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Nathan Killam: Cross is here

Cyclocross racing this fall will not only improve your bike handling skills, but you'll see the benefits in your bike strength

Nathan Killam racing cyclocross. Photo from @nathankillam Instagram.

Canadian triathlete, Nathan Killam isn’t your normal elite triathlete. He’s a firefighter in Vancouver, BC, a personal triathlon (swim, bike and run) coach for AJ Baucco Coaching, a husband and a father. He doesn’t just do triathlons, he also does bike races. Not just any other kind of road bike race, he does cyclocross.

Cyclocross racing is a race format that consists of many laps of a short (2.5–3.5K) course. The course often features a mixture of terrain –  pavement, trails, grass, steep hills and obstacles. The racing is fast, technical, fun and there’s usually beer awaiting the finishers at the end.

“I started doing cyclocross four years ago,” says Killam. In the beginning, he was battling it out in the B races. Now he’s the defending Vancouver Cyclocross Coalition Kazlaw Cup series champion. “It’s a progressive thing. When I first started it was just because I had a cyclocross bike for commuting. But then I realized how much fun the races are and it’s something different from the usual tri training.”

Nathan Killam setting the bike course record at the GWN triathlon in 2017. He then broke his own record in 2018.

The benefits of CX racing

Not many triathletes will diverge from the traditional path of training, but Killam isn’t traditional. After doing his first triathlon in his twenties, Killam kept working at it and got his pro card in 2011.

While commuting to swim practices with a CX bike, a friend said, “You have the bike, you should just do a race.” From that moment on Killam’curiosity was sparked and he did his first race. “I always tell triathletes, ‘Just do it.'”

Besides the pure joy Killam exuberates, he says he’s gotten huge benefits from CX racing. “After my second season, I really started to see the improvements in my fitness.” Why? “Learning to race at your redline for 45 to 60 minutes really makes racing a 70.3 (at a fraction of that effort) easy.” For example, at the Great White North Triathlon earlier this year, Killam put in a devasting surge early in the bike that cracked Jeff Symonds and Ernest Mantell. The move would be the move of the race, winning GWN and setting the bike course record. What training does he attribute that surge to? CX. “In a CX race, you learn not only handling skills but how to make a surge and then come back to your threshold – then do it again and again.”

Why do CX this fall?

  1. CX racing is going to benefit your next triathlon season.
  2. Improve your bike handling skills. “You learn how to take corners on all sorts of terrain and then accel out of them,” says Killam.
  3. It’s short and fun. “A day of CX racing is such a small time commitment, but so much fun.”
  4. “At the end of the summer triathlon season, it’s a different focus. It keeps you fresh with a different type of activity.”
  5. You learn how to troubleshoot. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve crashed, punctured and broken equipment. So you have to figure it out.”
  6. A change in mindset. “For myself, I found CX racing changed my mindset when at a triathlon. I’ve learnt to not put so much on the outcome of a race and just give it my best shot.”
  7. “Except for maybe 3 guys/girls at the race, this is nobody’s main season. This makes for a really chill atmosphere.”
  8. Oh, and there is BEER.
Photo Courtesy to Canadian Cycling Magazine