Simon Says: An Interview With Simon Burney (Part II)

In Part I of our interview with Simon Burney we talked about coming up in British cycling and what it was like racing cyclocross as a pro back in the day. In Part II, Simon provides some great tips for the upcoming CX season, talks about the state of the sport in North America and Europe, and gives us a sneak peakĀ into his latest venture.

CXHairs: The goal of ‘In the Crosshairs’ was to give the new CX racer an opportunity to see what the folks that were finishing on the podium at their local races were doing to succeed. With that audience in mind, what are the top two or three pieces of advice you would give to the aspiring ‘cross racer?

BURNEY: Come into the season in as good a shape as you can, and if you work or study full time which most of this group will be doing, take advantage of training in the light before the clocks change. Once you get into the season be specific with your training for the racing you are doing and practice the efforts that you struggle with most during a race, which could be sprinting out of a corner, jumping barriers or the last two laps of the race.

Secondly it’s unfortunate but ‘Cross is a damn hard sport and there are no real short cuts. The more you put in, the more you will get out, so adjust your goals to be realistic about what you can put in and make them tough but attainable.

Thirdly let some air out of your tyres!

CXHairs: I am a bit obsessed with people’s pre-race food decisions. This is an area that the ‘cross racer and road racer seem to follow different paths. Many ‘crossers I talk to are not opposed to the pre-race donut. What do you recommend for pre-race fuel?

BURNEY: Pre-race food three hours before you race then nothing at all except water to drink, and then a gel as you line up with a few minutes to go. A donut on race day won’t hurt just make sure it’s not in that three hour window!

It depends what time you race as to what you eat, but cereal, porridge, toast; standard breakfast stuff is great. If you race later in the day then just a small meal if you can eat at home or in a restaurant, or a sandwich or cold pasta if you are eating in the car. You only race for an hour max, many people only 40 minutes, so you don’t need to eat much, it’s the timing that is more important.

CXHairs: What are a couple big mistakes you see new ‘cross racers making?

BURNEY: Not anticipating gear changes is a big one. During pre-race course recce [ed. Note: “recce” = “recon” for you non-Brits] think about what gear you need to be in for the next section, so you don’t come out of a slow corner or out of barriers and struggle in too big a gear.

CXs Little Instruction Book
CX's Little Instruction Book

And the obvious one that is always mentioned is too much air in tyres, but if you are a newcomer or you’ve come from the road it’s really easy to over-estimate how little you can get away with and how much better traction you will get in mud if tyres are soft.

CXHairs: How has the sport of cross changed since you have been involved? I know in the short time I have been racing (since 2003) the courses have become faster and more rideable. I can remember doing races early on in which you had to dismount four or five times a lap.

BURNEY: It’s changed a lot! I’ve been around the sport at the level of the Worlds since 1982, but it’s changed so slowly that it’s only when you seen old video or see old photos that you appreciate how much. It’s still a ten-lap/one hour race but the terrain and technical aspects have changed a lot, and what was acceptable back then would be laughed at now. I’m annoyed with the UCI about the maximum one set of barriers rule they brought in; it makes no sense to me, and would improve some races if they could have more dismounts. It feels like a long time ago when there was a proper muddy, hardcore Worlds and I’ll admit I miss that. Mind you, if the race this year had been 24 hours later it would have been an epic as a ton of snow fell the night after the race, but as it was it was pretty dull. But sometime during the winter the rain will fall and make dull races in to real epics, which I guess is why I love it so much.

CXHairs: Cyclocross in Europe has a lot of tradition and seems to be more of a spectator sport than something in which the masses are going to be participants. In the U.S. it is more participatory with race crowds made up of many folks that also race. My theory is that people that want to race bikes in the U.S. get to a certain point in their lives where work and family pressures don’t allow for the time commitment necessary for the road. Those folks are now discovering ‘cross, a sport in which they can bring the family to the races and can be successful with less training time. Does this sound about right?

BURNEY: Yes, I think you about right on that one. It’s definitely a sport for doing in the US and for watching in Europe. But Europe is a pretty diverse place, it’s not just Belgium, so what works in the UK, which is more like America, is not the same in Holland or Italy. The big phenomenon in Belgium is as a result of television creating stars of the riders and the resulting attendance at the races to watch them. Belgium is like an island in Europe in that respect, it’s not like that everywhere.

CXHairs: Does the sport continue to grow in Europe or is this a North American phenomenon?

BURNEY: I don’t see it growing, in fact in some countries it is declining. For sure the growth market is America as far as number of races and participation goes. In the UK for example the number of races has stayed around the same but participation in Kids races has grown a lot. Every race in the UK has to have a race for U12’s with a free entry on a small circuit, and this has grown immensely in recent years. Hopefully they will stay in the sport as they get older, but we have hardly any U23 riders racing so at the moment they disappear after school age.

