Ed. Note—in the Pacific Northwest, triathlons dry up (see what I did there?) as the weather changes back to our normal climate: cool and damp. Happily, just as with mushrooms, those are the perfect conditions for cyclocross to thrive, and Wattie Pro Nathan Killam is doing just that off the tri bike, rocking his Wattie Ink CX Skinsuit to podia across British Columbia. Cross-curious? Read on about one of our road triathletes turned cross-ista. All photos courtesy of Scott Robarts Photography.
I love triathlon. I really really REALLY love triathlon. I love the hard work I do day-in and day-out. I love riding the pain train DEEP into the hurt locker. I love traveling the world and meeting amazing people—I've met most of my best friends in the sport. But for the last three seasons, I've had a guilty pleasure waiting for me at the end of every triathlon season : cyclocross. Not just cyclocross itself, but the crazy-ass people that love to share the chaos-on-a-bike kinda racing that 'cross is. Most of the people that race cyclocross around here are folks like me, that mostly race other disciplines more seriously throughout the year, and then play 'cross for their offseason. It’s a way to unwind and mentally relax a bit after a long year of professional triathlon racing. It also has a huge family component for me: my wife and I have raced cross together for the past two years, which makes it feel more like a family outing than racing. Now that we have a little kiddo on our team (he’s only five months old right now,) I am looking forward to getting him a strider bike and bringing him out to race the kids' race at the local cross events.
Since I discovered cyclocross three years ago, I look forward to the start of cross season every year with the same giddy anticipation I did as a kid waking up on Christmas morning. I've noticed another trend over the past three seasons: my bike power has been increasing every season in triathlon. I know there's a component of 'time on the bike,' but I'm a firm believer that cyclocross is one of the bigger contributing factors. My coach Björn designs my bike training sessions to be as specific as possible throughout the CX season (he raced cyclocross professionally years ago in the Belgian Superprestige series, so knows a thing or two about the sport), which not only helps me improve my cross racing, but also helps me achieve new levels of strength and power that hours of pedalling away on a TT bike through the winter wouldn't give me. I like to think of it this way: if I get used to riding at crazy redline for 60 minutes, then riding well below that for 2 hours becomes a lot more reasonable, and I’m able to ride harder on a tri bike. I try to tell everyone that CX is where I've gotten a lot of my bike improvements over the past few years (along with growing a moustache and enjoying a local craft bevvy on the regular), but nobody seems to follow suit. Believe it or not, it also helps a LOT with your bike handling, which can really give you an edge on a technical triathlon course. Triathletes have a bad rap of having TERRIBLE bike handling skills, but YOU can help us break the mold with a season or two of cyclocross under your belt!
This season has been going MUCH better than anticipated! I spent a week of August in the Okanagan training with my coach on my mountain bike skills leading up to ITU Off-Road World Champs, so I got a great boost in my technical skills coming into the CX season. Last season I was seriously sick all cross season but was still able to hang in the top 5 at all the local elite cross races. This season I have racked up five 2nd place finishes and one 3rd place finish in the elite races; most of them have been behind two of the best CX racers in Canada (one of whom just smashed it at the national championships,) and one of my 2nd places was due to a flat and a mechanical that plagued the rest of my race. I’ve been within 30-70 seconds of the winner in all my races this year, which gives me a lot of confidence going into the back half of 'cross season. With our provincial championships coming up in just under 4 weeks, I feel my 'cross strength and fitness is increasing, and my technical skills are improving. My goal for provincials is a podium finish, and I feel it is totally within my ability. I’ve been plagued with mechanicals the last two years at provincials: last year I got three flat tires in the race, and two years ago my right (rear) shifter fell off and I wasn’t able to shift or use my back brakes for most of the race! But if the you-know-what hits the fan again this year, I’m not too fussed; CX is all about fun and strength building for me.
I TOTALLY recommend learning about 'cross and your local 'cross scene. As a triathlete you will benefit HUGELY and make gains in your race results. You’ll also have the perfect excuse to play in the mud with all your friends and have something to look forward to after all the stress of training and racing triathlon all year, which will have you coming back mentally refreshed for the new year.
And seriously, grow a moustache. Guaranteed FTP increase of 3-5%.