Top #10 Things I Learned During My First Cyclocross Season
I first spectated a Cyclocross race at the 2014 Cyclocross Nationals in Boulder, Colorado. It was my husband’s idea to go and watch after seeing a video on YouTube, and we had barely been cycling for a year. I was hooked, but I never thought I’d be able to participate in a race. It’s intimidating for a newbie who is looking to jump in. I knew nothing about bike racing and I didn’t know anyone who raced. The racers are all on teams! Everything matches! Kits, bikes, helmets, socks, shoes, shoelaces, everything matches! I thought I had to be an established pro to participate in this strange sport.
Now, 3 years later thanks to the Back to Basics race series, I found out it’s ok to be a complete beginner. I got the chance to experience Cyclocross at a beginner’s pace, I got connected with a wonderful team, SQUARE1, and started to build a solid foundation for my new hobby. Here are my take-aways from my first season!
1. Check those tires, yo.
Get yourself an accurate digital tire pressure gauge. Set your pressures low. Know that whatever you are used to on the road is too high (way too high). Know that if you try to guess how low is low enough, you’ll pinch your tube and get a flat in the middle of a race (I found that out the hard way). Pressures will vary depending on conditions and surfaces so ask around for some sage advice if you are unsure. All tires are round and black, but since they’re the only thing between you and the ground…turns out they’re pretty important!
2. Don’t skip the previews.
I don’t have an athletic background and I hate warm ups, since they feel like a workout. When an experienced racer told me that it would be a good idea to go ahead and do like…I don’t know…three (THREE?!) laps to preview the course and learn its foibles, my legs almost packed their bags and left.
But do it! It helps to build your confidence before a race. You can ride through difficult sections of the course at a slower pace, find out which parts of the course will suit your strengths will which parts will challenge you. Previewing is also useful for checking that your tire pressures are set correctly for the course. Previewing helps you set your intention for the race.
3. Embrace the suck.
Again, I am not a natural-born athlete. Slow and steady is my game, but every Cyclocross race starts with a sprint. My heart rate hits the red line before the first corner and it stays there for the duration of the race. So, I practice sprints, I practice hill repeats and I practice high-cadence uphill climbs. This teaches my legs to be punchy and explosive and helps me to embrace that sweet, sweet burn of lactic acid.
4. Support. Get some.
Find a good team and join it! Turns out everyone is on a team for a reason. The support and camaraderie at SQUARE1 has been invaluable to me. Having team members to share experiences with and learn from will get you through many seasons of Cyclocross.
5. I hate sand, it’s coarse and gets everywhere….
Don’t be afraid of sand! It is soft and you won’t get road rash if you fall over in it. Build up power in those legs and learn to float off your saddle to pedal through the sandpit. If you can’t ride through the sand, jump off your bike before you come to a complete stop. Keep up your momentum as much as possible and hit the sand running.
6. Hold your head up.
Use up the whole course – ‘tape-to-tape’ as they say. Learn about the racing line and what the apex is. Always keep your head & eyes up and your gaze ahead of you and look at where you want to go. Don’t fixate on your front tire or even the rider in front you. That’s how you end up tangled in the tape (not that that ever happened to me…).
7. Dismount & Remount
Again, keep your head up. Do not look down at your bike. It will be there for you… just trust it, it’ll be there. Practice, practice, practice. Having the muscle memory built into your hands and feet will help you be infinitely faster when you come to a barrier. Practice at walking speed first and gradually build up the speed as you get more comfortable with the moves.
When you remount your bike, you pull that Farrah Fawcett 80’s thigh master workout video move with pride. You know that move. The fire hydrant move. Lift that thigh up and jump back on the saddle, don’t look down, your bike will be there, trust it.
8. Practice, practice, practice
Practice makes perfect…as they say. Practice for that muscle memory. Practice to build up trust in your bike and that you know where it is and where your body and bike connect. Practice being smooth through corners on the course and over the barriers. Practice to build up endurance. Practice sprints to go for that hole shot at the start of the race. Work on those skillz, yo.
9. Have fun.
Cyclocross is a great sport and has become my favorite workout. You can challenge yourself at every race. It’s an all-out effort on an obstacle course with your bike and nothing compares to the adrenaline of competition. Jump in and enjoy it.
10. Take the handup.
When you’re duking it out for not-quite-last-place in a Cat4 race, you’re not exactly racing for an Elite National Championship, are you? So, why not enjoy it? That bacon/beer/donut hand-up might take a terrible suffer-fest of a race to a fun time that you’ll want to tell your co-workers about on Monday morning. Plus, it’ll make you a hero to the crowd…and if you can’t be fast you should at least try to put on a good show. It’s all part of the great atmosphere at a cross race!