This is the third in a series of articles on The British Continental this winter taking us under the often-muddy skin of an elite cyclocross rider. Following the now 20-year-old GB cyclocross specialist Toby Barnes, who rides for the Cero Wheels – Cycle Division team, the series goes under the muddy skin of an elite cyclocross rider, from training to lifestyle and everything in between.
Sand is like no other surface the riders will race onToby Barnes
We last caught up with Toby in December as he was preparing to race his first senior Elite World Cup race in Namur, Belgium. Namur is known to be one of the hardest cyclocross courses in Europe with its long uphill start, steep banks and tough running sections. On this occasion, the course got the better of Toby and he had to pull out of the race with respiratory problems halfway through. Not the first rider to be caught out on this course and we are sure he will not be the last!
With no racing in the UK, and restrictions making European racing all but impossible for a UK-based Brit, all focus turned to the World Championships in late January.
“The three weeks post Namur were strange; I was training hard and preparing for a race I didn’t even know I would be selected for”, said Toby.
Fortunately, in mid-January, Toby got the call that he had gained selection to race for the Great Britain team in the U23 race, well-deserved after a breakthrough season that included 13th at the European Championships and 8th at the Tabor World Cup.
With the World Championships taking place this weekend (30-31 January), we look at how Toby and his coaching team have prepared his final months of training to peak at the right time and be ready to tackle such a unique course as Ostend, Belgium, will provide.
Much like a World Tour rider performing a reconnaissance of a mountain stage, or a sprint team detailing the final kilometres of a race, a cyclocross rider must put in the research to understand the specific demands of the course.
Ostend is one of few races that has lengthy sections of sand, both rideable and unrideablePhill Maddocks
Toby and his coach at Loughborough Performance Coaching sat down together and watched video replays of previous races on the course that the World Championships would be using, identifying specific techniques and skills that could be targeted in the lead up. Toby’s coach, Phill Maddocks, explains:
“For most courses you pick out specific things such as long sections of mud, or off-camber sections that need to be practiced, however Ostend is one of few races that has lengthy sections of sand, both rideable and unrideable. This information is vital and shaped the focus of the training in the month leading up to the Championships.”
With that course knowledge in hand, Toby began more specific sand sessions, noting:
“I would often end my cross sessions at a local park with a large sanded area. This allowed me to practice running with my bike in the sand, focusing on the best stride length and leg speed to both be quick and energy efficient.”
Before the latest lockdown, Toby was fortunate enough to be able to join other talented cyclocross riders for small group sessions on a beach at a local reservoir. Maddocks explains why this was so important:
“These sessions allowed the riders to really get the feel for the sand and how it changed how the bike would behave underneath them. Sand is like no other surface the riders will race on, so getting this experience before the Championships is vital to success. It’s a lot more common for the Belgian and Dutch riders to both train and race on sand, but in the UK it really is a rarity, so needed specific focus.”
“I find group sessions like this not only push you harder physically, but also allows you to learn from each other on how to, and in some cases how not to, ride through the differing conditions.”
A taper can be just as important as the training that proceeds it; do too much training in the final weeks before the event and you will be fatigued for the race, do too little and you may lose race fitness. So how does one find what is the right taper for them?
“In some ways I was lucky enough this year to not have too many races and was essentially able to trial different tapers to understand what plan works best for me”.
“I like to greatly reduce my volume in the last 10 days leading up to a target race, generally not riding more than 3 hours on any day and numerous recovery days. However, I aim to keep levels of high intensity similar to what they are before the taper, as this keeps me activated and sharp for race day.”
The opening lap is often very chaotic, so having a couple of different options up your sleeve for certain sections is also vitalPhill Maddocks
The final days
It is common at international races such as World Cups or World Championships that athletes can ride the course in the days leading up to the race, and this event is no different, with Toby planning to ride the course on the Friday before the Championships.
“Riding the course in the days leading up to a major race is essential if you want to start the race on the front foot”, Maddocks notes.
“Riders get to experiment and pick the best lines, decide where may be best to dismount and run, and crucially where they may want to launch an attack. The opening lap is often very chaotic, so having a couple of different options up your sleeve for certain sections is also vital.”
As well as learning the course, riders can use these reconnaissance laps to fine tune their legs ready for race day with a short pre-race session, Toby adds.
“I tend to do very short efforts the day before my races, either sprints on the flats or short hill efforts. This just feels like it gets my heart pumping, lungs open and legs ready to go for the race.”
All that will be then left for Toby is to deliver his best performance on the day of the race, and we here at The British Continental wish him and the rest of the GB team the best of luck throughout the weekend.
How to watch
All races will be shown on both the GCN Racing and Eurosport services at the times below:
-U23 Men’s Championship, 12:30 GMT, Saturday 30th
-Elite Women’s Championship, 14:10 GMT, Saturday 30th
-U23 Women’s Championship, 12:30 GMT, Sunday 31st
-Elite Men’s Championship, 14:10 GMT, Sunday 31st
Find out more
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