Hyattsville CX: Mike Birner Interview

Birner wins the hole-shot and hit the barriers first.

Mike Birner made his tough-to-please coach happy October 11 by winning the Men’s Masters Elite race at the first Hyattsville Cyclocross at Magruder Park, Maryland. A lot of times athletes will talk about hearing their coach’s voice while they are competing. I’m assuming this is the case for Birner, who as president of Mid-Maryland Coaching, is his own little voice. In this interview, Mike does a great job breaking down the race and giving some good insight on how to attack a course. 

Thanks for reading. 

Magruder Park is predominantly flat. How did you approach this course as opposed to a hilly race like Kelley Acres? Did the terrain affect your race? 

Mike Birner (Ben’s Performance Bikes/BMC, 1st Place Men’s Elite Masters): The only thing I did different was switch out my wheels on my BMC CX01 to the Easton EC90’s. For Kelly Acres I had the SLX’s on there which were a bit lighter. I felt that the deeper rim would be better for the faster course. Otherwise, everything else stayed the same. Did the terrain affect my race? I’d say yes. I tend to prefer courses that have higher speeds where I can keep a quicker cadence. I don’t have the power to grind up the hills at Kelly Acres or through the thick mud at Lilypons like the frontrunners do. So a flat course where the speed stays high is good for me. 

What was your favorite part of the course? Was there a feature you could have done without? 

Mike Birner: I’m always a fan of the spiral of doom/despair, twister of terror or whatever it’s called. But mostly I just liked the way the entire course flowed together turn after turn. There were just enough flat, straight sections to pass, attack, etc. before you were hit with another set of corners. Done without? It was all good. 

Take us through your pre-race routine. Did you warm-up on the course, use a trainer or ride on the road? How did you fuel up? Tire choice and PSI?

Mike Birner: My routine is fairly low key. Bowl of cereal in the morning and an energy shake on the way to the race. I did a recon lap in jeans and tennis shoes prior to the race before us. Then registered, suited up and did 3 laps on the course right before our race, with parts of it approaching race speed. All while drinking water and eating a gel about 15 minutes before the start. The hardest part about the course was memorizing which turns you could take at speed and which you’d have to brake. Even after four pre-laps there was still one or two that I backed off on more than I needed to in the first laps of the race. I had my usual Grifo 32’s pumped up to 30 in the front and 32 in the rear. 

What was the decisive moment in your race? Is there anything you would have done differently? 
Birner attacked just before the sand.

Mike Birner: My race seemed to play out with many small things as opposed to one big moment. Getting the hole-shot was key on this course because it allowed me to take control and set my pace while recovering through the corners. I didn’t have to waste any energy dealing with traffic. It was nice and smooth at the front. After pulling for a couple laps Gwadz took over for a couple more and our four person group had been well separated by that point. As he began to tire, halfway through the race, I accelerated in the pavement to grass 180 before the sand, got a gap and Huebner came across. We worked together to hold our gap steady until I attacked after the logs and before the spiral on the back of the course. That gave me the distance I needed to hold to the line. I don’t think I would have done anything differently—maybe I could have dug deeper and tried to solo away sooner but that would have probably hurt too much. There was a definite tactical advantage to having someone there with you because of all the areas you could draft. Never work harder than you have to, right? 

What is your training schedule like during the week? Has it changed at all since the beginning of ‘cross season? 
Happy rider, happy coach.

Mike Birner: It’s definitely changed since we started racing. I need too much recovery to get any kind of volume in the schedule. As I had some bad races in the weeks leading up to this I felt like I needed to back off some so the week prior was fairly easy, only a couple hours on the bike and then raced Iron Cross Lite on Saturday. Now that I’m feeling a little more recovered I’ll get in one or two moderate intensity workouts in during the week.  Racing both Saturday and Sunday doesn’t leave me a whole lot of energy to do much more than that. 

What is one part of racing that you have tried to improve coming into the season or even as the season progresses. How have you gone about doing this? 

Mike Birner: Fitness! I did a better job this year of maintaining the fitness I had from last season. I kept in shape by doing some road racing and I think the few mountain bike races I did really helped improve my ability to slog through a course. There’s just nothing like having your heart rate hovering around threshold for 2+ hours and the strength that it builds. So going into July/August I was better prepared for some really good training and was able to build on some decent fitness. 

Give a shout out. 

Mike Birner: Thanks first to Ben at Ben’s Performance Bike’s for his support and keeping all the equipment in excellent shape and in working order. He’s out there at most of the races in case we need anything and really supports the cross scene in general. Stop in the shop if you haven’t already – you won’t be disappointed.  I’d also like to thank my coach (me). He really is a slave-driver! And finally, I’d like to thank all the riders who had routinely kicked my but in the weeks prior and decided not to show up on Sunday. They missed out on a fun course!


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