If you’ve never been to a Cyclocross race before, it really can be a shock to the senses the first time you go. Eurotrash is blasting through the speakers, playing remixed 90’s hits with added accordion and extra bass. The smell of cigars and fried food is everywhere and the beer tents are overflowing with fans dressed up in crazy costumes.
This year I was lucky enough to go to the World Championships in Hoorgerheide, Netherlands with my Dad and good friend, Sam. It’s the biggest race of the Cyclocross season, and 40,000 fans have descended on this small town to witness the ultimate battle between two of the greats. Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert.
By now I’m sure you’ve seen the results (Spoiler alert – Mathieu won) so I won’t bore you with a minute-by-minute race report, but instead share the tips I’ve picked up from over the years on how to make the most of a weekend away watching Cyclocross.
Go in a group
Not only is it great fun going with friends and family, it’s also an easy way to keep the trip cost-effective. Fill up a car and you can split the cost of fuel, channel tunnel and hotels. With three people on the trip we were able to split costs, making it just £140pp. Not bad for two days of world-class racing if you ask me.
Though racing doesn’t usually start until mid-morning we usually arrive at 8am and head straight for the teams to watch them set up and hopefully get a glimpse of a rider or two. It also gives you time to walk the course, picking out the best spots to watch for the rest of the day. There’s also a practice session which is a great chance to watch the riders figure out the best way to tackle each section on the course.
Don’t stay in one spot
It sounds tempting to find a good spot to camp up for the day, but you’re missing out on so much of the action. Cyclocross courses have so many brilliant features to see, why would you want to watch the same one over and over again? Every few laps move to a new location to get the full experience.
Wear more layers than you think you need
Many times I’ve fallen foul of this and have been cold to the bone. Cyclocross is mostly a winter sport. If it’s not snow it’s rain, if it’s not rain it’s wind, and this year we were battered by gales for most of the day. Remember you’ll be standing in a muddy field for the entire day so make sure to dress properly. The layers you need are:
- Thermal base layers
- Breathable t-shirt
- Thick socks
- Waterproof boots
- Woolly hat
- Fleece jumper
- Down jacket
- Waterproof shell
Visit the teams
One thing I love about the sport is how accessible it is for fans. If you go to a road race, teams hide away and stop fans from getting close. It’s the complete opposite in Cyclocross. Teams line the streets and set up the bikes in front of their motorhomes for all to see. It usually doesn’t take long to find something swanky to drool over.
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Talk to the riders
As I mentioned above, Cyclocross gives incredible access, and that includes to the riders as well. Don’t be afraid to go up and say hi! Most riders are super friendly and more than happy to chat with fans and sign autographs. When else do you get the chance to meet athletes at the top of their sport?!
Here we are with ex-pro and multiple US national champ Jeremy Powers (If you’ve not seen it already, his ‘behind-the-barriers’ series on YouTube is fantastic)
Eat like a local
Frites and Mayo are deeply engrained in cross culture, and for good reason. They’re amazing. But there’s another food that takes the top spot for me and one you MUST try… Frikandel. Even typing out the name is making my mouth water. This deep-fried, skinless sausage looks hideous I know, but their beauty is on the inside and they taste fantastic.
Make some noise
Cowbells, air horns, drums, brass band… a World War Two air raid siren. Yep, you read that right!
Fans go all out to make noise and the cacophony of noise bellowing out for the elite men’s race was sensational.
I always bring a cowbell to races, it’s small but mighty and requires zero talent to use…I once bought an old horn from an antique shop to bring to races, and was gutted to find it didn’t make any sound meaning I was forced to carry a lump of metal around my neck for the day. I’ve learnt from that and now keep it simple.
Position yourself near the finish on the last lap
There’s two main reasons for this. Firstly, the obvious one of getting to witness arguably the best finish in Cyclocross history, but it also means once the action is over you can beat the crowd and make a swift exit. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in the middle of 40,000 people trying to leave, so as soon as the race is over we’re off!
If you’re going away why not tag along a day or two of riding as well? Don’t forget to make sure that if you are going away, you’ll need to have the correct level of insurance in place. Pedalcover offer a combined home and bicycle policy, travel insurance and also bicycle only insurance policies to cover Cyclocross, road racing and mountain biking events. If you need any help, just give the friendly support staff a call on 0800 121 4424