CXHairs: I talk to many people at U.S. ‘cross events that never raced a bike before entering a cross race. I’m assuming this is not the case in Europe.

BURNEY: It still happens in Europe like that, but probably more so in America. It seems like more Americans are coming to cycling as a sport later in life than in most European countries, where you tend to do it as a youngster, maybe stop for a while, then come back to it. I’ve spoken to riders in America that took up cycling in their 40’s and that’s quite unusual in most of Europe. In the UK that is happening but those people aren’t racing, they want to do “Etape” style road events as personal challenges rather than actually race.

CXHairs: Tell me about Schlamm. I’ve looked at the Web site and you’ve got some really cool looking kit for sale.

BURNEY: Thanks! I wanted to start something that could tick away in the background while I carried on doing team stuff so it was there when that work either dried up or I wanted a change. As it turned out, it happened a bit faster than I anticipated so it is taking up some more time, which is OK because as I’ve got into it I’m really enjoying doing it.

I’ve always appreciated nice kit, bikes and clothing, and there is no one out there looking at the ‘cross market specifically so I tried to do something that is a technically useful piece of clothing for ‘cross or training in the winter, but looks good and is exceptional quality. I’m lucky that my business partner Dan [Ellmore] has a great background in the cycle clothing industry otherwise I’d be pretty lost; I know what I want to do but no have idea how to go about it. He is keeping me on track.

CXHairs: I saw that Schlamm is sponsoring CrossVegas. Tell us about your involvement in that event.

BURNEY: I’ve known the CrossVegas guys for a while, in fact it was Chris Grealish who promoted that first UCI race in Boulder I went to, and Brook asked me to help out with the TV commentary last year so the connection was there. Schlamm are also doing race and event merchandising and are the “official clothing” for the USGP series this year as well, so I figured if I was over for the races anyway I’d do a proposal to the guys for Vegas and they went for it. I love the race in Vegas and I’d marshal or mark the course out if it meant I got to be there, so I was happy when they agreed for us to make and sell gear for them.

CXHairs: Are there any plans for a fourth edition of the book? What else are you working on?

BURNEY: No plans for a fourth edition yet; I actually think it’s about time someone else had a go! I really can’t believe it is still the only book out there, although I did read that someone else has one coming out soon. I do have plans for another ‘cross book but not so much training and technique. I just need to persuade those nice Velo Press guys that it will make them a few dollars!

CXHairs: Anything else you would like to talk about that I may have left out?

BURNEY: Nothing specific, but I would like to say that I think America has the best ‘cross scene of anywhere in the world at the moment and given a choice between going to watch a USGP or CrossVegas or going to a Super Prestige in Belgium I would be on a plane across the pond in an instant. It’s a totally different atmosphere at an American race but I love it, and long may it continue.

Thanks, Simon. And thank you for reading. If you have a moment, please take a couple seconds to leave a comment and let us know how we are doing.


4 thoughts on “Simon Says: An Interview With Simon Burney (Part II)

  1. Great job Bill on the interview–I think the best so far! Hope the knee comes around for you.

  2. Hey Bill,

    Extend an invite for VIP Announcer at the Route 1 Velo/Hyattesvill Cross Race this upcoming season…Volunteer Wages, but we can promote the hell out of Schlamm and even use the products for podium spots.

    I think Burney hit the nail on the head when it comes to the American cross scene. It is just so damn fun and family friendly! My wife actually loves to come to the races…she hates going to Crits and Road Races. Kids, they love it too. However, the growth in our sport really is a result that a person who has never raced a bike in their lives can feel comfortable coming out and doing a race without the macho meathead feeling that many road races tend to take on. Granted, most of the guys and gals are super nice folks, but coming out with our newly purchased $600 road bike and see dudes all buffed out in crazy matching kits and $5000 bikes with $3000 carbon wheels is intimidating. This especially the case when you look at the fact that these dudes are amateurs…it is actually pretty insane when you think about it.

    Good interview and I think I need to get my hands on some Schlamm gear.


  3. Thanks My cycling is totally confusing right now. Broken hip (2) years ago. Taking way too long to recover. Non athletic Dr. Bad operation. Just about to get back and got downsized. Now have to work on Saturdays(no more rr or tt’s) Sold my tt bike and zipp wheels. Then I saw cross. Sunday races, less time training, harder efforts. THANK GOD

  4. Thanks for being there when all else was failing. Now I have purpose again. Excerise has been my drug-of-choice for 30 years now. Thank you for ALL THE INFORMATION you are about to give me.
    Mike Taglio

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