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Cyclocross

EuroCrossAcademy: Turning sand into your ally

Miles Mattern explains how riders are preparing for Koksijde and its infamous sand pit.

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During the next few weeks, riders from the EuroCrossAcademy will be writing exclusive blog posts for VeloNews as they race the “kerstperiode” in Belgium.

ECA VeloNews Journal 7

Rider: Miles Mattern

Hometown: Rochester, NY

For many years, I have enjoyed watching cyclocross racing from my home in New York.

I love watching the European racers tackle all of the iconic Belgian courses.  Being here in Belgium now as a racer myself is an amazing experience. It is exciting to ride and race on these courses that I have watched so many times.

When I think about European racing, especially in the kerstperiode, I often think about the mud that is very prevalent in the rainy December/January weather.  I certainly have enjoyed my fair share of mud over the past few races here, but as I look ahead to the final two races of our current EuroCrossAcademy (ECA) European racing block, I will be shifting my focus to riding in the sand.

In the next several days, we will race in Koksijde which is well known for its distinctive sand dunes and then at Zonhoven, which has an infamous sand pit (de kuil).

Preparing to race in the sand requires careful consideration of your line choice and extreme concentration. Sand is such an interesting element in cyclocross, because it requires the rider to be 100 percent focused on what they are doing, and it requires the rider to be fully committed to the rut they are riding in.

Riding in the sand is a delicate thing, the most subtle of movements of the bike could put the rider out of the rut, and then be forced to start running in a sub-optimal part of the course. The biggest challenge with sand is to limit mistakes, and to maintain momentum in the right direction. Knowing when to run and knowing when to ride is critical for maintaining forward-moving momentum.

To practice for these upcoming races, ECA has able to spend some beneficial training time in the Lichtaart Forest.  This is a cool wooded area with a dedicated cyclocross training course.

To quote Bill Schieken of CXHAIRS, it is a “mythical cyclocross training ground for Belgian’s finest.” It has wooded trails, steep climbs, tricky descents and, of course, sand.

On Wednesday, a day that the riders competing in Koksijde and Zonhoven were not racing, we practiced our sand skills in the magical forest. After warming up, we used a roughly one minute loop that was all on sand, and consisted of deep ruts, slaloming downhills, and a tricky climb back to the top.

Once we all felt comfortable and were doing consistent laps around this sand pit, we shifted to some other skills and drills. We practiced dismounting and remounting on to the bike in deep sand. We also practiced riding up steeper sandy hills, which require the rider’s weight to be as far back as possible, and an ability to put out power at low cadences.

And, at the end, we all completed a lap of this sand pit, without putting a foot down. Doing a “perfect lap” to end the session gives everyone the confidence they need as we approach two of the biggest and most challenging races.

As ECA heads into Koksijde, and the Zonhoven World Cup, our skills, focus, and concentration will certainly be put to the test.

But following a few training sessions with the primary objective of improving riding in the sand, I approach these races with the confidence that I can achieve a great result.

Racing under the lights at the Superprestige Diegem. (Photo: ECA)