How to Improve Your MTB Life: Attend a Training Camp

One of several rides through the urban desert mountains of Phoenix during the week-long training camp, building both skills and camaraderie.
One of several rides through the urban desert mountains of Phoenix during the week-long training camp, building both skills and camaraderie.

Mountain biking is an amazingly diverse sport. Complementing the plethora of styles and terrain, the motives to participate in cycling are equally varied. Many of us are recreational riders, dabbling in the race scene here and there, cultivating our own unique experience as life permits. Others take to racing on a more serious level by joining a team and hiring a coach, propelled by both known and unknown ambitions, and it’s awesome.

For the riders balancing on the boundary in between, the curiosity to cross the line toward legitimate training may beg many questions, some with apprehension. “What is it like to be a member of a team, and to have a coach? What is it like to attend a training camp?”

In mid-January, I was able to visit a training camp held by Tenac Championship Coaching and was totally stoked about the experience. He organized and instructed an eight-day program for Construction Zone Racing (CZ Racing), a professional/amateur mountain bike team based in the urban desert mountains of Phoenix, AZ. Rich with experience, many of the athletes fall in the 30-55 age group, holding full-time jobs and raising families, providing quality mentorship for the younger riders.

Andy Byrnes, CEO of The Construction Zone, Ltd., a nationally-renowned contemporary architecture firm and the team’s primary sponsor, founded CZ Racing because he genuinely digs the sport (the best reason). Furthermore, he believes in the power of advocacy. His mission is to help juniors progress to a team – those athletes, both men and women, right on the cusp of going pro.

I was fortunate enough to sit down with four of the CZ athletes to discuss how camp attendance aids in training progress and goal achievement. It was a pretty straightforward objective. But, what I obtained was better; more interesting than, “I learned where I lose power on a climb.” Those pieces of knowledge are expected takeaways. I found out what motivates the athletes to value their experiences as competitive mountain bikers. They shared their personal insights about practice, their appreciation for diversity among camaraderie, and a seamless desire to contribute knowledge for the good of others.

What have they cultivated? A connected group with an intrinsic feeling of inclusion, bursting with friendship, and ready to conquer whatever they think is FUN.

Construction Zone Racing – new kits, new bikes, and an awesome day to ride!
Construction Zone Racing – new kits, new bikes, and an awesome day to ride!

A Quick Introduction

Jason Tullous, founder of Tenac Championship Coaching, has been coaching CZ Racing since their formation in 2015. As a former professional mountain biker with some seriously cool palmares (including a Master’s World Championship Title in 2003), his background has influenced the success of the athletes through respect for the sport and the science behind it. His business tagline, “Experience, Science, Results,” is a simple and effective illustration of his intent to deliver up-to-date and proven methodologies that work – all you have to do is look at the accomplishments of his athletes.

Ricky Creel is CZ Racing’s bonafide international member, hailing from Chihuahua, Mexico. Coached by Tullous, Creel raced for Boston College at the USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships in 2013, coming in 16th in the Men’s All MTB/CX D2.

Ryan Petry, a former runner and professional triathlete, currently resides in Boulder, CO. “I didn’t enjoy the swimming,” he laughed, “so then I found mountain biking, and here I am.” Last year, Petry scored a first place finish at the Barn Burner 104, part of the Leadville Trail 100 qualifying series.

Fernando Riveros, known by his younger teammates as “The Papa” (he’s the oldest pro at 28), has been a professional mountain biker for more than eight years. Originally from Colombia (he won a Silver Medal at the Colombia National Championships in 2013), he now lives with his wife in Seattle, WA.

Lindsey Ryder is one of CZ’s newest members, and one of five women. Making her way quickly up the ranks as a Cat 2 roadie, this will be her first competitive experience as a mountain biker.

Jason teaching some of the CZ athletes about “Race Face” and the importance of psychology in performance. Mind the mind and find your flow.
Jason teaching some of the CZ athletes about “Race Face” and the importance of psychology in performance. Mind the mind and find your flow.

Q: What attracted you to the CZ Racing team?

Creel: The people. The people make the team. Here, we are a team that wants to win, but doesn’t forget about having fun, having a nice time and being relaxed. Things that people forget when you’re just thinking about winning. And, the way we choose our races? They are races we want to do. There’s no pressure otherwise.

Riveros: We are all different. My favorite aspect is the colorful personality of the team. We have a lot of Latinos, so it makes the it more spicy… more fun. Two years ago, I was on a pro team and we had a Frenchie, some Americans and a Colombian, but no Latinos like now.

