Every winter, a growing number of British cyclists and triathletes are swapping their mundane turbo sessions for something altogether more compelling. These chilly months around Christmas don’t need to be an ‘off season’ where you prepare for the summer. In fact for many, the cyclocross season can be the highlight of the calendar. With the close group racing, fantastically friendly and welcoming communities, and intense and at times, highly technical courses; cyclocross offers us an opportunity to embrace winter and have fun while we’re at it.
As I write this, it’s currently a measly 3 degrees Celsius outside and the National Cyclocross Championships are just days away so what better time to consider an introduction to the sport? Here’s our top 5 reasons we think you should consider cyclocross:
- It will help improve your bike handling skills
- It helps you to build strength and power
- It gets you off the busy roads and out into the countryside
- It’s a great all body workout
- It’s FUN – it’s like the cycling equivalent of jumping in puddles with your wellies on!
Many of us while away the winter months, searching for the motivation to pull our bikes out of the garage and get the training hours in. All too often, by the time we can finally put away our gloves and tights, our fitness is nowhere near where we promised ourselves it would be the previous autumn. But why bemoan winter cycling when we could be participating in some of the most exciting and challenging races of the year? It’s time to embrace the mud.
Usually run from September and throughout the winter, cyclocross sees large fields of riders take on 2 to 3 km laps from a massed start, over one hour of racing. With the relatively short duration of the races, the intensity is extremely high at the front, but the short lap length means even those of us struggling along in the middle or at the back can feel as though we are in the centre of the action. Nobody gets ‘dropped’ in cyclocross, perhaps contributing to the spirit of inclusiveness and the festival atmosphere it has become famous for.
A major hallmark is the inclusion of race obstacles, both natural and man made, added to mix up the race. If your bike handling skills are good then it’s likely quicker to bunny hop smaller obstacles like planks or logs, but the races are often designed to force riders off their bikes. If there is a staircase or steep sandy bank nearby, you can rest assured it will be incorporated into the course somehow, forcing riders to hop off, sling their bike over their shoulders, and run up on foot. Sections like these can split a group just as quickly as a thick boggy patch or technical banked corner, sapping energy and forcing riders to use muscle groups their training for other disciplines won’t always reach.
If you are looking to get into cyclocross for the first time, there are leagues all over the UK that you can get involved in. And we think all cyclists should be giving this great sport a go. You are no longer looking for excuses to put off training when it gets cold and wet, but rather throwing yourself headlong into the weather; revelling in the mud and the rain and the sweat. Rather than struggling away on the turbo in your garage a couple times a week, or feeling guilty that you haven’t had your bike out for almost a month, you will be sharing barely recognisable selfies of your thoroughly mud splattered face, and thinking about how a bit of training over the summer could pay off in time for the cyclocross season next winter.
Thinking of giving it a go? Cyclocross magazine have written a handy summary of what to consider if you’re a newbie.