After the race last weekend USAT invited all of the high-performance athletes to participate in a two day cycling skills clinic. Before the clinic I heard a lot of people voicing concerns that our time would not be spent as valuably as if we were just training as normal, but by the end of the first day I think everyone was glad to be part of the camp.
Our instructor, Michael Heitz, is one of those intuitive coaches who can change his queues based on how individual people are responding. The day started off in the classroom discussing the importance of riding defensively, and having a box of tricks to pull out in an instant when needed. What do you do when you cross wheels with someone? How do you get around a corner in the rain? How do you get back upright if your wheels are slipping? Can you get around a corner with your shoulder touching the person next to you? Michael wanted to make sure we knew what to do in all those situations.
We headed out to the parking lot and learned a few drills. We learned to touch the ground while riding, how to hang our butts down by the rear break, how to pedal through turns, and how to ride a slalom course with one hand on the back of the person next to us. Later, we got on a soccer field and practiced bumping tires, then Jarrod showed me how to dismount into T2 by pulling my foot through. In the past I’ve stubbed my toe trying that method, but once I got the hang of it I can see why most of the guys prefer it. You hit the ground more upright and can start running without falling forward onto the handlebars. If you watch the video I posted a few weeks ago, you can see what I mean, when I dismount my first leg to hit the ground is behind me, so my weight goes forward onto my handle bars until my feet catch up to the rest of my body. By pulling that leg forward (between the pedal leg and the bike) you can start with your foot under your body and get your hand right to your saddle after the dismount.
The second day we did more slalom, more bumping, pushing with our shoulders, plus a group ride to work on pace lining. That was all fun, but the best part of the clinic was at the end when we went back to the grass for a game that Michael calls Trash Ball. It goes like this: Two teams, both line up at one end of the field. Michael has a Nerf ball that he tosses into the middle of the field, and we all charge toward it. We have to pick it up off the ground, pass it to our teammates (we weren’t allowed to hold the ball for more than three seconds at a time) and then drop it in the trash bin to score. Sounds simple, but we weren’t allow to unclip, and we could only shove each other with our shoulders (no arm pushing). At the start of the game, only two of us could even reach down far enough to pick up the ball, but by the end we were all sprinting after the ball, leaning against each other to block, grabbing the ball, and gently manhandling our bikes to keep the other team away from the ball so we could score. It was the capstone to what was the most fun I’ve ever had in triathlon training.
USA Triathlon did a great job of organizing the camp, and I really think what we learned will help us in races. Like I said after my 5th crash of last season, I either need to ride less aggressively or get better at riding aggressively. This type of clinic is definitely going to help with the latter. Thanks USAT!