This is going to be my best attempt to write about the Cyclocross exploits of TCC this season (2019/2020) read on to hear about the preparation and plans…
As you may have read in a previous blog or heard in the Chasers Podcast (Check it out here) – I decided a few months ago to change up my riding and do what I enjoy the most- riding off-road. Road cycling, for me anyway, has changed even in the short amount of time I’ve been riding and racing and the risks and hassle just don’t match the rewards- I’ve got a road set of wheels and tyres to use on the offchance I’ll go on a group ride though. Add to that the fact that riding offroad (again, for me) is way more fun, engaging, challenging and exciting. Therefore with that in mind, I have sold my road bike and replaced it with a Cross bike and plan to race cross with more commitment than I did road and crits. The plan is to document what I learn, the good bits, the funny bits and the crap bits- in the hope it might provide something interesting to read!
So , Cross is indeed coming and the superb London and South East Cyclo Cross League is where I’ll be racing in the Senior category, alongside Seb from the Chasers Podcast. My cross experience so far is limted to the Team Champs in February (read about it all here) and then the Battle in the Bowl CX endurance race- a very different course and style to standard cross races though. I want to be as prepared as possible so have been practising the skills with guidance from Seb. This has involved a lot of mounting and remounting, running and cornering. When the weather has been rubbish I’ve been doing Zwift efforts to get used to hour-long suffering with hard efforts every 2 seconds. Nothing will prepare me for racing other than racing though, so I’m seeing this season as a time for learning and improving- and just seeing what happens.
The league is very fast and competitive and I’ll be gridded at the back- so I will judge success on how far I can move up rather than trying to finish in a certain position- it’ll make the races very fun and hopefully some of the skills I’ve been practising will help.
Five of us set up a mini cross course on Saturday in a field, complete with cones and even barriers. It was amazing how much quicker everyone was after every lap, as we learnt to push the grip. Getting used to the bike moving around beneath you and realising that you can still push on is key to being quick- on a road bike you obviously stop whatever you are doing that is causing the loss of grip, as inevitably, it means you’re in a spot of bother! It’s a different movement and lack of grip to MTB as well, as with wide handlebars and big tyres, it’s easier to control. With a cross bike, it’s trying to balance speed and grip and being as quick and smooth as possible. Low tyre pressures certainly helped- I managed to get my tubeless below 20psi with hard cornering and no burping- which is promising for when it is very muddy. The Maxxis Mud Wrestler’s were superb in the damp grass, they rolled well but had superb grip- very predictable and encouaged me to keep pushing. I reckon they’ll be good for everything but the deepest mud- where I might get some Specialized Terras to tackle that.
As for the barriers- I won’t be attempting to hop any in a race this season- after some practice I managed to jump the 21cm one with the right technique but 40s present an Everest-like challenge- especially when surrounded in mud- fair play to anyone that jumps them- I’ll stick to running!
Things I’ve learnt so far:
-Getting tubeless tape to stick to a rim that is greasy doesn’t work
-Sticking your foot out is good for some corners but relying on it is not faster- better to commit.
-Slow in, fast out is far better than fast in, panic, slow out
-Brake in a straight line
-When remounting, commitment is essential- otherwise you get the mini step
-Leaning the bike to get the side knobs biting is important, but you stay upright to get weight down on the tyre, rather than leaning and pushing it to slip
-A good bunny hop feels ugly but looks good- there is a lot more time between front wheel and rear wheel taking off than I thought
-To be fast I need to be aggressive and assertive, but within the spirit of cross
-Smooth is fast, fast is smooth
-Start hard, and then continue
There’s plenty more but I’ll save them for future posts.
The other big goal for the remainder of this year is to complete the Three Peaks cyclo cross race. This is a race like no other- if you aren’t aware of it- check it out here: Three Peaks
We’ll be doing a big podcast all about it and I’ll be doing a blog with more detail, but for now- the goal is to finish under 4 hours (ambitious but whatever). Being a first timer means that I’ll be serverely up against it- but you gotta have goals! I’ll be running the same set up as in the cross races in the league, with the exception of tyre pressure:
-Vitus Energie CRX Cross bike
-Sram Force groupset
-40T Front chainring, 40/11 cassette
-Maxxis Mud Wrestler 33c tyres running tubeless
I’ve just read this blog and it has made me feel roughly 0.1/100 prepared: Madness
Both Seb and I are going up and it’ll certainly be an experience, we don’t have any support to do bottle handups so I’m using a small Camelbak which means I can carry the required safety items of emergency blanket and whistle alongside spares and tools. A tube and a CO2 cannister plus a waterproof if needed. We’ll be using our new skinsuits so gels up the legs and job’s a goodun.
There is a lot of shouldering/running/walking as some of the terrain is simply impossible to ride- I’ve been doing some reps up steep hills whilst walking and shouldering the bike, but Simon Fell, one of the first climbs, is steeper than anything I’ve done yet- apparently you’re grabbing grass to help you move up. There are some big climbs and technical descents that take a lot of skill and luck to get through unscathed- again- the mantra of smooth is fast will be one I recite to myself throughout the race- being 10 seconds faster to risk a crash or puncture is not what you want but when the adrenaline is flowing, it’s hard to spot that’s what you’re doing.
What is quite easy to forget about are all the road sections in the race too- so being clever and not blowing yourself up is important- finding a group and working well with them could well be key. Basically it is the sort of race that people do over decades and still have things to learn- so going into this as a practice and learning experience (much like cross season) means I can stay calm, enjoy it and ride smooth. If you’re up there, be sure to hurl abuse at us.