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Things I learned from my first few cyclocross races 

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Did you watch the recent cyclocross world championships in Hoogerheide ? If not, make sure you give the event a watch and be sure to read Josh’s experience here. There were some amazing races as well as some brilliant drone footage (and drone piloting skills). The week of racing reached its climax with an incredible slugfest between van der Poel and van Aert. If you did watch and were inspired to have a go, I’d thoroughly recommend that you do – but a word of warning, CX is a steep learning curve! 

This winter, I had a go at cyclocross for the first time. I am a very average road racer with a reasonable amount of fitness and for whatever reason, I thought I might be quite good at cross. I was awful. I did two rounds of the Wessex Cyclocross league, one at Clanfield and the other at Southampton Sports Centre. The first race I did not finish and the second I finished a semi respectable 19th place (getting lapped twice in the process). During these two races I learned a number of lessons about cyclocross that I will share with you…

Skills matter a lot more than power 

I am a relatively powerful cyclist. This meant absolutely nothing in the Wessex Cyclocross League. Getting on and off the bike loses time, if you’re able to ride a section that someone else has to walk or run, you’ll be quicker – even if you’re less fit. Cyclocross courses tend to include a number of technical features like dead turns, off camber sections and hurdles. Each of these features can be tackled differently but learning how you can get over them quickly will make a big difference. Learning how to take slippy corners faster will benefit you on the road too, off road skills develop on road skills considerably. 

One skill that will help is the ability to ride up steep banks. As riders become more fatigued, they’ll run or walk up these. If you’re able to ride them for the duration of the race it will allow you to save significant time on the competition. 


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Equipment choices matter more than power 

In a similar vein to skills, your equipment choices matter a lot too. I attempted to tackle two muddy races on a single cyclocross bike that had rim brakes, and while I do subscribe to the mantra that a ‘bad workman blames his tools’ I also believe my bike probably did hinder me. Having a spare bike and a pit crew will help, but this is not an option that’s open to everyone. 

If you’re racing cyclocross, having a drivetrain free from mud, a clean braking surface and the correct tyre pressure will mean you are able to gain time in the technical sections. When the bike is moving its slowest, you’re able to gain the most time. This is why it makes sense to center your equipment choices around the slower parts of the course. Cyclocross riders care a great deal about tyre pressure and tyre choice. Tips for selecting the correct tyre and pressure combination could make up a book, let alone a section of a blog but having a pair of tyres for muddy, moderate and dry conditions will set you up for much better results with no gains in fitness or skill.

photo credit: pasimages

Green means go! 

I’m lucky enough to know some excellent cyclists, one of which is Amy Perryman who has raced in the u23 European Championships for Great Britain in cyclocross. During the Southampton round of the wessex league, her mum shouted “Ride on the grass, green means go” to me and it made a huge difference. Grass is grip and if you see a patch of grass on a muddy course then make sure you ride on it! 

You’ll move faster on straight sections and be able to corner faster, especially if the course is particularly muddy. During cyclocross, grass is your friend! If you take just one thing from this blog, it should be this. Green means go!

Being a good runner helps 

This is one for the triathletes – it turns out that cyclists can’t really run. Being a good runner helps in cyclocross, especially if there’s sections of the course that everyone else has to run too. Being a fast runner doesn’t make up for lack of bike skills. If you’re running on sections that everyone else can ride, you’re probably going slower. Cyclists that specialize in cyclocross would do well to include some running in their training and this is commonly seen amongst the top cyclocross riders. Learning how to shoulder your bike will save you time in running sections too. 

photo credit: pasimages

Always ride a lap of the course 

In most forms of racing on the road, you can get away with not doing any recon lap and just learn as you go. This is not the case in cyclocross. Riding a lap of the course beforehand will help you select a good tyre pressure, inform your equipment choices and will help you decide which technical sections of the course to commit to running, and which you should ride. Losing time on the first lap due to lack of recon is going to damage your race prospects significantly. 

Cyclocross is amazing fun and I’d thoroughly recommend anyone to have a go. There are a number of lessons to learn and I wish I’d done a little bit more research and preparation before my first race. Hopefully, you can learn my lessons before your first attempt and you’ll get more out of your first race than I did in my DNF at Clanfield. If your local cycling club offers cyclocross training sessions, I’d recommend heading down and getting involved in one of these where you’ll be able to learn these tips outside of a race situation. 

Cyclocross does involve a bit of crashing, luckily due to the slow speeds and mud these are often without consequence but bikes do still break – give yourself peace of mind knowing that you are covered for CX racing as standard with a Pedalcover home and bike insurance policy which can be obtained by following this link to our website. 

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