Did you get some good training in this winter? How are you going to deal with mud at those early spring races? Maybe it’s your first race—how should you approach it? If you’re nodding in agreement, keep reading for advice from members of the Sho-Air/Cannondale race team.
Welcome to part two of our series featuring tips and advice from Marco Fontana (@fontanaprorider), Max Plaxton (@MaxPlaxton), Keegan Swenson (@Keegels99), Stephen Ettinger (@settinger_) and Evelyn Dong (@EvDong). Mtbr caught up with them before the USA Cycling US Cup at Bonelli Park in San Dimas, California.
Mtbr: How do you structure your off-season to be ready when racing begins?
Marco Fontana: During my rest time, I take two weeks without touching my bike. Then I start riding easy for one or two weeks. For three months, I go to the gym one or two times per week. I do some running, because it helps with cyclocross and because in Europe it’s cold so we don’t spend a lot of hours out on the bike. I also race cyclocross until the world championships, which is near the end of January. Then I do my long base training for a month and a half, and now we’re back on speed and back racing.
Max Plaxton: I just try to live a normal life and try not to stress too much about anything. I’m always staying fit doing something and always keep it fun.
Keegan Swenson: I don’t structure it, that’s the key. There is so much structure during the race season that you just need to relax and do whatever you feel like doing during the off-season. Whether that’s five hours of epic trail riding, sitting on the couch or hitting dirt jumps. It’s important to keep it interesting.
Stephen Ettinger: October and November are usually pretty unstructured. I go stir-crazy if I’m not active in some way, so I spend a lot of time on long rides, trail runs, and early season ski tours. December means more bike time, with plenty of Nordic and ski touring, and then throughout January and February I find some warm locale to train in. Race season beings in March and I’m usually primed and excited.
Evelyn Dong: I’m still kind of new to this sport—this has been my first winter training in a warm location to get in good base miles. To start the off-season, I take a month off the bike. I have absolute freedom to do nothing. Then I start doing some yoga and ‘yogging’ when I get antsy. I also try to keep it fresh in the winter by mixing in some skiing, desert trips to Utah and adventure rides.
Mtbr: For spring racing, mud is often a factor. What are your tips for getting through it?
Marco Fontana: Well, you have mud, and you have mud. I have to say I like muddy races but first of all you have to be mud-friendly. You have to think you’re going to enjoy it, even though you’re going to struggle and make mistakes. It’s the only way to improve. Also, sometimes it’s muddy and you don’t want to get wet and dirty, so you don’t go and practice the course. Wrong. Even half an hour before the race, go and do one loop. You’ll get muddy, the bike will make noise, but you’re going to see how it goes. And for sure be light on the bike and let the bike get loose.
Max Plaxton: For mud races, I would recommend you choose hardtail if you can, and some good mud tires. Metallic brake pads are key as well.
Keegan Swenson: For cold muddy races, it’s important to concentrate on your line and technical riding. Because it doesn’t matter how strong you are if you are crashing every five minutes in the mud. It’s also important to remember to hydrate. Just because it’s cold and rainy out that doesn’t mean you don’t need to drink.
Stephen Ettinger: My best tip for dealing with tough mud conditions is find a good mechanic. Having a bike that runs well, is tuned, lubed and race ready going into the event is very important. Things only go downhill once you get out there. Secondly, relax. Things change quickly in the mud, both the track and race situation, so ride your race and take advantage of the things that do go your direction.
Evelyn Dong: I’m probably not the best person to ask about this, because I haven’t figured out how to race in the mud yet. I like mud, but once it starts sticking to the bike, I’m kind of a wuss. I guess a few takeaways from the Vail Lake Kenda Cup race are this: Use a chain guide. When your chain gets clogged with mud, it tends to jump off the chainring, especially if you are running a 1X system. So, using a chainguide to keep it on goes a long way. Also, wash your drivetrain with water—a few squirts from your water bottle periodically throughout the race helps keep the system running smoother. And dress right. Your hands will probably get cold no matter what, so work on keeping your core warm.
Mtbr: What advice do you have for someone about to do their first race?
Marco Fontana: Keep cool and don’t think about the race itself or the pressure of the race. Just enjoy the atmosphere. Be competitive, for sure—if you decided to race you don’t want to just go for a ride. Be competitive but keep it cool because otherwise you won’t enjoy it all the way.
Max Plaxton: I would say that it’s a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll. Always try to have fun and be patient. I’ve been racing over 15 years and I still get nervous like I did for my first race, and continue to learn things about myself.
Keegan Swenson: Just relax and don’t stress too much about anything. Just focus on your own race and work towards your own personal goals. There is no reason to get caught up in how everyone else is doing. Just race your bike as fast as you can and have fun.
Stephen Ettinger: For a new racer, it’s most important just to go out and have fun. That’s what it’s fundamentally about, regardless of your experience level. Keep it in perspective, this is just bike racing—not that big of a deal in the big picture. Sometimes, bike racing is “Level 2” fun, experiences that aren’t all fun in the moment, but in hindsight are pretty incredible. So expect it to hurt, but in the end it’ll be worth it. Surround yourself with good people when you try your first races. Heck, surround yourself with good people at every race.
Evelyn Dong: It has been said before, but just have fun. Ride as hard as you want to, and don’t stress about what other people are doing.
Make sure to check out part 1 of this series, where Mtbr asks about skill building, on-bike fueling and favorite (and least favorite) workouts.