It’s freezing, the wind is whipping through a sodden, muddy car park and I’m sat in my car with my hands infront of the vents with the heat on full- just to try and get some sort of feeling back to put on a summer skinsuit.
Cyclocross is like nothing I’ve ever done before. The closest thing I can find is when I was a kid, creating a circuit round the front garden, down the side alley, round the back and looping until it got dark and I couldn’t feel my hands anymore as it was so cold. I think the beauty of CX is that it really is just a stupid amount of fun. No speed needed, just lots of turns, no grip and other people to race.
My preparation for my first cyclocross race was 5 minutes in my parents’ back garden running about with a bike and jumping on and off. I watched a few videos and asked a few questions from people who know more about cross than I do. I borrowed my Dad’s gravel bike and decided to wear leg warmers as I can’t be bothered to shave my legs just yet.
Once I was out the car with two hands again, I jumped on the bike (not quite Belgian like- yet) as best I could and set off for one warm up lap. The course was incredible- I couldn’t believe how fun it was and how much concentration and technique was needed. Tyre choice was absolutely key- I was on 43c Gravelkings which were fantastic on some parts and dire on others. The course was as follows:
Flat out crit on tarmac: 45%
Deep, sloppy mud: 15%
Weird firm sand: 10%
I lost a stupid amount of time on the mud but the tyres were superb for the other parts.
The format was excellent- two races- one 15 min qualification race and one 30min main race. There were teams of 3 or 4- gridded for the first race in order of team member. So all the 1’s were first, then 2’s and so on. I was number 3- which was great as I had plenty of people in front of me to chase and follow, and there wasn’t much pressure in an unknown format on an unknown bike on an unknown course!
It felt like a very long 15 mins- I made up a lot of places and absolutely loved every second. Jumping over barriers for the first time (on foot- I’m no Alec Briggs) was a pretty intense experience- especially with loads of people shouting, ringing cowbells and generally hurling encouraging abuse at me! There are thousands of decisions every lap that define how fast you go in a cross race and I think that’s where the fun is. It’s not about the fittest, the best equipped or the luckiest rider. It’s a combination of so many factors which make for exciting racing for all ages and abilities.
After lining up in the new order for the second race, I went out hard and managed to crash on concrete entering the barn (where the sand was- with music and big crowds- it was brilliant). There was mud and I over committed- the limit had been found! With some hindsight- I feel I could have gone slightly harder throughout that second race but it’s a fine line between being smooth and sustaining a pace. Now I know what is needed, I could have perhaps used some more matches in the places it allowed. I’d also have run different tyres as the time I made up, I lost double on the mud. It was fantastic practice though and will no doubt improve my road skills even further. Our team ended up 5th overall which we were pretty happy with considering my first race and a number of mechanicals for Mark (from SDBCascoPet) who would have definitely finished higher had he not been so unlucky. Seb (who I’ll be talking about in the second section) smashed it having not raced for a few years and he’ll be a weapon next season.
Unlike most road racing, everyone is having their own mini-battles throughout the race and overall position really doesn’t matter to most- just the exhilaration you can only get from pinning a number on. I highly recommend it to anyone thinking about racing- cross is the PERFECT place to start. I loved it so much, I went and bought a bike from a super nice guy straight after the race. So I’m ready to join the CROSS IS COMING crew.
Up next is the Dunsfold Road Race on March 2nd and the plan is to race as much as possible over Spring and Summer. Battle in the Bowl, South Downs Way CX race, Southern XC MTB, Goodwood, Surrey League Handicaps and whatever else I can do. Training has been going well and I’m actually following the plans and resting when needed etc so fingers crossed I’ll see some good numbers and get involved in some good racing!
A NEW PODCAST: CHASERS
I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time and when Harry got in touch about doing it, I jumped at the chance. We then asked Seb and got to work finding out how to actually record one. After four hours of technical wizardry and turning things on and off again- we finally recorded the first episode. It’ll be out this weekend! The idea of it is to have a look at all aspects of riding bikes and have a bit of a laugh at the same time.
In the first episode we cover my first CX race, Perfs Nat B race, a game involving Ikea and Pro-Conti riders, Harry’s ambitions for the season, the fact that Seb only races bikes and never trains, Zwift racing and all sorts of other tat. The link will be posted everywhere once we have it.