Intrigued by its eccentricity and inspired by the skill, power and technique of the riders who take part in this slightly off-centre branch of cycling I decided to embark on a winter of Cyclo-Cross racing during the 2011/2012 season.
Having been on the iCycle trip to Koksijde, Belgium to watch the Pro’s (including our very own club President) and after some online research, including top tips on mounting and dismounting at speed (still working on this one!) I felt ready for some racing. With a new cross bike sorted (thanks Dan) I chose a local 55 mile Cross-Sportive, delightfully named Tour of the Cornfields, as my first venture out. Whilst in my head a gentle long ride across the East Anglian farmlands in September sounded like a wonderful introduction the reality was far from it. With no rain to speak of in the preceding weeks the ground was hard...and I mean very very hard! Every off road section was spent longing for the next tarmac section and every tarmac section praying for the finish. After 3 hours 50 minutes the ride was done, my whole body was aching, hands blistered and bum very sore. I was happy to be going home...but even happier to have completed it.
Chelmsford would be my first race for the season. The atmosphere was hugely friendly, Men, Women and Children of all ages present for a full day of racing. This would be a feature of all the races I would compete in throughout the season. It was another hot day, on a dry grassy course, with three consecutive log hurdles and many tight twisting bends breaking your momentum, calling for you to accelerate out of every corner. What struck me first about the racing was the speed at the start. With such an advantage to be had by being ahead of others at the first corner, the start was a full on sprint and the first lap flat out effort. After this things began to spread out a bit as different riders of all different abilities get into their own rhythm. The race was not without incident...coming off in the second lap after rubbing wheels with another rider whilst attempting to negotiate an uphill U-turn bend and again whilst trying to dismount at speed for the set hurdles, where the majority of spectators had rather conveniently placed themselves. This was grass though, no damage done to myself and more importantly, the bike was fine!
From here on in I would race almost every week until the end of the year. With such a variety of courses, requiring so many different skills, it was impossible to lose enthusiasm for the following weekend. Highlights included Hitchin Boys School where I finished 7th (despite a rather unfortunate incident in a sandpit). Seeded on the front grid for the first time (for reasons unbeknown to myself) the course suited me down to the ground: flat, fast and dry - tailor made for a roadie. Courses in Oxford, Reading and Milton Keynes also played to my strengths allowing me to place in the top 10. Other courses were not so favourable. Redbridge required a level of bike handling and skill that I simply did not possess and a trip to Luton resulted in me on my bum many many times whilst trying to negotiate a particularly steep section of the course.
Lowlights included puncturing within the first few corners at Hillingdon with no spare wheel in the pits...being out sprinted in Luton by a man who had lost his saddle in the previous lap…and being sent over my handlebars head first into a back markers saddle in the penultimate lap at Hitchin.
With so many riders of all different abilities in any given race there was always someone to compete with, no matter how much of a ‘bad day’ I was having. There were no worries of being dropped by the bunch and no fear of pushing beyond my limits - after all there was always a soft landing to be had and the finish line in sight. As the season drew to a close I found myself a better bike handler, fitter than I had ever been at the end of December and 8kg lighter. Winter riding shouldn’t be this much fun!
As a result of the interest shown by iCycle members regarding Cyclo-Cross we are intending to encourage members to have a go during the 2012/13 season so watch the web for more details as the season approaches.
Approx 1 Hr Long – Bunch Start
Shorts Laps - vary in distance/duration. Average Lap: 5-8 minutes long
All age categories welcome