Newest addition to the Challenge Tires squad is Cyclocross racer and writer Amy Perryman. She has been racing CX for 9 years now and has picked up various results across the UK national scene, gaining experience each year racing across borders in Belgium - the home of CX. She will soon be entering her 10th season of CX racing. Currently based out in Font Romeu, in the Pyrenees, living and training at altitude, she's laid out her top tips for preparing for the full season ahead.

Three key things to prepare: (#)

1- Fitness:

The start of a CX season is usually dry and very fast, like that of a criterium race except on grass and with the occasional run. To be competitive riders NEED to have good leg speed and a large engine, to keep up with the pace of early season racing. Professional CX riders will be training their aerobic engine throughout the summer and building a good base fitness.

Throughout summer I race a full calendar of criteriums therefore adding a high level of intensity into my training. Racing criteriums throughout summer does have its advantages, it keeps the fast-twitch fibers in my leg muscles working and helps ease into the intensity of CX. Summer race season has ended so I am currently training big hours in the saddle (aerobic/tempo work) but as CX gets ever closer I will begin training with higher intensity (anaerobic systems) 3-4 week prior to a block of key races; sessions such as 30s on/off or training at threshold (FTP).

Usually, I like to be back training on the CX bike by the end of July/start of August. I find it useful to get used to the race position early, as well as re-learning how the tires move underneath the bike. Skills sessions are key and something I think every CX rider (even the pros) should continue doing throughout their career. Being technically skilled is such an important part of CX racing, there's only so far you can get with a good engine if you can't corner or remount your bike smoothly.

Running and gym training is another important factor, I won't go into specifics here as I myself am not that clued up on what CX racers should or shouldn't be doing. However, I do know that staying on top of a basic running base fitness can make a world of difference, especially when courses begin getting muddy. Gym training and plyometrics really help with explosivity in the legs eg. that ability to repetitively kick hard out of corners. This is something I will train pre CX and continue with throughout the season.

2- Bike set up:

You could argue that being physically fit is almost the easy part of CX preparations, the other half of racing is the bike.

Quite often when I get my bike out of hibernation after summer, I find the bottom bracket has seized and the previous slow punctures have gone completely flat. Getting the bike race ready early on is important, it allows time to fine tune, set up and dial in position.

One large part of preparation is re-gluing and deciding on which tires I will want on my wheels for the season. For the last 5 seasons I have ridden tubular tires and am lucky enough to have the choice of tread: Muds, Intermediates or Dry. I ride tubular tires out of personal preference. Despite being a bit of an effort to glue onto rims, I find they ride the best in a CX race. Where tubular tires are made of cotton, they’re lighter than your usual clinchers or tubeless tires and seemingly less prone to flatting at low pressures. Tubular tires allow the maximum amount of grip, as you go around corners the tires roll with the corner keeping the tread in contact with the ground the whole way. Getting used to that feeling of the tire rolling and moving underneath the bike doesn't come naturally and learning to ride them takes time and practice.

Having ridden on Challenge tires for most of my CX career, I am confident in their durability and grip, they perform in various conditions and allow you to really push your limits in a race. My go to choices are: Challenge Limus (Muds), Baby Limus (Intermediates) and Grifo (Dry). I am yet to test out the ever popular Challenge Chicane (with a tread similar to that of a gravel tire), most commonly ridden in sand, ice or generally hardpack ground, useful in early season racing or as temperatures really drop over the winter.

Tire pressure is utterly personal preference, some riders are comfortable on much lower pressures, whereas others can't afford to set pressures as low as a result of being a heavier rider. On a hardpack course I'd usually ride between 22-25 PSI but when conditions get really muddy I will go as low as 15 PSI and yes…every single PSI makes a difference.

3- Planning the races:

Well planned seasons always have a higher success rate. Setting goals at the start of the season gives a good idea of where you want to get to and what path you need to take to get there. By creating goals, you can then determine which races you want/need to peak for and which races you can afford to train through. CX season is jam-packed with racing, if you wanted to race twice every weekend you could - especially over in Europe. Obviously this is unsustainable and as a result causes de-training. The strain of racing is high, mentally and physically, therefore every race can’t be a priority race, some races you have to sacrifice feeling fresh for to get the ‘training gains’.

Incorporating a mid-season break from racing is smart, being a winter sport the risk of illness is very high and taking the time to allow your body to recuperate is key, even in mid-season. Many of the pro riders will head somewhere sunny to Spain or Balearic Islands for 2-3 weeks riding, although still training hard, the break from travel and racing is lifted. Returning back from an uninterrupted period of effective training, riders are strong and will often go straight into a big block of important races.

CX is a team effort and requires a seamless system of hands working around a rider, creating a plan for the season helps this support system of dedicated helpers. Whether employed or a family relative invested in your development, every little help from the sidelines allows a rider to focus fully on training and racing to the best of their ability.

What's next?

So, what are my CX season plans? I plan to be racing most of the British National Trophy Series as well as making it across borders to Belgium and the Netherlands for some of the Superprestige events. Like most racers it’s easy to say “I want to get results!”. Well, obviously, everyone wants results. I’d simply like to take the next step up in my racing, something I feel I have plateaued in the past few years. I appreciate it takes time and I'm not miraculously going to win every event but a step up would show me that it is possible to go the distance. I’m putting in the work and the hours at the moment, setting routines and habits - giving myself the best opportunity to kickstart my CX season on a high. Catch you out there on the course, bring a cowbell - It's going to be a whirlwind of a ride.

Huge thanks to Challenge Tires for their support this season, they’ll be with me every step of the way, can’t wait to get sendy on the CX bike.

Follow my journey at amyperryman_ on Instagram and Twitter.

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