure my training fit around my school life, and not the other way around, was an important factor in my educational success as well as my on the bike success.”

Photo: Mick Brown

True to his word, Toby is now studying a full-time Maths and Sports Science degree at Loughborough University, whilst continue to chase his dream in the sport.  So why Loughborough and why not go full-time like so many Brits of his ability haven chosen to do?

“I chose to go to Loughborough because I’ve seen other people have managed to perform at a national and international level whilst still studying a full time degree, and like I said before, it’s important to have something to fall back on. Being a full-time athlete can also be pretty intense, so for now I’m happy to keep my mind busy with non-cycling related things – I find I go better when I have a good balance in my life.”

National Trophy success

Toby entered the 2019/20 cyclocross season off the back of his most successful campaign on the road to date, with numerous National B podiums and claiming second on the General Classification at The Tour of Sussex. Like most years, he returned to racing on the mud in the West Midlands Cyclocross League and started with a win. 

“I love going back each year having raced there in each age category – they are like my home races.”

A consistent run of results in National Trophies with placings in the top three Brits at rounds 1,2,3 and 6 not only gave Toby the overall victory in the U23 classification but also third place in the elite series too.

Despite this success, like most athletes find, the season was not perfect.

“Despite a strong start to the campaign, I appeared to suffer more as the season went on and was not in my best form come races in Belgium in late December or the National Championships in January. This is something I am looking at working on for next year.”

Photo: Mick Brown

Looking ahead

Since the cross season Toby has been working hard with his new coach, Phill Maddocks at Loughborough Performance Coaching, and has since seen a 100% record in race wins, with two National Bs in the first part of the season, and three Time Trials victories post lockdown.

In our subsequent articles we will explore Toby’s training in detail as he gears up to defend his National Trophy title and vies for further international success.

Find out more

You can follow Toby’s progress on Instagram via: tobybarnes00

The first round of the HSBC UK | Cyclo-cross National Trophy Series runs as a test event at Westmorland County Showground from 3 – 4 October. Find out more here.