First Person: Cyclocross at Northwood

Sophomore Magnus Sheffield is the top-ranked American cyclocross athlete in his age group. He’s also an outstanding ski racer. He gets a lot of questions about cyclocross


Cyclocross athlete Magnus Sheffield ’20. (Photo: Todd Prekaski)

I started racing cyclocross as a way to train for skiing in the off season. It started as something I did for fun, and it has now turned into something that I devote a lot of time and energy training for. Cyclocross is a cycling discipline that is extremely popular in Europe, especially in Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, and it is done in any kind of weather conditions. The season runs from late August until early February.  Unfortunately, cyclocross is not yet an Olympic sport, but it is very popular worldwide.

The sport is competed on a mostly dirt or grass track that is often constructed in a park or a circuit. The riders have a set amount of time to complete as many laps as possible. The courses have some obstacles — including  sandpits, barriers, flyovers, mud, ditches, steep ascents, and steps — that challenge the riders to dismount and run with their bike on their back. The bike looks much like a road bike, but it has tires with some small tread, much like a mountain bike. In cyclocross, because the conditions can be treacherous, it is very likely that there are mechanical failures that happen throughout the race, so there are pit stops, like in NASCAR car racing. There is a double-sided pit that allows riders to switch bikes while they are still racing.

I won the US National Championship in Asheville, NC in 2016. Last year, during the US National Championship in Hartford, I had a mechanical failure that ended my chances of winning. The 2016 loss was especially disappointing, since I was favored to win.

With the support of my coaches and teachers at Northwood, I have been fortunate enough to be able to compete at a very high level in both cyclocross and alpine skiing. It is difficult to try to balance training for two very different sports, demanding very different things, but I have been able to be successful in both. However, with success comes sacrifice.

I opted not to train for ski racing on snow this past summer and fall (in Austria) in order to focus on training on the bike. I also took two weeks off from skiing after Christmas to do the final preparations for Nationals this past weekend in Reno, NV.  Fortunately, I won my second National Championship this past Sunday.  I am currently the top ranked junior rider in the US, and have won the past ten races that I have started, and I’ve been on the podium in 19 of my last 20 races. Next year, I will be eligible to race cyclocross internationally in Europe, and I hope to compete in next year’s World Championships in Bogensee, Denmark.

Everyone at Northwood is very supportive of my bike racing. Most people are puzzled by what I do when I’m not on snow, but everyone is always curious as to how I did at the races while I’m gone. Lake Placid isn’t the best place for bike training since there aren’t many roads in the north country to begin with. Weather can also be very difficult in Lake Placid compared to other places in New York. The weather in Lake Placid can be quite drastic which limits the amount of time I can train outside. When road conditions become too dangerous to train, I use a program called Zwift which allows me to ride virtually on many different “courses” that simulate real life riding in places like London, Richmond, and a utopic Island off of Australia.

Editor’s note: read coverage of Magnus’s 2018 national championship here.


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