by James Cornford
February 8, 2016
About 10 years ago I had my first experience of cyclocross, at this point in time I was a national downhiller with no real commitments, there was always time for more riding, more racing and more bikes! Could this be a way to squeeze more racing in during the quiet months? Hell no!
maybe my growing penchant for craft beers was effecting what I was being exposed to, but I was starting to get intrigued again
Honestly, my first impression of the sport was deeply disappointing, it seemed to be the worst of two worlds, combine the worst aspects of mountain biking and the worst aspects of road cycling, on a bike that was never quite what you needed to be on and that for me was cyclocross!
Maybe it was my age, the fact that I was a mountain biker that liked to throw himself off drops and over rocks, or it could simply be that the race in question, quite simply sucked!
As a result of this, the thought of CX was buried deep in the recesses on my mind, not to be awoken again until I got ever closer to 30!
Was my age a dominant factor in the slowly increasing thoughts of CX? Surely it had more to do with the sport gaining more and more exposure, although maybe my growing penchant for craft beers was effecting what I was being exposed to, but I was starting to get intrigued again. I pushed this dirty thought deeper and deeper, but it kept coming back to the surface. There was no more denying it, it was time to give CX a second chance – god knows I’ve had enough of them over the years!
As the temperatures plummeted to sub arctic levels, the countryside of Ohio was set to be awash with Penguins, Polar Bears and Lycra clad sadists, or at least 1 out of those 3. I was just dipping my toe into the water, so I headed to the start line on my Marin XC hardtail, rather than going all out on a new bike. Even in all of its carbon racing goodness, it still looked a little portly compared to the finely honed CX rigs surrounding me, but we were on dirt, surely a mountain bike would prevail.
It may have been my first CX race, but I’m not stranger to a start line, in fact it seemed so very familiar to my last BMX race.
Head down, elbows out, sprint … dodge the flying aluminium, steel and carbon and fix your eyes on where you want to be. I emerged the other side of the carnage at the front of the pack. Mountain bike and BMX skills really can be useful in other disciplines it turns out.
However, it wasn’t long before my lungs began to scream and I realised I was way out of my depth. The undulating long grass sections really dragged the bigger wheels of my 29er back, whilst the CX bikes sliced through them. My rest came when we hit the tarmac, and the skinny wheeled riders extended their lead further. I knew I had only one option, stay in the redline all the way to the first decent and then remember my days racing the Welsh Dragons.
I’m sorry cyclocross, I miss judged you, we all have our off days and unfortunately for me, I allowed one of yours to tarnish your name for way too long
Flying through a sea of expletives (there was plenty of room), I made up as much time as possible, before the process started again. After the initial shock of my descending, my fellow competitors actually cheered me on down the downhills, enjoying the entertainment, knowing full well they would catch me back up later in the lap.
So how did I do? Well my stint at the front of the pack was short lived, but I wasn’t last. With more up than down, the mountain bike wasn’t the ideal weapon, but with some extra fitness, I could make it work.
So, what are my thoughts 10 years on from my initial disappointment? I’m sorry cyclocross, I miss judged you, we all have our off days and unfortunately for me, I allowed one of yours to tarnish your name for way too long. I have felt the warmth of total exhaustion, lactic acid buildup and total despair as you reach your physical limit, but need to go that little bit faster and I am hooked.
If I had been told that cyclocross racing was basically a criterium on dirt, I would have signed up a lot earlier. It’s certainly not for everyone, but whether you see it as another way of racing, or some intense out of season training on dirt, you should give it a go and there’s no need to ditch the big wheels.
I have lost time to make up and unfortunately, this revelation came as the season was packing up, but don’t worry, I will be back when winter 2016 arrives.
Image courtesy: Bavo Swijgers/Red Bull Content Pool
Are you cross curious? Check out our sister publication grit.cx