Cyclecross 101 – How to have a dirty fun time

Cyclecross 101 – How to have a dirty fun timeAmy Saari-Roth

Somewhere along the way this past year I got it in my head that I wanted to try cyclocross – think steeple chase for cyclists. It might have been when I bought my cross bike because I wanted to ride in the trails with some friends on something faster then my tank of a mountain bike. It might have been when I watched a race in Milwaukee last fall. It might have been seeing this outfit and wanting to be able to one day pull it off without looking like a poseur.

But in any case whether it was the bike, the dirt, or the jacket with the pink and Pegasus on it (I have one of their t-shirts by the way… and the Pegasus’s skeleton glows in the dark) I wanted to do this.

And so this past weekend I did it. Twice. And I have the bruises to show for it.

First Class: New Brighton

This race is known to be a tough one. So I went in with trepidation. I hadn’t had a chance to get out and look at the park before Saturday and so I had no idea how this would unfold. The race course looked innocent enough in 2D. But 3D and in real life, it wasn’t so innocent. There were switch backs, and cambered sections where you were biking across the slope of a grassy rise, cambered switch backs (actually I think all of the sharp turns were cambered). There were the usual barriers and a sloppy steep hill. And sand. Two sections of sand on each loop.

Pre-riding the course I knew I was in over my head. All of the things I had learnt were promptly forgotten. Flying mounts? Couldn’t do ‘em. Strong switchbacks? Wasn’t going my way.  Sloppy hill? Couldn’t get up it on the bike. This was going to be a disaster.

The race itself was 30 minutes of survival. Especially after bailing on a switch back and nailing myself with the handlebars on the knee cap (which was like the end of the world). And the sand sections? Well I got pretty good at dismounting scooping up my bike on my right shoulder and hucking it across the Sahara. Which was followed by a very NON flying mount. My nanas could mount a bike faster then I could after those sections. But I finished. And really that’s what the first one was all about. Survival. And as much as it was hell out there it was seriously fun. And making the podium (by default) wasn’t so shabby either!!

Second Class: Vanier

In retrospect, doing New Brighton was a blessing. I knew what to expect on Sunday at Vanier. The course was definitely easier. Don’t get me wrong, it had its challenges: the terrain was rougher, it was more twisty (twistier?), there was threat of ending up in the pond, the barriers were on a hill, there was a sharp turn at the bottom of a hill where the ground went from grass to gravel to mulch and much blood was spilt, and there were some stairs. But all in all, I didn’t feel like I was in over my head this time. Pre-riding the course was educational. This time I knew how to figure out what lines I wanted and how to approach a few of the obstacles.

During the race itself I was able to get a few flying mounts in before fatigue set in and I went back to granny styles. It was a bigger field this time round. But I wasn’t dead last in my division or wave and I didn’t get lapped by the lead citizen men (the equivalent male group to my division who we started with) until more then half way through the last lap. Vanier was definitely less hellish then New Brighton and it was a really fun course and race.

Lessons Learned

This weekend was a definite eye opener. I learned some new things and I promptly forgot things that I had learnt before.

  1. Remove bottle cages before hand – it’ll make it easy to shoulder the bike when you have a long section of strange terrain – like sand (I learnt this before the race proper so I was able to take advantage of this)
  2. Pre ride the course. Not just the day of. Try it out a few days before to practice the nasty bits.
  3. Sometimes it is faster to push your bike then to try to ride it up a sloppy hill. I passed someone using this tactic. I would have remained ahead of them but then I utilized the granny mount and lost time.
  4. Practice flying mounts when you are fatigued and vomitty. This needs some work – see point #3.
  5. It is possible to end up with bruises that you have no idea how you got them… like on the top of your left middle finger.
  6. Stick around and watch the pros. They are like antelope going over those barriers!