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The Cyclocross Bible Excerpt


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An excerpt from the first chapter of The Cyclocross Bible by Alex Forrester, published by How to Ride a Bike.

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The Cyclocross Bible Excerpt

  1. 1. 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 Fishing Reasons to get into cyclocross Suitable for all ages and abilities Everyone gets a race, not just the leaders Safe environment Short courses are good for spectators 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
  2. 2. 12 a laps-to-go board is displayed at each crossing of the finish line and there is a bell for the last lap.22 Everyone finishes on the same lap as the leader so, even though it may have said two laps to go when you passed the finish line, if the leader laps you on that lap, it becomes your last lap (you may never hear the bell). Cyclocross racing is open to all ages (figure 3), from kids being pushed round by their parents on balance bikes, through to an over 70s racing category. Entry fees tend to be quite reasonable, ranging from free or a few Euros in many Belgian events to £15-£20 for senior events in the UK. Children’s events are a few pounds. The events themselves are nice places to hang out too: short courses are good for spectators to see lots of the action, there will be gallons of beer/tea and chips/cake (Belgium/UK respectively) and lots of friendly people (figure 4). Bring your coat, wellies and woolly hat! Outside of racing, cyclocross bikes are extremely versatile. Armed with one you can tackle mountainous terrain, both off-road and on-road, or simply devise the most exciting routes to get to and from work. Figure 3: Cyclocross racing can be en- joyed by all ages, as shown by Riley Ton- ner in the UK’s Wessex Cyclocross League. Figure 4: Kara Perryman, Katie Scott, Amy Perryman and Abbie Manley having fun at a cyclocross race. [photo: ©2017 Scott Manley] Quickstart guide to racing It may seem a little premature to start with a section on racing, without looking at equipment, technique and training. Before we can appreciate the worth of any of these, we first need to know the nature of the beast we’re dealing with: the cyclocross race. Don’t just read about it, enter a race at your earliest opportunity – get all the first-time nerves and mistakes out of the way, and read the rest of this book with some knowledge born of experience. Here we’ll look at the basics of racing before covering it in much more detail in the ‘Racing’ chapter. You could ride pretty much anything in this first race (all you need is a bike and helmet). It is possible to get round a ‘cross course on a road bike, a mountain bike is better, better still is a cyclocross bike (see the ‘Equipment’ chapter), and even better are two cyclocross bikes. For this chapter we will assume you’ll ‘only’ be using one bike. In terms of finding a race to enter, this will vary from country to country. Most national governing bodies have web-based calendars – go to for up-to-date links. A perfect cyclocross race would be over a course of mixed road (asphalt and cobbles), grass, mud, woodland trails, sand dunes, snow
  3. 3. 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’ chapter). 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 narrow/technical section. You need to go as hard as you can, but keep focussed – not just on
  4. 4. 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! Shaved legs? 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- tirely convincing. The other riders do it Mud washes off more easily Blood and road rash are easier to clean and dressings easier to change 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’ chapter. 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.