by Dominic Gerard, Elite MTB racer and Team Wolfpak member
For my entire competitive career I have struggled with maintaining race shape while living in an environment that forces me to stay off my bike for 7 months. I live in Northern Ontario – not the easiest setting to be an elite mountain bike racer.
Over the years, I’ve found some unique ways to overcome the challenges of winter training in Northern Ontario.
A typical Northern Ontario winter usually begins to manifest itself around the beginning of November when the ground begins to freeze and lasts until all the snow has cleared and the lakes are thawed out around April to mid-May.
Once every few years we have an exceptional winter like 2014 where cross-country skiing started at the beginning of December and ran all the way until mid-April! In the spring, warm days and cold nights lead to the ‘mush period’, a time where ground conditions are so soft that riding on the trails is forbidden.
The longer winter seasons in Northern Ontario pose a challenge for those of us wanting to compete at higher level in cycling as the outdoor riding season is much shorter than it is for the majority of the people who live further down south. Bikes are usually put away by mid-October (at very latest) and only taken out on the trails near the end of May or beginning of June.
It doesn't make sense that I was able to finish first overall in the Senior Expert Category last season when I only spent 5 of a possible 12 months on the bike.
But I did.
So how'd I do it? Quite simple. I became very creative with my training.
Lake skating, XC skiing and indoor trainer rides became essential to my program.
Since cold usually comes before the snow in Sudbury, the training season usually begins with some skating on the frozen lakes in early November. As a busy third-year engineering student at Laurentian University, I wake up at the crack of dawn and go skating on Ramsey Lake before class. Dragging out a few buddies along with hockey sticks and a puck can help keep things interesting on colder mornings.
Once the snow hits, that’s when the real fun begins. Sudbury has phenomenal ski clubs around the city that all offer a different variety of skiing, including both skate-skiing and classic-skiing. Snowshoeing is another great activity while satisfying that need for adventure in the off-season.
I have preferred classic skiing over the past seasons but am starting to do more skate skiing as I find it trains muscle groups similar to those needed on the bike. My weekends usually consist of two long rides on skis, both classic and skate.
Of course, there are always the dreaded, but mandatory, trainer rides; a necessary evil of a cyclist’s training regime. Keeping a regular schedule of 2 trainer rides each week keeps the muscle memory high for MTB race season. Interval based, high-intensity rides are recommended to ensure best use of time and to avoid burn out.
The recent surge in Fat Bike offerings has left me desperately wanting to add this to my winter training regime however the student budget leaves very little wiggle room despite the common formula,
Number of Bikes Needed = n + 1
Where n is the number of bikes currently owned
There is no shortage of replacements for cycling in the off-season when you’re determined to succeed. Each one of these activities has its own benefits towards improving cycling stamina and strength.
Despite not getting in thousands of kilometers on the bike before May, I feel like I enter every season fit and ready to race. While my bike handling skills are a little rusty, my love for the bike is strong in May, while my warm weather competition are starting to experience two-wheel burnout. The excitement of riding a bike again has allowed me to ride and race with a two-wheel passion my competitors can’t match in May.