Coach, pro racer and cyclocross apprentice Corey Coogan Cisek checks in with a different spin on her usual column. We still get great insight into her life as an American racer in Belgium, but this time it’s in the form of an answer to a fan’s question.

Come along for the ride with her latest Cyclocross Apprenticeship entry.

I have been receiving fan mail with questions. I’ll use this week’s column to answer some of those questions.

I’ve been asked: “How do you train between races?”

Pre-2020, the Euro season was typically dense with races, so much so that we struggled to fit in much training time within the race–recover–race cycle. We loaded up as much training as possible in the summer/early season and then did our best to hold that fitness. During the season, my coach, Helen Wyman, dosed out shortened versions of key workouts. The idea was to revisit capacities built over the summer to “refresh” without building much fatigue.

This season, given a slimmed-down race schedule due to COVID cancellations, we’ve had more time to train. For those of us who could not do the Kortrijk–Tabor double weekend (per having to drive between venues—egads!), this month’s AntwerpGavere, was our first double of the season. Between infrequent racing and decent early season weather, we’ve been able to do some legitimate training here in Belgium.

This year I did not arrive in Belgium feeling race-ready given my complete lack of racing and group rides during the off-season. I’ve really used the extra training time in Belgium to my benefit. I live with my VeloRevolution – Cyclocross Custom teammate, Michelle Geoghegan, so I’ve gone from “always solo” in the States (just me and my power meter for company) to always having a tough-as-nails riding buddy. It’s a treat! Since Michelle lives here full time, she knows all the great routes and great hills. I sit on her wheel and let her navigate!

A midweek between race weekends affords us one rest or spin day, one hard session, one off-road session, one long session and one pre-race openers session. In the case of a single-day race weekend, it’s sometimes possible to fit in another hard-ish day. We also do one very short, very hard run and a minimum amount of “home gym.” In other words, we do all we can with a single 4-kilo kettlebell, laundry jugs, elastic bands and a step stool. (Did I mention, gyms remain closed?)

Key among our weekly sessions is the off-road, “cross skills” day. If one of the weekend’s races is nearby, we do our cyclocross training as a course preride. Conversely, if the drive to a venue is too much, we will keep it local and train in nearby forests.

Belgium has numerous tiny forests, bossen, everywhere. Clearly, their laws protect community forests. While some of the forests prohibit biking, a startling number allow it. You never have far to go to practice cross skills.

The thing about Belgium is that one is never alone, or strange, doing skills in the forest. At home, I feel like a freak riding sand ruts at the local beach. In Belgium, it can be difficult to find a forest without other “crossers.” Michelle and I often train in a nearby bos and find our workouts interrupted by small children on CX bikes with parents tagging behind. The kids are fearless. It’s exactly as you imagine: They are in the drops, on a bike one size too big, trying to ride the same lines as the pros.

Preride days are typically Wednesdays. We aim to do these in the morning due to another fact of Belgian life: children have Wednesday afternoons off from school. In pre-COVID times, the local clubs held Wednesday-afternoon practices on the weekend’s course. Even now, with organized practices not allowed and racing limited to pros only, a small number of children still manage to preride.

What do you do during midweek preride? Hot laps?

The purposes of our midweek preride are several. The first is, quite simply, to learn the course. Assuming we have not raced the venue before, we ride a couple of laps taking in the “order of obstacles.” At that point, we are just memorizing cues surrounding key features: “Pit one is just after the bridge. Prepare for the barriers right after the off-camber.” We also make a mental list of challenging features around which to focus our practice.

After a lap or two, we determine which sections we want to session. Oftentimes, this is a feature that we are unsure about. Perhaps there’s a downhill that is scary or a climb or off-camber we cannot consistently ride clean. By sessioning these features, we hopefully develop some confidence for race day.

One thing we try not to obsess about on Wednesdays is line choice. The problem is that the lines will change drastically between Wednesday and race day. The average Belgian course is ridden about five days of the year. Take Koppenberg: 360 days a year, it’s a cow field. One cannot train there. It’s private property inhabited by cows. Throughout the spring, the grass grows over the cyclocross damage and all signs of a course disappear.

During Wednesday preride, the course more closely resembles a cow field than a cyclocross course. It’s bumpy and no lines are ridden in. Between Wednesday and weekend race time, riders cut several lines into the soft Belgian soil. A given: if you decide your line on Wednesday, it will be gone by Saturday.

Corey Coogan Cisek tears it up at Superprestige Gavere, finding new lines that weren't visible on Wednesday. ©

Corey Coogan Cisek tears it up at Superprestige Gavere, finding new lines that weren’t visible on Wednesday. ©

Likewise, Wednesday is not the day to finalize your tire selection or pressure. One usually leaves preride with two likely treads in mind. You know the soil and grass type, you know the steepness of climbs and descents and you know the number of turns and off-cambers. As a Challenge Tires athlete, I’m usually able to say something like, “It will be Baby Limus or Limus.” I’ve already eliminated some tires in my mind, but I won’t make a final tread decision until I see race day conditions. (Of note, we bring a larger selection of tires to every race just in case!)

Preride is a good opportunity to make generalizations about the course. I try to think about the first lap. Where will the traffic bottleneck? Where will there be good opportunities to pass? I also weigh my strengths and weaknesses against the course. Where can I make time? Where am I going to come into difficulty?

There’s no way to fully plan my race in advance since I can’t control the weather or what other riders will do. Nevertheless, having seen the course and discussed it with my teammates, I can make some predictions.

And yes, we always do a hot lap (or at least part of one) during a Wednesday pre-ride. Most often, we do not do a full lap as the course is still being built or because a full lap effort would be too taxing (Koppenberg!). Instead, we try to go hard over much of the course in segments. I find the course always plays out differently at race speed. A hot lap can completely change my perception of the course.

Thanks for the readers’ questions. If you have a question, please direct message me via social media.