For the best of the best, cyclocross season has already begun, with many riders putting in ‘cross-specific work to get ready for the coming season and the first races of the fall. For some, that means training camps and for a lucky few from various nations that means the UCI Cyclocross Training Camp at the UCI grounds in Switzerland.
We spoke recently with the camp’s director, Geoff Proctor, to get his take on how the camp went, what’s in store for the current crop of American Juniors later this summer and even a little ‘cross history.
Read what Proctor had to say about all of that, as well as his fellow camp coaches Sven Nys and Sven Vanthourenhout, in the interview, below. And see some more images from the camp in the accompanying slideshow.
Cyclocross Magazine: You’ve just wrapped up your fifth Summer UCI Cyclocross Training Camp. Which riders were there and how did they get selected to participate?
Geoff Proctor: For UCI CX Training Camp 5.0, we had 19 riders, 11 women and 8 men, ages 17 to 25 from 12 nations. Riders came from Great Britain, Canada, Ireland, Luxembourg, Slovakia, Italy, Spain, Australia, Sweden, the US and Austria. Canada, Luxembourg, Spain, the US and Austria were first-time participants. The riders are nominated by their federations and then the CMC (Centre Mondial du Cyclisme), the Athletics side of the UCI, and I work together to select the riders. This year, we had 50+ nominations and we had to cut it down to 20 participants.
CXM: Where was the camp held?
GP: In and around the grounds of the UCI headquarters in Aigle, Switzerland. Since the cyclocross camp is orchestrated by the UCI and the CMC, we train there on the same circuit used for the World Cups in 2005 and 2010 and now the Swiss EKZ Cross Tour. The grounds offer everything we need for a great camp, run-ups, planks for dismount and hopping practice, sand, grass for cornering, asphalt for starts and, this year, plenty of mud due to a rainy week.
CXM: Who else was there coaching and leading the camp aside from you?
GP: This year, I had the honor of coaching alongside the legend Sven Nys and his long-time teammate, training partner and friend Sven Vanthourenhout. One day at lunch, we got a kick out of discussing how it wasn’t the first time all three of us had shared the same spot. On January 2, 2005, Vanthourenhout beat Nys in the first World Cup held on the UCI circuit and I was directing EuroCrossCamp II, working the pits for the likes of Alex Howes, Bjorn Selander, Jeremy Powers, Ryan Trebon, Barry Wicks and Erik Tonkin to name a few.
CXM: What were Nys’ thoughts on the camp?
GP: Nys spoke highly of his experience at this year’s camp. He really has a giving side to his personality. He’s super keen to share his enthusiasm and knowledge with development riders. He’s very open. He’s all about giving riders chances to break in/break through in the discipline. We both sit on the UCI Cyclocross Commission and share the vision that through development programs and camps like this, we can grow our sport. The hashtag in his post-camp tweet was #givepeoplechances.
CXM: This wasn’t the first time you worked with Nys, but what about Vanthourenhout? What was the experience like this time around?
GP: I’ve worked with Nys on the UCI Cyclocross Commission for seven years now and ever since my initial interviews with him back in 2007 (in writing Behind the Stare: The Pulse & Character of Professional European Cyclocross), I’ve always valued my time with him. I’ve known Vanthourenhout for a long time now too. He and I worked closely together throughout this camp, planning and facilitating. And since Vanthourenhout is now directly coaching the Telenet Junior and Women teams, we have a lot in common.
“The experience this time around was perfect, totally dialed. The original design and plan for each day, each training, each segment, each progression I drew up years ago. With each year, I tweak, adjust and refine. This year, having Nys and Vanthourenhout there to provide enrichment and elaboration was perfect. The only bummer was that we had rain virtually every session this year. Yes, it was befitting of cyclocross weather, but that part of the world offers such breathtaking views and I wanted the new campers to enjoy what was [behind] the clouds.”
CXM: You’re obviously quite experienced in taking riders to the next level, perhaps more so than any other American. Did you learn things from Nys and Vanthourenhout that maybe you hadn’t considered before or thought differently of? What were they?
GP: First off, I really like development. Helping riders progress. For this year’s UCI camp, the teamwork was excellent. I provided the structure and the lead on whatever we were doing and the Svens were super with providing enrichment and elaboration.
“I’ve always been a student of the sport and love sharing and learning new ideas about skills, training, tactics, etc. Having two supremely accomplished ex-pros there, guys who have thought these things through a thousand times over, was really beneficial for the riders and for me.”
For instance, a cyclocross start is extremely important. So, positioning on the bike as you start is critical. Do you start by sitting on the saddle or crouching over the top tube like Lars Van der Har? Nys feels quite strongly you should be seated on the saddle. Why? Because, while the “crouching tiger” position is fine when you hit your pedal, the expenditures are too great if you don’t [hit your pedal]. Nys counsels sitting on the saddle as you burst forward. That way, if you miss your pedal, your recovery and getting back up to speed are less dramatic, more expedient. This is the kind of nuance we exchanged on virtually every skill, every aspect of the game. Often, our discussions would carry over into meals. The simplicity and the complexity. Great stuff.
