Traveling to race is an unforgettable experience. It’s hard to beat the opportunity to explore a new place, race cyclocross, and compete against a different crop of riders. Still, the travel will impact your routine, and it’s better to be prepared.
Many of us have our local pre-race routine dialed. Starting several days before the event, we eat specific foods, complete the same workouts, pack our clothes and gear, and even relax on the couch at a similar time. When you’re hopping on an overnight flight two days before your event like I was when I traveled to Switzerland for the recent cyclocross World Cup, your race weekend schedule calls for a few changes.
Instead of attempting to tackle all of the unknowns, I try to focus on the factors that I can control. Knowing that having the right food, gear, and mindset will allow me to race well, I’ve unpacked some of the issues that have best helped me in the past.
1. Pack Real Food
I’m putting this at the top because it’s the most important travel consideration for me. My first international racing trip was to China. My husband, Andrew, and I had never even traveled with bikes, let alone been to Asia, so we were jumping in headfirst. The trip was amazing with fast racing, a trip to the Great Wall, and time spent in local villages, but I wasn’t prepared for the food shock that a different culture provided, and my body suffered. After losing six pounds in a week, getting bronchitis, and having a major impact on the first part of the season, I learned some valuable lessons regarding what food to pack.
Unlike Andrew, who often takes in every local dish he can get in a foreign country, I am a sensitive eater, avoiding gluten, dairy, and a handful of other foods and ingredients. While I’ve heard European bread is different from American bread regarding gluten, I’m not willing to risk experimenting when I’m going to be racing. I also know that I don’t need big meals, but I need frequent calories or else I get hangry and tired.
I now pack food for travel days, race days, and some generic snacks as a backup. I also have a sweet tooth so I throw in some Reese’s or Tate’s Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookies.
For travel days I throw in some leftover fruit from home, gluten free bagels or bread, and peanut butter or mixed nuts. Typically, I have discovered that inflight meals to and from Asia are friendly for all diets compared to Europe, but by the time I get off the plane in either case, I need some calories. I’ll make myself a peanut butter sandwich or two while waiting for our baggage or rental car.
But the biggest key is tapping into my packed food on both the course inspection day and for pre-fuel on race day. I feel a sense of comfort and security knowing I will be able to eat the right foods before I ride.
My pre-ride food choices are flexible but consistent. I usually eat rice and eggs, oatmeal, egg sandwiches, or peanut butter sandwiches. I’ll throw in some fruit and then drink a bottle of Infinit during the hour or two before the race. These foods are all common and I can find some version in most countries, but to be safe, I have backup oatmeal packets and gluten free bagels.
Our hotel in Bern offered a good breakfast which I supplemented with my own carbs. I grabbed their fruit, coffee, and hardboiled eggs and toasted my own bagels.
2. Start the Trip Rested
When traveling to a different time zone, I find it’s important for me to be well-rested before I leave town. Our cyclocross trips are often short and involve overnight flights. We are bound to miss some hours of sleep, but from my experience, if I have slept and recovered well in the forty-eight hours prior to the trip, I know my body can handle a few days of poor sleep without a problem.
When I travel I try to immediately adapt to the time zone. After flying from Newark, we usually arrive at international destinations in the morning or midday. While I may be groggy, I’ll drink a coffee or two and power through the remainder of the day. Getting some fresh air and walking around usually keeps me energized. After dinner, I’ll hop in to bed and try to sleep on the local schedule. When I travel to Europe, I will often lay in bed staring at the ceiling, but I’ll throw a movie on my iPad and try not to stress.
I went through a movie or two each night in Switzerland, but I was still able to get enough sleep to feel fine after a double espresso each morning
3. Check Your Bike Bags Early
Packing bikes could be a whole blog post in itself and I am lucky enough to be married to a mechanic who handles these details, so I am going to focus on my packing priorities. For me, this item is pretty straightforward: doing what I can to ensure my bikes arrive at the destination.
When checking bags, I find problems are reduced significantly if I get to the airport early. Regardless of where I am traveling, I will try to check our bikes two hours before the flight. At my home airport (Newark, NJ), bikes are not placed on the luggage carousel and instead are moved by hand. If a bike misses the plane, it is usually because there wasn’t enough time for an employee to physically bring the bike from the check in counter to TSA and then to the tarmac.
Flying direct is not always an option, but it is also a huge help because you don’t have to worry about bikes making the connecting flight. Plus, direct flights ease travel time and limit stress.
In a worst case scenario, your lost baggage is usually delivered within twenty-four hours and you can hop on a city bike to spin out your legs in the interim.
4. Find the Balance and See the Sights
Finally, remember to explore! I try to set myself up for racing success, but I also want to experience life beyond two wheels.
I’m not saying you should spend a whole day running around to all of the tourist spots, but Andrew and I always take the time to walk around town, stop in a local restaurant or coffee shop, and check out one of the more iconic attractions. I’m not the first to say it, but I truly believe that happy racers go faster, and I don’t know many people who are happy after being cooped up in a hotel all day.
In Bern, we spent an afternoon exploring the city rose gardens, bear pit, and best of all, the Old City. While bikes were still on my mind as I examined the commuter infrastructure, wandering the cobbled streets and relaxing at the outdoor cafes were some highlights of the trip.
In the end, I think that the most important piece of race traveling is that you are not taking your bike somewhere, but rather, that your bike takes you places.