Cyclocross – the perfect between seasons’ challenge

Hmmm, muddy stuff…

This sport is growing out of all recognition, so much so that a number of athletes can make a decent living just by racing cross. Very popular in France and Belgium it has crossed the Atlantic and is becoming increasingly popular in the USA.

The advantage that Cyclocross has is that it slips into that dormant phase in the winter months when everything else seems to come to a halt. But instead of sleeping, this growing sport is flexing its muscles and in America it now has a United States Grand Prix National Series with local and international sponsors and a fanatical fan following.

So what exactly is it and why is it a discipline with its own catagory?

It is sort-of a cross between a cycle race and a steeplechase. It is a form of bicycle racing that consists of many laps of a short (2.5–3.5  km or 1.5–2  mile) course featuring a mixture of pavement, wooded trails, grass, steep hills and obstacles requiring the rider to quickly dismount, carry the bike whilst navigating the obstruction and remount. However, unnavigable sections are generally a very small part of the course,

1 What is cyclocross

but an enduring image of cyclocross is that of a rider carrying his bike! For this reason, cyclocross bikes need to be  lightweight. They have narrow tyres and drop handlebars, but they share a characteristic with mountain bikes in that they use knobby tread tyres for traction – although larger, and cantilever style brakes for clearance which is needed because of the muddy conditions. They also have different gear ratios to a road bike and the fork of the cyclocross bicycle typically has a steeper angle to provide more stability through off-road sections.

A cyclo-cross rider is allowed to change bicycles and receive mechanical assistance during a race. This is necessary due to the amount of mud on the track. The bike eventually gets so gummed up that it needs to be swapped. Whilst the other bike is being used the gummed one is being cleaned.

A cyclocross race typically lasts from a half hour to an hour but is generally acknowledged to be one of the fastest and most physically  demanding type of bicycle race. Races are held through  Autumn and Winter.

Simon Burney, an expert on cyclocross racing and training,  said that competing in cyclocross races will improve the skills of all cyclists, no mater what their discipline. He says that cyclocross riding can be a perfect winter activity for road cyclists to be involved in “as an aid to improved bike handling it cannot be beaten. After a winter riding ‘cross, bad road surfaces, racing in the rain, and descending will be a lot easier to cope with, as ‘cross teaches you how to race and handle your bike well in all conditions.”

However, a note of caution, VeloNews warns that “Cyclocross racing is not for those with minimalist tendencies. There is gear for warming up, gear for racing, gear for cooling down, gear for the bikes and gear for creating a fun and enjoyable atmosphere. In addition, it is often not enough to have a single piece of equipment or clothing; several may be needed for the day. Only rookies show up with a single pair of gloves. A simple 45-minute race may require more gear than a week-long summer tour, but without the right gear your day can quickly go downhill.”

It is, however, a sport not restricted to the pros. Anyone can start cyclocross as there are races for experts and novices and it beats sitting inside all weekend.

If you’re interested in giving it a go then it would be worth your while to read VeloNews’ opinion and advice of what you would need to make the day a successful one – forget about winning, tho’ there’s always that, but to make the day one you are going to enjoy…

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