Sam & Claire: The Fun of Muddy CycloCross Training
“I crash a lot. Like, A LOT. In most races I’ve done I’ve crashed.”
Ever since he was three years old (yep, you read that right), Sam has been completely committed to cycling. And throughout his training, he’s plunged into it head-first, with more than his fair share of crashes, muddy rides, bunny hops and intense technical training sessions.
As a result of his hard work (and being pretty unphased in the face of the sport’s challenges), Sam has quickly risen up the national cycling ranks for his age group. We chatted to Sam and his mum, Claire, about how he first got into cycling, his hopes for the future, and the advice that they’d both give to other sport-loving families.
How did you get into cycling?
Sam – “So when I was young, I got a balance bike, and then when I was like three, I learned how to ride. I was just riding up and down our street, and then one of the people who volunteered for our club lived on that street, and he saw me riding and said that I should join the club. And then I joined the club when I was 6.”
“I was only 3, and I don’t really remember it, but I know I always really enjoyed cycling.”
Claire – “It’s amazing, isn’t it. I think at that age, I don’t think they see it as a sport. I think they just want to get on their bike and ride. And he was happy riding up and down the road and over the common.”
Do you remember the first time you rode a bike?
Sam – “Nope! I can’t really remember anything back from when I was three. But my first memory of riding a bike was probably, I’ve got a video, it was in our club on the pump track, and I remember riding it and Dad getting a video of it, which is probably why I remember it.
“A pump track is like a field. It’s an old army base, and we train on it, and it used to be a BMX track, but it got overgrown, so it’s grassy now. It’s got loads of bumps and mounds and jumps and stuff. I think I was about seven.”
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How often do you train each week?
Sam – “It started off with one Saturday a week, and then it went up.
“Now, Saturdays are just skills and stuff, but Tuesdays are physical. I think I started doing them, and then I went in the smaller group, just messing about. The Thursdays are quite new, last year they added the Thursdays, and it’s a full course which we get to train at.
“In the road season, its efforts on Tuesdays and Thursdays, then the Saturdays are sometimes efforts or racing, but mainly skills. Tuesday is muscle power and quite physical, but still a bit of technical. And then Thursdays are on a proper course. So they’re efforts, but are more technical, so you can practice the technical sections.”
“There are national races, which are the best people from the UK. But I’m in the under 14’s group, and at the moment there are people a year older than me in my category. I think there are only 7 races this year, but I’m not doing all of them, because they’re really far away.
“Most Sundays is Wessex league, and it’s kind of local (well, not really, sometimes it’s like 2 hours away). And from September till about February, it’s most races on most Sundays. I think there’s about 16 rounds in the Wessex league. And then in the Summer, I do a bit of racing, probably about 5, and then a bit of mountain biking.”
“I think I prefer cyclocross to mountain biking because roads can be a bit boring – it’s fun, but not as fun. But some races aren’t that fun; it’s still fun because it’s a race, but it’s just flat and not very technical. But then some of the races like mountain biking and technical cross courses, there’s a lot of technical areas, and it’s quite hilly and stuff, it’s a lot more fun when it’s more technical.
Claire – “The good thing about cyclocross that you always like is that you never know what the weather’s going to be like. So that completely changes the course.”
Sam – “Yeah so in sports like football, it’s always the same. But in cyclocross, one week it can be completely dry, but then the next week it can be really muddy and completely different to race in. I really enjoy the technical side of cycling. And I think hills play to my strengths a bit.”
What’s your favourite and least favourite thing about cycling?
Sam – “My least favourite is punctures and mechanical stuff. My favourite is like, technical races and training in the rain, because it gets really muddy and it’s a lot more fun.”
“I crash a lot. Like, A LOT. In most races I’ve done I’ve crashed. When it’s muddy, crashes don’t really affect. In training, people just take the mic out of me because if there’s a corner that we don’t know how fast we can go, I’ll just sprint into it and hope I don’t fall.”
What are your main goals for the future?
Sam – “So next year, when I’ll be one of the oldest in the races and I’ll have the advantage, I want to try and get some podiums in the Nationals, and then win my league.
Claire – “When Sam was younger – well, and now – we’d always say, ‘The most important thing about racing today is to enjoy it.’ And Sam always used to say, even when he was really young, ‘The most important thing is that I win a podium.’”
What advice would you give to anyone who wanted to try cycling?
Sam – “For the under 10s and under 12s, a lot of it is about technical skills. When you get to 14, it becomes more about power, but when you’re younger, the best thing that you can do is practice technical skills. Instead of doing like 80km rides, just go out and mess about practising technical skills.
“If people want to get onto a team, the team would much rather get a technically good rider, because you can improve your speed a lot easier. So if you’re good at technical, it’s a lot better than just being strong, and just trying to become more powerful.”
When did you first notice that Sam was particularly good at cycling?
Claire – “To be honest, me and Sam’s dad don’t cycle, so it was when a few of the parents at the cycling club and other riders in his races spoke to us. When he was probably about 10, a few people came up to me and said he was pretty good. And it’s hearing it from somebody else that makes you think, ‘Oh, okay!’. We’re used to him just riding around the garden and bunny hopping, but it’s really nice to hear it from somebody else.
“The good thing about the club is that it’s all about enjoyment. They do say from age 6 and up, to enjoy the races. Through the Wessex league, the coaches told us what to enter, and from there Sam really enjoyed it, and it shows.
“When he was younger, he was running along a wall, and he fell off. Then he looked back at it and said, ‘If I was on my bike riding across that wall, I wouldn’t have fallen over.’ But he’s kind of safer on two wheels than he is running!”
“Cycle with your heart. And if you enjoy something, you’ll want to do well.”
From your perspective, how did Sam’s cycling ability develop?
Claire – “We were lucky enough to live very close by to one of Sam’s coaches. And he spotted Sam when he was riding up and down the road, so encouraged us to join the club, the Solent Pirates, which was great.”
Sam – “It’s a really good club because I was originally only going to do one of the nationals, but then for the one in Sunderland, my coach drove me and a few of my other teammates there.
Claire – “They’ve been really supportive, and the entire club is all volunteer-run. In the club, it’s all about enjoyment, encouraging each other and working together as a team. You’ve made some great friends at the cycling club, and they’ve all got the same passion. It makes training just as fun as the racing.”
What advice would you give to other parents whose child showed a sporting talent?
Claire – “Find a club that they can join, and don’t force them to train. It should all be about fun at this age. As they get older, if they are enjoying it still, then that’s the time to push harder. And I believe that, at this age especially, you’ve got to really enjoy the sport. Find a club, encourage them, and drive them across the country.”
Sam – “Like when I was under 10, there’s always been people who have been better than me, but then the next year they haven’t been as good, because they haven’t enjoyed it as much. At this one under 10 race, there was somebody who beat me, and then mum said, ‘They don’t enjoy it as much, so you’ll beat them next year.’
“Like there’s a lot of people who are a lot faster, but they don’t enjoy it as much, so the training makes a huge difference. Eventually, it all comes down to who does the most training, and who enjoys it the most.”
Claire – “Cycle with your heart. And if you enjoy something, you’ll want to do well.”