CXM: Now that Nys is retired, do you see him transitioning completely to a coaching role with his new Telenet-Fidea arrangement?
GP: While Nys is working closely with top riders like Tom Meussen and, as of January 1, with Lars Van der Har, he’s more the overall director of the new Telenet-Fidea arrangement. Vanthourenhout handles the team’s Juniors and Women and Kris Wouters the U23s and Elite Men. The thing about Nys is he’s really generous and giving with his time and energy. He’s doing his Telenet-Fidea work; he does TV road race commentary; he’s busy with motivational speaking engagements; he’s opening his Baalenberg Cycling Center for training camps and more. His son Thibaut will be a nieuweling for cyclocross this fall and is racing well on the road already this year. Nys is a very busy guy. But really genuine, giving and caring.
CXM: What kind of fitness has Nys retained?
GP: Both Svens still train and want their fitness to remain at the forefront as they transition into their post-pro lives. Nys told me as long as he can get in his two hours a day, he’ll be good. Vanthourenhout really loves to run, so he’ll do hour-long runs as well. During our camp, both of them, at different times, gave it a little throttle on some of the climbs. And they have plenty of residual strength to power through, say, the sand section on the UCI grounds. I’m confident in saying I don’t think they’ll be ballooning out anytime soon.
CXM: We also have heard you’ll be doing a summer camp with American Juniors with Chris McGovern. Tell us a little about who will be attending that camp?
GP: Yes, this will be my sixth summer helping some of our nation’s best juniors. Each year, I use the previous year’s US Nationals results for selection. This summer, I have 16 riders, ages 15 to 18. I brought on Chris McGovern last year and Chris will again help this summer, along with rider-coach Tobin Ortenblad and long-time Montana Velo teammate and support coach Scott Herzig.
CXM: For this Junior camp, what will the riders be doing on and off the bike?
GP: The domestic camp is very similar to the UCI camp. The structure to each day encompasses certain skills and progressions, which are prefaced or reviewed during the evening classroom sessions. MontanaCrossCamp is a perfect opportunity to hit the refresh button for these up-and-coming riders. It’s the chance to take a break from their busy road, mtb and track seasons and refocus on full cyclocross immersion.
“From my perspective, a week-long, non-competitive summer camp is crucial to their planning, their training and their pathway. With three training sessions per day, early morning running/plyometric/core training, morning cyclocross training, afternoon road/dirt road endurance training and a classroom session to end the day, we are really tired by the end. But it’s a good tired.”
The idea is that they can then go back home, use what they learn, and tailor their next two to three months of cyclocross preparation training.
CXM: And where will the camp be? Will be open to spectators who want a glimpse of the future of American cyclocross?
GP: We dorm and eat at Carroll College in Helena, Montana, where I live. We’re right on the Continental Divide and most of our rides are right around 6,000 ft/2000 meters. It’s perfect for summer training and the weather is always good.
Every year, I get a ton of requests to observe. I prefer it to be low-key, out of the limelight and let the riders focus on their riding and building the camaraderie. Then, come Providence, Pan-Ams, Louisville, Nationals and Europe they can show spectators what they’ve got.
I’d love to do a ton more. Add a WU23 camp. Add a MU23 camp. I’d love to get all the great domestic cyclocross coaches together for a camp to exchange ideas. But now we’re talking vision, scope and sequence and that’s another whole interview!
CXM: That’s a lofty goal! You’re an expert in your field. And you’ve seen a great many riders at the sport’s highest levels. In your opinion, who is the greatest natural cyclocross talent you’ve seen?
GP: What’s Tom Brady’s answer to his favorite Super Bowl victory? “The next one?” That’s sort of how I feel. I’ve seen a lot of really great riders come through cyclocross, but I’m always on the look-out for the next one.
“Greatest natural talent? From my own experience, probably Radomir Simunek (father to current pro with same name), Thomas Frischnecht, and Sven Nys.”
CXM: After Matt Kelly’s ride, how long do you think US fans will wait for the next American Cyclocross World Champion?
GP: We’re getting closer. The program needs to grow. And things have changed a ton since Matt won worlds.
To be world champion in cyclocross takes an absolutely complete rider. Some riders are really powerful while pedaling. Some riders are really good running with the bike. Some are super technically. Some tactically. But, to put it all together, the complete package? That’s pretty extraordinary and remains the absolute goal.
As for our younger American riders, we have to get better technically. That’d be the rare generalization I’d make. We often have the horsepower, but not the finer technical skills. Part of this stems from our younger riders not specializing in cyclocross, not having year-round cyclocross teams like the Belgians. It’s complex and takes really good management of the athlete, but it’s not insurmountable. Steady improvement, eyes on the prize.
CXM: Indeed! Thank you for taking the time to speak with us!
GP: Thank you for providing this opportunity.