by Michael van den Ham

Michael van den Ham won his season opener at Lake Sammamish GP. Photo: MFG Cyclocross

This past weekend my wife and I hopped into the car, and drove the couple hours down to Seattle for what would be my first race of the season; the MFG Cross in Lake Sammamish. I always find the first one of the season to be a daunting task. No matter how much I’ve prepared, no matter how much I’ve trained, and no matter how good I feel on the bike leading up to it I just can’t be quite sure how things are going to shake out once the whistle goes.

All of this is a huge part of the reason that I chose not to start my season at a big UCI race but, rather, at a more low key (but equally awesome) event like the MFG series. Just like a restaurant would do in a soft opening, the race this past weekend gave me the perfect opportunity to run through the exact steps I would at something like a World Cup, but with an ability to completely mess it up and not have to feel like I sacrificed a big race opportunity. I mean let’s face it, it’s been a long off-season and it seems that whatever routine I did to make myself successful last year is but a distant memory buried in the recesses of my mind.

Well, it’s a good thing I did this dry run because even though I headed out there with the intention of treating the MFG exactly like I would a World Cup, I still managed to make some pretty substantial mistakes like neglecting to check the forecast in Seattle and assuming that, like Abbotsford, it would be cold and rainy. It wasn’t. It was hot and dry and all I had was mud tires despite having just about every Vittoria option under the sun sitting in my room at home. Ooops.

Or here’s another one. I spent the first part of my time talking. And talking some more. And some more. And then running out of time to hop on course leaving me with just a single warm-up window. Oh, and then I managed to forget to eat my lunch until an hour and a half before the race instead of my normal three hours. Say hello to some less than pleasant early race ‘cross gut!

Okay, so I got away with each of these mistakes this time around and still managed to walk away with a win, but as the season starts to transition into World Cups and big UCI races I know that I need to do everything just about perfectly if I’m going to slip inside the top-15 at a World Cup or take the win at a C1.

No, all this rambling isn’t just to demonstrate that I can be just as much of a gong show out there as anyone else, it’s actually to highlight the importance of building a race day routine. Practicing that routine. Fixing what’s wrong with it. Then practicing it again, and again, and again. It doesn’t need to be complicated. You don’t need to be counting every gram of carbohydrates or protein you are eating leading up to the race, but I’ve found that the more consistent and the more relaxed the day of a race can be, the better I find I perform and, you know, the more fun it is.

In case anyone is interested, I’ve included what my routine, in theory anyways, looks like. This one is geared towards the race this past weekend, but change the times a little and it applies to just about any race I do all season.

6:00 a.m. – Wake up, drink Eleven Speed Coffee
6:15 a.m. – Yoga and meditation
6:45-9:00 a.m. – Watch Downhill World Champs, make and eat waffles
9:00-10:00 a.m. – Load car, make lunch (Eggs and rice) and pack snacks
10-12:30 p.m. – Drive, drink more coffee
12:00 p.m. – Eat Lunch (Missed that one)
12:30 p.m. – First course inspection (Missed that one too)
1:00-1:30 p.m. – Pin numbers, relax and snack
1:30 p.m. – Second-course inspection, eat snack
2:05 p.m. – Ride on trainer, warmup for 15 minutes
2:25 p.m. – Bike off trainer
2:30 p.m. – Change into skinsuit, eat Born gel and go to start
2:40 p.m. – RACE!
3:40 p.m. – Recovery shake and cool-down

Michael van den Ham will be writing a bi-weekly blog throughout the cyclocross season covering everything from the nitty gritty at the races, to what it’s like travelling all over chasing UCI points, to the dynamics of running a team, to how to manage working a full-time job and racing. If there is anything in particular you want to hear more about, please feel free to drop van den Ham a line on TwitterInstagram or Facebook where you can also follow his day-to-day stuff.

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