After focusing on road cycling for seven years, Lisa Jacobs made the switch to Cyclocross in 2013 and hasn't looked back. Lisa rides for the Rapha-Focus CX team and was recently crowned the Australian National Cyclocross Champion for the third year in a row. After a short break Lisa will travel over to the USA and Europe to test herself against the best in the world.
We had a chat with the three time national champion about the sport she loves so much and why riding makes her so happy.
Well done on winning your third National Cx title on the weekend! Can you talk us through the race and how it played out?
The race was really really hard. Due to my injury I hadn't raced much and missed some key lead up events, which meant I didn't know how my form was, or that of my competitors.
I've had an Achilles tendon injury for the four weeks leading into Nationals, so to try and get through that I've basically done everything possible as far as recovery goes. I've worked closely with the VIS getting treatments as often as possible, something along the lines of 12 times in four weeks, just to be right for the day. I was so happy to be in a position to race, and even more so when the course dried out slightly in the days leading up as it meant not having to dismount on the big hill, and testing the Achilles trying to run up it.
As expected the race was on from the gun. In Cyclocross the first corner tends to define the race. In international events, the first ten riders through the first corner will generally be in the top ten overall, so I knew how important it was to get to that corner first, but obviously every other girl in the race had the same idea! I managed to get to the first corner first, closely followed by Melissa Anset who is a super bike handler. I remember thinking about halfway through "This is on!" as Mel and the other girls were riding super fast.
My plan was to go hard and just keep going hard. That's about as technical as the plan got. It wasn't until about halfway through that the race started to open up and with two laps to go I thought I had it. I was hurting so much through the race, a nasty hill feature as well as some stairs and technical sections made for a tough day of racing. But I was so happy to cross the line first and take my third straight National title.
How and why did you move to Cx?
I began road riding in 2007 after competing in duathlons for a number of years. I'm also a lawyer (don't hold that against me), so I was really looking for an aspect of cycling I could be involved with whilst also being career minded. Riding on the road required me to ride 500-600k per week just to be competitive which obviously takes a huge amount of time, and wasn't an option without giving up my career.
The great thing about Cyclocross is the races are 45 minutes long and my training can be structured around that high intensity, short effort. My training now is much harder, the intensity is right up but the volume has come down. My week normally involves some mid week ergo sessions or bunch rides as well as some gym and running work, and then bigger weekends to get the mileage in.
On top of that the Cyclocross vibe is something you don't get in any other cycling discipline. Everyone is more grounded and relaxed and the spectators are so passionate. For example in Europe, 5,000 spectators will come to a race in Belgium that's held in a paddock with sub zero temperatures. The other riders are really inclusive and I have found everyone welcoming and friendly.
The racing is also so interesting, it's so unusual, it's a bizarre type of racing, which makes it great too. It requires a well rounded athlete with a mix of abilities and skills, which isn't necessarily the case with other disciplines.
I've been riding with the Rapha-Focus team for the past 12 months and it's be nice to work with such a dedicated team. They have been great to work with and having their support has enabled me to be more professional in my approach and step up to the international circuit. Without having that support behind me, it wouldn't be possible. Rapha and Focus have been huge contributors to the success and growth of Cyclocross in Australia for a long time.
You have a specific Cyclocross skills coach in Neil Ross, can you talk us through the specific things you work on and the skills you need to have as a cyclocross rider?
Coming from a roadie background, I understand peoples’ apprehension with the technical aspects of the sport. I do a lot of work on my technical skills, mounting and dismounting, shouldering and cornering. I have recently taken that one step further with video analysis of my barrier running to try and gain those 1% improvements that make all the difference at the highest level. You have to try and find seconds where you can.
Cornering is very important, and a skill that in the early days will see big improvements. As I am getting more comfortable with my technical skills, I’m looking to other areas for improvements. Probably the biggest difference between Cyclocross and the road is the tyre choice. For roadies it's very simple...the same tyres are used in almost every condition, you might just change the PSI from 110 to 90 in the wet for example. Whereas with Cyclocross I had to learn about tyre tread patterns, pressure options, specific course demands...it’s endless.
Knowledge on this is really important. My first race I rocked up and said, 'Should I run my tyres at 80psi?' Which was greeted with a, 'you're kidding' look. I eventually ran at below 30 psi for that race and for most races I'll be in deep discussion with my mechanic as to the correct pressure. In Australian conditions I’ll generally run 22 on the front and 23 on the rear...it's that specific. Some races in Europe on crazy tough tracks it could be as low as 13psi! I use fabulous tyres from FMB which let me run that low; I don’t think I could get away with running those pressures on normal tyres.
As well as the skills required, what are some other unique aspects you have found moving from the road to Cyclocross?
The bike is most obvious one. My Focus Mares team bike has a SRAM CX1 single drivetrain and disc brakes. More riders are moving to those two set ups as their preferred option.
I'm a massive fan of the single drivetrain as it is one less decision you have to make during the race, one less thing you have to make an assessment on. As well as that, some of the conditions we race in in Europe are horrible, so much so you are forced to swap your bike twice per lap for it to be sprayed down. So having one less thing that can go wrong is an advantage as well. I don't have to worry about mud in the derailleur, shifting problems or dropping chains. I'll normally run a 42 on the front and an 11-32 rear which so far has got me through almost every cyclocross race I have done. In fact I have a single drivetrain on almost every bike I own.
The training is also very different as I spoke about earlier. I'm working with my coach, Donna Rae-Szalinski and Nick Owen, a physiologist at the VIS, to adapt my training to meet the demands of the race. I'm not naturally a super powerful athlete so we have been working hard in the gym to improve my explosiveness and raw power.
Training with power for CX is also relatively new for me. I used it a lot on the road, but I’ve only just started using it for CX this year. Through analysis of my races, we found they are typically made up of approximately 100 five second sprints. The World Championship course will have similar demands, and to do that well, I’ll need to be able to do around 100 short sprints at 500 watts each time. Looking at a power file for CX is pretty weird – you’re either maxing out or soft pedalling.
You wear many hats, one of which up until recently was the Chair of the Cycling Australia Athletes Commission. What did that role involve and what are the biggest issues you were trying to address?
I really enjoyed the time I spent working for the Athletes Commission, but recently just found myself pressed for time and stepped down. Cycling in Australia is in a very healthy position, it is the largest participation activity in the country, but our challenge is to turn that into a profitable entity that has the resources to build the sport, and to translate that popularity into success at an international level.
Investment in the sport is important for the future, as is performance at World Championships and Olympic Games. With the current funding model, it is a bit of the chicken and the egg scenario, where good results lead to greater funding, but greater funding would lead to greater results...tough one moving forward for athletes without financial assistance or adequate resources around them. Equally as hard for events like women's road racing which don't have the profile of track cycling for example.
What's next for you?
I'll use the next four weeks to freshen up and recover for the Cross Vegas in September, which is the first world cup of the year. It’s the biggest Cyclocross event in America and the biggest in the world outside of Europe. After that I’ve got to head back to work for a bit, and will go to Europe to start my winter season in December leading up to World Championships at the end of January. I’ve set an ambitious goal of a top 20 finish at World Champs. It will take a lot of work but it’s achievable.
A big thanks to Rapha and Jeff Curtes for the awesome photos!