As a road rider and occasional mountain biker, cyclocross always seemed alien, expensive, and tricky to break into. I met a chap at the new job who rode cyclocross with KruisCX, and following their advice I joined their gang, got myself a USAC Racing License, grabbed a Cannondale CAADX, and that very same day I got knocked off my bloody bike, leading me to miss most of the season.
Well that was back in October, and the last race of the season was December 18th. I couldn’t face missing all of the races, so despite the loony weather, a complete lack of training, I decided to sign up and throw myself around the track for a laugh.
I had two lofty goals for my first cyclocross race:
- Don’t finish last
- Don’t knock anyone over
The ride was last weekend, Dec 18th, and it was a massive laugh. Just west of New Haven, CT, the weather was a balmy 8°C (46°🇺🇸), but the snow from the night before hadn’t cleared. Warned to “watch out for brown mud, and white mud”, we shot off, and the next 30 seconds was a big old blur.
I’ve got a fair bit of experience cycling in the snow, having a MTB here in NYC so I can continue the commute year-round. I normally let the air out of the tyres and take it a bit slower, but that’s all very different from racing against a pile of other people, clipped in, with sharp turns all over the place.
The pack soon shot off, and it ended up being quite a solo ride for the next three laps.
By the end of the first lap, I realized a few mistakes:
Firstly, winter riding gear is too much for winter racing, even if its cold as fuck. Having the top over the skinsuit, and a beanie under the helmet, was absolute overkill. I tried taking the top off on the starting line but panicked about losing the race number, and tried taking the beanie off but then the helmet didn’t fit (I’d removed some padding).
These terrible clothing choices led to me shedding accessories around the track like a chav throwing McDonalds wrappers out of a moving vehicle. I got everything back, but now with a wobbly helmet and no race number.
The second huge mistake was not adjusting my SPD pedals to be tighter. What works for road does not work for CX. I was doing a lot of sliding around out there, and a lot more of it should have been recoverable, but every time my feet turned a few degrees I was out! If you’re stood up when your foot comes free, you can land on some squishy bits that nature has not evolved to handle sudden impact…
With my cleats coming free so often, I had my feet down too much, which led to my MTB-style racing shoes being full of snow/ice. That in turn made clipping back in a nightmare! I’m not sure I’d want race-style shoes (smooth as a babies bottom), but I doubt MTB-style shoes will work for snow.
Both the outfit choice and the pedal tightness are easily solvable for the next race, and despite those setbacks I had a massive laugh at this event.
What made me chuckle was my British politeness flaring up. Riding in packs is not new to me, and racing is not new to me, but pack racing really is. Normally when I’m this close to folks we’re working together in peloton formation, following obvious lines, signaling our moves, etc.
Whilst this certainly wasn’t cut-throat stuff (most people were communicating for overtakes), more than a few times I found myself apologizing for being in somebodies way, when I was certainly not at fault. Gonna have to work on that bit.
Anyway, the results! The race was Cat 4 and 5 combined (the “bottom” two categories). Out of the 35 riders that started, 32 finished, and I was 29th!
I did it! I wasn’t last, and I didn’t knock anyone over.
Here it is on Strava if you’re interested.
Since busting my heel I’ve had the laziest two months of my life. I stopped swimming, and I have barely ridden other than running UberEATs deliveries and a few 20 milers out to see my girlfriend in Long Island.
This race was a great welcome back to the horse, and despite falling off a bajillion times around that track I’m fucking excited, I have the cyclocross bug, and I’ve been out to some single track in Bethpage Park (Queens) to practice already.