Winter is Coming
It's hard to think it with the sun out and the temperatures as they are but the winter Cyclo-Cross season is just around the corner... It's time for muddy fun!
Have you ever considered...
Cyclocross Racing? Experienced York Cycleworks CX rider Mark takes use through the muddy world of Cyclo-Cross.
Rider History: I come from a mountain biking background, having a young family has led me to road biking as it can take up less time.
Competitive Involvement: Very little really, I tried a couple of mtb xc races and some mtb orienteering events many years ago. Most of my organised events have been sportive type events, both on and off road. I have always been quite daunted by the “racing crowd” with their strange ways and high speeds.
Why did I start cyclocross racing?
Strangely my first cyclocross race was not actually a race but the Scotten 100 “sportive”. This is a ride north of Harrogate that emulates Belgian classics races, much of it being off road on farm tracks. This really appealed to my mtb mud loving roots and I enjoyed every moment.
The leap from an endurance type event to a fixed time race took some persuading by my friends at York Cycleworks, but try it I did and I have never looked back.
This is what has really sucked me into this sport. It is so friendly. You arrive and watch some amazing kids having fun. Whole families are there supporting each other. Fellow riders are (nearly) always helpful and friendly. Yes some do go into their zone on the rollers, but you might not see them in the race. Once racing it is serious, but not to the detriment of enjoyment. All riders are there to do their best, but all riders are polite, pass others fairly and will happily have a laugh with you after the race. The most common heard lines after a race are “I nearly got you…..” or “well done…..” As it is a short lap there will be lots of spectators shouting encouragement and ringing cow bells which all adds to the atmosphere.
So what is a cyclocross race like?
Cyclocross racing is a fixed time format of race. The whistle blows and it is a mass start. After 40-60 mins later depending on your category of race the leader of the race will finish and all other riders will finish that lap. This does mean that slower riders will complete fewer laps than the winner, but will still have ridden for approximately the same amount of time. After the mass start the race will separate into a lot of mini races as similar speed riders group together to fight their own battles. Since laps take between 4 and 9 minutes to complete it is not really possible to be “dropped” in a cx race, faster riders will simply lap slower riders and not many riders will have any idea of where they are in the field. At any point in the race there will be riders at every section of the course.
In terms of physical effort, cx racing has lots of appealing elements. You will see your heart rate go through the roof and stay there. It has much in common with time trials in this regard. What you are putting out in power is very different though, you are constantly accelerating and slowing much like a criterium race. All of this at perhaps 16mph in the mud!
You will develop your bike handling skills and falling off seldom hurts at such slow speeds on grass.
OK, you want to try it. What now?
Bike: You can use a mountain bike to start if that is what you have. Cyclocross specific bikes are (relatively) cheap to buy and many can double as a commuter/winter bike as well. My first cx bike is now my winter bike where I really appreciate the handling stability and disc brakes. You may see riders with 2 bikes on telly and some do at this level of racing, but most only have one.
Finding events: www.yorkshirecyclocross.com has information on all cyclocross events in the area. Races run pretty much all year, winter and summer leagues and smaller race series in spring and autumn. Asking at Cycleworks will also let you know about any imminent races.
When are the races? Winter league races are pretty much every second Sunday from start of September until end of January (breaks for Christmas, 3 Peaks and National level races). Different category races throughout the morning and early afternoon.
What are race categories? Races are organised by sex and age group. For example I race in MV40, male vets 40-50. So when planning to enter, find out which category you will be racing in. Kids race as well, from balance bikes upwards. Novice category races are held as well, allowing first timers to have a taster before joining the main field.
Race License: Cyclocross is the cheapest competitive cycle sport to get into. You only need a British Cycling Race Bronze membership to get going (cheapest by far of the Race memberships). Go to www.britishcycling.org.uk . This will give you a provisional race license. You can pay for day license if you wish.
How do I enter? Entries are usually on the day.
So you have decided to take the plunge. You have found your way to the event and you look around in that “what now?” kind of way. All you can see are people on bikes, some on rollers, probably kids racing and a sea of tape on a field. I have a series of steps that I follow:
- I aim to arrive as far ahead of my start time as possible. Best time is about 1-1.5 hrs before start. I have managed arriving 5 mins before the whistle blows.
- Get my bike set up. I do this first to make sure that I have not done something really silly like forget a wheel. Same with helmet and shoes. I also get changed before signing on.
- Go and sign on. Look for a big gazebo or room in sports centre entrance with tables and piles of race numbers. If you can’t see it then ask any rider. Explain which race you want to enter and they will help you. If you are silly early, they might not let you as they are managing a huge crowd for the next race.
- You will be given a “race chip”. DO NOT put this anywhere other than your ankle as you will forget it. This is the reason that I am changed for signing on, I once signed on in civvies, put my chip in my coat pocket and then forgot to put the blasted thing on my ankle for the race.
- You will also have a race number to pin on your left shoulder (Not always, it serves no real purpose)
- Now go ride. If the course is clear, ride a lap or two to recce. If not warm up near the course. Chat with other riders, drink coffee, eat a little food, watch other races.
- About 10 mins before your race head to the start area, once again if you cannot see it then ask somebody.
- Cyclocross races are gridded (not novices) so the best riders start at the front. They will be called forward before the rest of the field get ready. It is not uncommon to be part of a field of 100+ riders. Listen to instructions, start on the whistle and enjoy.
- At the end of the race, when you have replaced your now missing lung remember to hand in your timing chip and have a laugh and chat with your fellow riders.
- Time to get changed, go home and clean your bike (maybe).
- Results will appear on a website later that day, which is why you were wearing the timing chip. Have a look at your result, look at your friends and fellow team riders. Let others know how well you did.
Hopefully you go home having had a load of fun, met and made new friends who you are determined to beat next race and a car full of muddy clothes and bike.
It would be great to see even more people race cyclocross, especially wearing York Cycleworks colours. The club is seldom not present at any race and usually there are between 5 and 10 riders across different categories.
See you at a race soon, thanks for reading.