Ryder: The fact that they had a women’s team. I had friends that knew about the team, and was good friends with Ryan [Petry] through college. He made the suggestion to join. I was able to do a team ride in December and then I joined in January.

Q: No matter what level of rider you are, professional or amateur, there is always value in self improvement – that goes without question. It’s the only way to climb the ladder. What were you looking forward to focusing on at this camp?

Creel: Cornering. On Thursday, we went and did a longer ride full of corners, and for me, it’s good to get behind someone that’s better than me. I follow what they do, and eventually I get there.

Riveros: Honing my speed into cornering, and getting into the flow. I enjoyed riding at Brown’s Ranch, the fast speed was great. The terrain changes [in Phoenix] are great. You have rocky, you have fast–the riding here is perfect.

Ryder: How to be a more confidant rider, and upping my technical skills.

Day 2 of the camp: Riveros getting a proper bike fit.
Day 2 of the camp: Riveros getting a proper bike fit.

Q: In your own words, what particular aspects of a training camp make it more effective than typical individual coaching and training?

Creel:  Team camps are very good to get away from all the stress and problems of everyday life. You get here, with teammates, and that’s what creates an environment that allows you to focus. All you have to do is worry about riding and being with your friends.

Ryder: It is also a good environment to develop skills because there are a lot of people that have professional experience. I enjoy the different backgrounds and ages, and different walks of life. Everyone is really humble and willing to teach you.

Tullous: It’s a place where hiccups can be attended to and we can fix issues. It’s an environment where the team and coaches can get to know each other. We have team dinners, we get kits, bikes, helmets, and can establishment management and athlete baselines. Here, we want the amateurs to know what it’s like to be immersed in a pro setting, and they receive that. Any rider can come any day – the amateurs have jobs [outside of riding]. We do not want to separate them even if intrinsically there is a separation that will happen. We try very hard to be all inclusive.

Q: What has been your favorite part of the training camp, and your experience with CZ Racing so far?

Creel: I liked the little short race we had on Saturday. At home I ride mostly by myself, so it was great to get out with a bunch of fast guys. It’s a good feeling. Jason has been my coach since I was 13. I’ve had many other coaches before, but Jason has been the best because he understands what’s going on besides the bike. It’s been very helpful for me. He’s always coming up with new ideas.

Riveros: I was shooting for the Olympics last year, for Colombia. To be working by myself and then come here–it’s a huge family, non-stressful, and I can relate to them if I have a problem. I am the oldest, so I can give them my experience. I can help them develop their cycling career. Some of them are really young, in their 20’s, And I’m trying to make them motivated and let them know that this opportunity is special. We are lucky to have this. Unfortunately, the mountain bike community doesn’t have enough teams. [The younger riders] have to be aware of this opportunity if they want to grow up in this sport.

Head coach Jason Tullous conducting an individual interview with CZ athlete Jorge Munoz.
Head coach Jason Tullous conducting an individual interview with CZ athlete Jorge Munoz.

Q: What are your goals for yourself or for the team?

Creel: I want to do a 24-hour race sometime, and I think I could start with a team when I feel like I’m ready for it. This team will prepare me for this.

Petry: I am looking forward to the Whiskey 50 in April, and possibly the Leadville 100, which I’ve done before […] My goal for the season is definitely to continue to grow as a mountain biker, as a professional.

Tullous: The team goals aren’t Pro XCT, though that is where some of them will go. We want to nurture the athlete’s experience and have fun. It’s important to Andy, so it’s absolutely important to us.

Q: What has been the most important thing you’ve learned from your teammates?

Petry: It’s interesting because I am pretty open minded, and enjoy trying things. I am on a team with mostly young people. I enjoy seeing what I can offer them, and what I can learn in return. I look up to the people that make up this team, and I get a lot out of the diversity. I want to give back to that.

Riveros: I have learned to not take everything too seriously. Last year, when I didn’t make the Olympics, I wanted to quit mountain bikes. I wanted to be done. I spent four years of my life taking it so seriously just to achieve that goal. So what I’ve learned here is to let it go and enjoy it–enjoy the ride. I told Jason, I haven’t had this much fun in a long time. I am happy on the bike again. Before, I was looking for the success and wasn’t paying attention to enjoying it. I feel that the enjoyment part of this experience will make this upcoming season really good–a great year, just because of that.