Michael van den Ham, riding for the Lezyne sponsored Garneau-Easton p/b Transitions LifeCare team, just recently won his first Canadian Elite National Cyclocross Championship in Sherbrooke, Quebec, after four years of coming close—albeit with a U23 National title as well as being the top ranked rider the last three years. We last caught up with Michael for a By The Numbers after he placed 5th at CrossVegas during the Interbike tradeshow. We chatted with him again to get an insight into his race-winning ride that gave him the honor of wearing the Maple Jersey for a year.
Lezyne: Congratulations on your first Elite National Championship! It must have been an amazing feeling to come into the finish straight with a 30 second lead.
Michael: Thank you! Yeah, one of my biggest fears leading into the race was taking Geoff Kabush to the line—I don’t think there is a faster finisher than him—so getting a gap was always my goal. I started the last lap with about a dozen seconds on Geoff which, to be honest, is not a terribly comfortable margin so I didn’t have a chance to let off the gas until the finishing straight. That last lap felt like it took forever, but when I finally did hit that finish stretch with a solid lead it was a huge relief and an amazing feeling. I think I started celebrating 200 meters out!
Lezyne: You won the U23 National Championship in 2013 and you’ve been the top-ranked Elite cross racer in Canada the last three years. Were you feeling any pressure going into this one four years on in the Elite’s?
Michael: I think I actually felt more pressure going into last year and I also think that all that pressure was one of the seasons I had a tough race in 2016 and finished 5th. This time around I made a conscious effort to focus less on the result and more on the process of getting to the start line as prepared as I possibly could be. Not only did that help me stay focused leading up to the race, but it also took a lot of the pressure off. Of course Nationals was always a goal in the back of my mind, but this approach meant that my approach to the race was very much about doing my work one day at a time and focusing on the season as a whole instead of putting a lot of emphasis on a single event.
Lezyne: What was your early strategy? Go full gas from the gun or mark the favorites such as multi-time champion Geoff Kabush and bide some time?
Michael: Something in between those options! I sometimes joke that I’m the worst starter in North America but have the best second lap. This race played out a lot like that. I had a slower start and was buried five or six riders back in the field but by the time lap two came around I was really starting to find my legs. I was feeling good and knew I wanted to put Geoff in trouble early in the race so I attacked just after start/finish stretch on the second lap and got a small gap with eventual third, Mark McConnell.
Lezyne: You did have a secret weapon in your arsenal. When the time was right you started riding the run up and that was essentially the winning move.
Michael: I snuck away in pre-ride to practice riding the run-up when no one else was looking. Thanks to putting a 40t front ring on I knew I could make it up when I was fresh but it was still a pretty big risk during the race. The line to ride the run up was on the opposite side of the course as the running line so if I did mess it up and had to dismount it was going to be significantly slower than if I had just ran in the first place.
On lap three or four I was still riding with McConnell and could hear that he was starting to make mistakes. Mark is also a pretty quick finisher so when I thought I had a chance to get rid of him I was happy to take it! I rode the run-up that lap and immediately put a gap into him. Mark ended up falling back to Kabush, so the rest of the race was essentially a time trial between Geoff and I.
Lezyne: You race with a Lezyne Micro C GPS watch that records all your data. How do you utilize this information and apply it to your training?
Michael: A couple of ways. First, I like to monitor my heart rate data while I race. For most races, my average HR is between 182-185bpm and I periodically check in during the race to make sure that I’m pacing myself correctly. For example, if I start seeing extending time above 190bpm I know I have to back things off a little!
The other main way I use it is by doing a lot of my midweek workouts based off of heart rate. Of course, I have a power meter on my bike but I do a lot of my training off-road and using ‘cross specific features so I find that the power meter only tells part of the story. Since a ‘cross race is almost a heart rate threshold test every weekend I like to set up my training zones based off of that race data every week.
Lezyne: Canada holds its Nationals mid-season so you don’t have much time to relax and celebrate. What’s the rest of the season look like for you?
Michael: Yeah, not much time to relax at all! I just finished up racing the Pan Am Championships and landed a third. Next up for me is the Major Taylor Cross Cup in Indianapolis before I finish up my North America calendar at Ruts n’ Guts in Oklahoma. From there I’ll head over to Europe for the Kersteperiode, come back to North America for January, and then head back over for Worlds in Valkenburg, Netherlands.