What? Why? How?
Anyone who experiences a sense of satisfaction from mastering that which is
difﬁcult will soon discover cyclocross racing presents unique opportunities for
enjoyment. 1 1
Paraphrased from Hugh Falkus, Sea Trout
Reasons to get into
Suitable for all ages and abilities
Everyone gets a race, not just the
Short courses are good for
Tests ﬁtness and skill
Mud is fun!
What is cyclocross?
Cyclocross is a mixture of cycling, cross-country running and Formula
1 racing. It is performed with a bike on parkland/woodland based
courses, and has pit lanes for in-race service. Most of a cyclocross
course is rideable but there will be sections that require competitors
to dismount and carry their bikes. The season runs from September
to February, with the National and World Championships in January.
However, you can ﬁnd summer cyclocross races and longer endurance
events throughout the year.
A typical senior men’s race is 60 minutes long (40 minutes for
women). This is neither a sprint nor a long event by cycling stan-
dards – it gives just the right (or wrong depending on your view of
the world) balance of lung bursting, leg searing high intensity, and
character-testing endurance. All riders get to experience this – not just
the riders at the front. Unlike road racing, where riders dropped from
the lead bunch quickly become also-rans, in cyclocross everyone races
to the end (whether they have been lapped or not, except in the big
international events). Whatever your ability, you get a real feeling of
achievement at having raced a race. The number of laps is decided
based on the time taken to cover the ﬁrst one or two laps. After this
13and ice. In practice a subset of these conditions are used. The course
will typically be somewhere between 2 and 3 km long. You will need
to practise riding the course before you race, which means getting to
the venue plenty of time before your event (more details in the ‘Racing’
Two or three practice laps would be usual but, if your ﬁtness is not
yet up to it, one will sufﬁce. Pay attention to how you plan to approach
technical sections (steep hills, slippery corners, obstacles, etc.).
Decide if you’re going to take a water bottle with you in the race.
Most top riders don’t but on a warm day it’s not a bad idea. If you’re
not going to carry a bottle, keep one in your jersey pocket and take sips
from it until just before the start.
Arrive at the start line no less than 10 minutes before your event.
In cold weather you should stay as warm as you can up until just
before the start, so keep a long sleeve jersey and tights/leg-warmers on
(regular ’cross riders have full-length zip leg-warmers, which they can
whip off just before the start). Here’s the ﬁrst point where you see that
cyclocross is a team effort, as you’ll need someone to look after your
warm kit and bottle. You’ll see plenty of other riders’ friendly helpers
lining the start though, and it is perfectly acceptable to lob your stuff to
one of them.
Even at the smallest of local events, the starts are ‘gridded’ now.
Eight of the fastest riders (based on league points, national ranking,
reputation, etc.) are called up to the front line, then the next eight, and
so on for a few rows, until there’s a free-for-all to get the best of the
non-gridded positions. It pays to arrive at the start early, so that you’re
not at the back of this mêlée.
The start This is the most nerve wracking bit of the whole day. The
tension is built by the start procedure, which varies a little from event
to event, but is usually warnings at two minutes, one minute, and then
“any time in the next 30 seconds”. After a dramatic pause, a whistle,
and all hell breaks loose. The start of a ’cross race is akin to a bunch
sprint ﬁnish in a road race. Everyone wants to get ahead before the ﬁrst
You need to go as hard as you can, but keep focussed – not just on
14 the wheel in front of you, but on those further ahead and around, and
also on the upcoming bend/climb/drop. While it’s good to maintain
or gain position, at this stage staying upright is of primary importance.
The first lap The key to cyclocross is to go hard, and then keep going
hard, while not going so hard you lose control of your senses and so
your bike. Try to do this! On the ﬁrst lap there is quite a lot going on:
some riders may have had a bad start, perhaps a mechanical problem,
and may be trying to push past you, while other riders will have gone
off far too hard and will start making mistakes, so you can pass them.
The rest of the race Although things calm down a lot after the ﬁrst
lap, the race is still in a state of ﬂux for the next 10 minutes or so, while
riders recover from the ﬁrst lap. It is towards the end of this period
when you really start to see how you’re going to do in the race. Try and
stick with the rider in front of you. In cycling it is as if there is a piece
of elastic stretched between two riders. Don’t let the elastic snap!
However strange it may seem from
the outside, shaved legs are the
norm in cycling and cyclocross.
There are many reasons to shave
your legs, with none of them en-
The other riders do it
Mud washes off more easily
Blood and road rash are easier
to clean and dressings easier to
Massage is easier
Embrocation is easier to apply
Hairy legs look a bit odd in
Lycra and dainty cycling shoes
As the race progresses, hopefully you will get into a situation where
you are evenly matched with a rider near to you and you can start to
devise ways to beat them. Which bits of the course are you faster on
and which bits are they faster on? Where is the best place to get ahead
before the ﬁnish. We’ll cover race tactics in more detail in the ‘Racing’
Having ﬁnished your ﬁrst race you are in a great position to take
advantage of the rest of this book and do even better in your next race
(we’re assuming you will now be addicted to cyclocross and may well
have already entered your next race).
Being a cyclist
This is a book about cyclocross. However, it is hard to succeed in any
form of cycling without ‘putting in some miles on the road’. You may
well ride with other people and, if you do this regularly, you may
become a cyclist. It is not clear when a ‘normal’ person crosses the
invisible boundary and becomes a cyclist. For a man it is perhaps the
ﬁrst shaving of the legs.