Corey Cisek

A Case for the Long View

By: Corey Cisek  August 11, 2020

It is becoming increasingly clear to Corey Cisek that there will be little to no racing for the rest of 2020. 18 months is a long time without racing your primary discipline, 18 months is a long time to train. You can build a really big onion.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that 2020 will be a year of little or no bike racing for all of us.

When “crossers” like me started training again in the early spring, we still had every reason to be optimistic that there would be a normal domestic cross season. Now, with each passing day, and events falling from the calendar left and right, hope is fading. Cross seems to be going the way of road and mountain and track—mostly cancelled.

Are you still training? Did you pull the plug? If you are still training, what are you training for?

I’d argue that with the right mindset, coaching, and support, the pandemic can be a growth opportunity. Hear me out.

It’s always been a bit of a mystery to me why so many riders view training simply as “preparing for the season.” The notion seems to be, if I am racing on X date, I start based on X date and then intensity on X date in order to be “fit for the season.” That’s a short term view.

In contrast, endurance sport development is a long-term process.

I think of training as “building an onion.” Essentially, as you progress through phases. The nomenclature (“base, build, race” or “base, strength, speed,” etc.) isn’t all that important. What’s important is that each of these phases, whatever your coach calls them, layer on each other. In theory, each phase builds a bigger onion.

Honestly, the time between cyclocross seasons really isn’t much time for growth. A cyclocross friend and I joke about “April optimism.” The spring and summer stretch impossibly long in front of you. It seems there’s all the time in the world, enough time to up your FTP, hone your strength game, learn to bunny hop and perfect your sprint too. Realistically, the six or so months between cyclocross races is only time to start to address a few of these. The racing season rolls around again, and you still can’t bunny hop!

What’s interesting is that racing actually interferes a bit with “growing the onion.” There’s resting before racing and resting after racing, repeat and repeat. It’s a whole lot of rest, a whole lot of racing fatigue, and sometimes you add illness to boot! A season of racing starts to peel away the onion layers.

Why do the top international competitors go to Spain between Kerstperiode and Worlds? Not to sit on the beach (it’s a bit cold for that), but to do a training block, to quickly add back an onion layer.

Each year, we do not begin a new "building the onion". We are not building a shallot. Figuratively speaking, you can build shallots in six months, but onions take years. No one wins a World Championship with a shallot. To succeed in this sport over the long haul, you need to discard the “training for the upcoming season” mindset. Every single time you put in a training block, every time you stress and rest, you build another layer. Every athlete has some amount of potential. You slowly and patiently build the layers to reach your maximum potential, your own biggest onion.

If we go a season without racing, our cycling world will change. Some riders will retire, unable to financially sustain 18 months without racing their discipline. Likewise, some teams will fold. Races too. Some young athletes will quit the sport, having found other distractions during the time away. Honestly, it’s not a pretty picture.

Yet, for the racers that endure, it’s an opportunity. A phoenix rises from ashes.

While we are all away from each other, some riders will use this opportunity to grow. A cat 3 female who truly applies herself between now and Fall 2021 has time enough to grow into a UCI competitor. A junior who raced locally in Fall 2019 could make Junior Worlds in 2021.

I promise you: in Fall 2021, there will be names you do not yet know making themselves known. They are, at this very moment, putting in the miles and throwing themselves at technical features.

Just as 18 months is a long time without racing your primary discipline, 18 months is a long time to train. You can build a really big onion.

A Story:

I grew up in the Mount Washington Valley of New Hampshire as an alpine ski racer. The area’s public high school is a small one, typically graduating classes of less than 200. Nevertheless, the community has a strong tradition of creating world-class skiers. 23 (and counting) residents have made the U.S. Ski Team and/or Olympic team since the 1970s.

Part of this tradition grew from seeming misfortune.

The late 1970s were a time of massive population growth in the area. In less than 10 years, the community population nearly doubled. This stretched the local junior high/high school beyond capacity. The solution was a reduced school day with split scheduling. Some students attended from 6:40 am to 12:30 pm. A second wave attended from 1:00 pm to 6:00 pm

These were the days before “night skiing,” so skiers were constrained by the sun setting shortly after 4:00 pm. The unintended consequence of split scheduling? Student-skiers had more daylight time on the slopes.

In 1979, the high school ski team won their first-ever state championship, a feat they repeated four times in a row. Coincidence?

I’m sure split scheduling felt like an awkward compromise to those impacted, just like the hybrid or distance model many of America’s students are about to face. Hopefully, our nation’s juniors can find their own daylight this fall, either literally as their schedule allows for more daylight training or figuratively as they make the best of these times and grow athletically.

So this is a shout out to all of you. 18 months is a long time, long enough to make yourself into a new rider. Will you grow the onion with patient progressive training? Will you put in the hours to learn next-level technical skills? Will you see this pandemic as an opportunity? Some will. Be that person.

Photos Courtesy of Van Der Maarel

About the Contributor:

Corey Coogan Cisek, Triple C Racing p/b Cyclocross Custom, is an elite CX rider, who has spent the last three seasons in Belgium, competing in UCI races and World Cups. She is also a USAC Cycling Level 2 Coach for Triple C Coaching. She hopes to return to Europe to race this year, but is committed to "growing the onion" regardless of what the season may hold.