Cycling Central: CX (Cyclo-cross) is a tough discipline, hard on the body (even without crashes and tangles) and requires a fairly specific physiology, what attracted you to it and what do you most enjoy about it?
Lisa Jacobs: It's a super fun discipline. I guess one of my favourite things about CX is that it's very athletic - you need to be able to run and jump (and in some cases, like at Zolder, almost climb!) as well as ride. Prior to being a road cyclist I was a multi-sport athlete and I think the variety in cross is one of its attractions for me.
There's lots of other things to love about CX though. I love how capable CX bikes are, and riding one feels like my roadie but just super loose! It's a great feeling.
Coming from a tour racing background, I also love that CX races are so quick - 45min races are super demanding physiologically but it's all over in 45 minutes. In a road race you have to wait three and a half hours to get that feeling.
CC: You've worked from a long way out for this World Champs with a much longer preparation period in Belgium, how's that improved or changed how you're feeling going in to this weekend?
LJ: Yes this has been a big preparation period which started in Feb 2015 with a racing block in Belgium, then a lot of really specific gym work, overseas racing and skills work. I'm a completely different rider now than I was two years ago when I raced Hoogerheide world champs, that's for sure. It's given me a lot of confidence that I belong in that field, but it's also given me certain performance expectations of myself which adds a bit of pressure.
CC: Belgium is possibly not the funnest place to be, in winter, for a couple of months, except race day. What's the good and the bad of the "cross life”?
LJ: I love Belgium, but six weeks of training through a Belgian winter requires a certain mental fortitude. Rapha makes awesome winter kit, which makes a huge difference, and there are quite a few pros based in Oudenaarde in Belgium where I am, which makes training easier. But it definitely requires a lot more work than summer riding.
At races I have a pit crew who bring a generator and a pressure washer and blast my bikes between practice sessions and clean everything up while I change kit. During a muddy race day I'll go through three sets of kit and shoes between warmup, racing and cool down. Having that help is essential. But you do get sick of washing things.
CC: Did you ever think you'd become such a connoisseur of the varieties of mud?
LJ: Haha, I am far from an expert. When you see the mud specialists ride, especially the Belgian and Dutch riders, it's quite amazing to see the difference. It certainly makes you appreciate how good riders like Matthieu Van Der Poel (current world champion) are who can win on fast courses or muddy courses. You need such a different skill set.
CC: The courses you've raced on this season have varied greatly, which has been the most difficult in terms of skills and which most difficult on the legs?
LJ: All the races have been challenging in different ways. The most aerobically demanding course was Zolder - we raced a World Cup there on 26 December on the same course as world champs will be this weekend. There's a 60 second section with a run and climb then a steep ride that had me almost vomiting each lap. The Hoogerheide World Cup was probably most technically challenging for me because of all the mud. Both of those were probably the hardest on my legs because of all the running.
CC: When you see a rider like Katie Compton still at the pointy end at 38 or Ellen Van Loy, do they inspire you to continue racing until you basically no longer can or have you set yourself a time period?
LJ: That's a good question. It certainly doesn't get any easier. As I've gotten older I've been able to draw more on experience for racing, which counts for a lot. I can look at my performances a lot more clinically now and I know pretty well what I respond to.
CX is interesting in that it seems to suit older athletes. Katie, Ellen, Helen Wyman, Naterina Nash... They're all older than me and are some of the best riders in the world right now. That's inspiring. And I know I've still got a lot of improvement left in me which keeps me motivated. But I admit it has been hard on my body, especially with injury in the past year. My plan is to go home after this worlds block, enjoy a little break and not make any big decisions until I've recovered from this block.
CC: What's your goal for World Champs?
LJ: That's a hard question. I woke up sick today which has thrown everything out the window a bit. At the moment if I get to the start line I'll be happy. Initially in training I was aiming for a top-25 finish, maybe top-20 on a good day but things haven't quite gone to plan over here, which is frustrating but just part of racing.
CC: You have two identical bikes but like some (all?) parents there's always a favourite one, which one and why?
LJ: The Winklevoss twins are identical except for the wheels. Curve made me one wheel set with gold hubs and green nipples and the other with green hubs and gold nipples. I love them both the same, of course... But W1 (green hubs) has such a funny sense of humour, and always remembers how I like my coffee... So I guess it's the favourite.