With the calendar turned to July, it means it is time for the annual MontanaCrossCamp cyclocross development camp hosted in Helena, Montana by Geoff Proctor. First held over a decade ago, the camp has trained young U.S. riders for some of the challenges unique to racing cyclocross in Europe while also helping them get a jump on their #crossiscoming training.
MontanaCrossCamp was initially offered for male riders, and a Women’s camp was added in 2017. This year, the Women’s camp has its largest roster of riders yet, with 15 women aged 15 to 20 participating in the camp.
We got an invite to attend a few days of the camp, getting up at the crack of dawn with the athletes and hoping to glean a tidbit of knowledge or two while the future stars of U.S. cyclocross get a first-hand education in running, riding and the skills they need to be successful at the sport’s highest level.
This first dispatch from Helena checks in from Wednesday’s morning’s on and off-the-bike activities.
As we drove over the Helena High School mid-Wednesday morning, Proctor relayed a story from his life as a teacher. As he pointed to a mountain towering above the city, he said, “That’s where my seniors do their final recitations. We hike up there at 5 a.m. and do the exams as the sun is rising.”
Needless to say, Proctor is an early morning person, and not surprisingly, his camp starts at the crack of dawn.
Each morning starts at 6:30 a.m. with some running and stretching before breakfast. As I walked over to the Carroll College football stadium, the campers formed up and jogged around campus with Proctor.
Once there, campers do a series of openers and stretches to get ready from the day. Many of the exercises are similar to ones done in sports such as soccer and football. Stretches over a broad range of motion likely mean a full-body workout is in store for the young athletes each day.
If you watched any of our interviews from the 2017 MontanaCrossCamp or read our story about off-the-bike training, you know that running is synonymous with the camp. Save a Louisville Nationals, many U.S. cyclocross athletes can likely get through a season with little or no running, but with his experience helping run the EuroCrossCamp blocks of Belgian races, Proctor’s goal in setting up MCC has always been with an eye toward Europe.
One thing you quickly pick up from Proctor is he likes to relate drills at camp to specific European cyclocross racers. As the campers gathered at the base of the stadium bleachers getting ready for stadium stairs, his mantra was “Hoogerheide, Namur. You have to be ready to run.”
A special aspect of MontanaCrossCamp is the guest coaches Proctor brings in. Each year, he asks Elite athletes to attend and help with instruction. This year’s coaches for the Women’s camp are Becca Fahringer, Allison Arensman and Katie Compton.
Being a coach means getting to help impart some of your knowledge to the young campers, but it also means … stadium stairs! Everyone benefits from the mid-summer training boost.
Wednesday morning’s prescription included four sets of stadium stairs, first going one stair at a time and then two.
The first bit of running complete, next on the early-morning menu was what Proctor calls “Buns of Steel.” Riders formed a circle and did a series of glute strengthening exercises, with 6 different sets of 15 for one leg and then 6 sets of 15 for the other. With athletes from across the country, Proctor had campers volunteer to count them off in different languages they know from school or other backgrounds.
The last run before breakfast was four sets of hill bounds up a steep hill next to the soccer field. The athletes started as a group, but the descent on foot quickly split them up for the next three runs at the hill.
With that complete, campers huddled up before heading back to the dorm for breakfast. It was still only 7:15 a.m.
Starts, Figures 8s, Off-Cambers
After breakfast, campers made the short ride over to Helena High School for the morning on-the-bike session. On the docket for the morning were starts, Figure 8 turns and some off-camber work.
Another part of the MCC experience is classroom sessions each night where coaches present on different skills. On Tuesday evening, Compton presented on how to set up your positioning for different cornering situation, so the Figure 8 session provided campers a chance to put what they learned on paper into practice.
The training session started, however, with starts. After one set of regular cyclocross holeshots, Proctor started to add some twists.
The first was a Le-Mans-style start that sent riders scrambling for the bikes. The second was a start after a pushup.
And the third was a re-start after athletes were left prone on their backs.
Proctor’s point with these drills was that cyclocross can often get messy, and you have to be able to recover from a crash or fall to quickly get back on your bike. It is uncertain if these situations will every include pushups, but you get the drift.
Going back to stressing skills applicable to Europe, one last start simulated the bizarro start found at the Nommay World Cup. Riders sprinted along a path before dismounting at a hard left turn and sprinting up a small hill with their bikes.
After starts, riders took on the Figure 8 drills. Riders paired off and took turns leading through the turns in either direction. The camp coaches stressed the importance of trying different lines around the two cones, working on the skills they learned in the classroom the night before.
Practice taking different lines really came into play when the trailing riders were instructed to pass their partners coming out of the corners.
Lead riders got practice guarding corners, while the trailers got experience trying to take away the inside line or setting up in a better position out of the corner.
While coaches set up a relay course, campers kept busy with a quick game of Bike Derby or Footdown. Riders did their best to track stand, hop and stay way from the others as coach Compton slowly shrunk the circle available to them to move around.
The game came down to Ellie Mitchell of Alaska against Helena local Elsa Westenfelder, with Mitchell finally getting her fellow Elie to dab.
Mitchell won a second round held in the small circle left from the first to take the crown as Wednesday’s Bike Derby champ.
While the athletes were Bike Derbying, coaches helped set up a relay course that included two sets of barriers followed by speed ladders, a series of tight chicanes and a few wider turns.
The athletes did a couple of circuits through the obstacle course, with the coaches jumping in one of them as well.
If you thought the young women would be intimidated by Katie Compton on the other team, you would have to think again. Said one camper, “They have Katie Compton! How are we going to win?” To which another replied, “She’s their last rider. We will have already won by the time she goes.”
Shortly after that, Compton had a message geared specifically for the young women at the camp. The Bike Derby round included a lot of post-game apologies for bumps, pushes and other instances of invading personal space.
As one camper pointed out that kind of thing never happens when she plays with her male teammates, Compton said, “Don’t apologize unless you’re never going to do it again. Us women tend to apologize when we shouldn’t.”
The final part of the morning session was off-camber practice near the high school. Compton provided instruction—keep your tires perpendicular to the ground, lean into the hill, keep your eyes well forward of your line—before campers did reps through the side-hill section.
Speeds increased as the side-hill session continued, showing the value of doing a lot of reps of a feature and having peers around you to push you to get faster.
The off-camber drill wrapped up Wednesday morning. The young riders took away some skills work but more importantly, skills they can work on when they head home to points across the country.
Stay tuned for more dispatches from the 2019 Women’s MontanaCrossCamp development camp.
For more camp photos, visit cyclocross.zenfolio.com.