Ever wondered what cyclo-cross was all about?


Cyclo-Cross racing, which is often referred to simply as ‘Cross or CX, mostly takes place in Autumn and Winter.  The international  season is September to January, with local races held most weekends right through to February. The races are short and usually are held rain or shine, everyone from beginner to pro is welcomed and encouraged, the atmosphere is casual and friendly and you'll be made to feel welcome.


Typically, the massed start races are shorter than road or mountain bike races, about 40 minutes for women and are run over multiple laps of short (1.5 to 3 km), technical and mostly grassy courses.  A race may include sections of road, path, wooded trails, grass, short steep hills and artificial obstacles (usually wooden boards), which require the rider to quickly dismount and carry the bike, whilst navigating the obstruction and then remount again, all in one smooth motion. 


Develop some great bike handling skills


There are parallels with mountain biking and road / criterium racing and many of the best cyclo-cross riders also train and race in other cycling disciplines.  There are many skills used in cyclo-cross including cornering,riding cambers, running, accelerations, descending, explosive starts and good bike handling in often wet and slippery conditions.


Cyclo-cross demands good endurance fitness as well as power and stamina, the running and bike lifting gives you a good all-body workout too. Of course, the ability to switch smoothly and quickly from riding to running, in one fluid motion is a key skill that is learned as riders become more practiced. Dismounting and remounting is often done on the move and it's pretty impressive to watch a pro at work here.


As a training tool or winter cross training, you'll be hard pressed to find another sport that will push your anaerobic  conditioning, agility and power training to the next level, especially at a time of year notoriously difficult for this type of training.  


Generic CX jumping

Photograph courtesy of Dennis Sackett - for more great cycling photos www.dgs-photography.co.uk


 Cyclo-cross bike facts


Cyclo-cross bikes need to be light, because riders will need to carry them over obstacles and up steep slopes.  On first sight, they look similar to road racing bicycles; the lightweight frames have drop handle bars and narrow tires.  However, on closer inspection, you will notice that they have knobby tires, similar to those used on mountain bikes, which give them better grip in the ‘off road’ conditions.


In fact the frame geometry is quite different to that of a road bike, mainly due to the higher bottom bracket which allows for better clearance for the pedals and makes it easier to pedal over rough ground.


Frames are built with an emphasis on strength, to cope with the stresses of riding at speed off road.  In addition, a clean and wide triangle is required to allow the bike to be carried over the shoulder, so bottle cages and pumps tend not to be catered for and gear/brake cabling is routed so as to avoid interference and discomfort when the bike is being carried.


In addition, they tend to have lower gears than road bikes and the forks and frames have greater clearances to prevent them clogging with mud.  The brakes are also different to road bikes - they tend to use powerful cantilever style brakes, which again give good clearance for the typically muddy conditions the races are held in. Mountain bike SPD pedals and cleats are often used for their reliability, easy mud shedding and recessed cleat position.


Such are the typical conditions, that riders are allowed to change bicycles and receive mechanical assistance during the race.  In fact, many will have more than one bike and while they are out on the course clogging one with mud, they will have a pit crew working to clean or repair the other one.


Cyclo-cross kit


Overall the clothing worn is very similar to that of road or XC racing, with an emphasis on warmth.  However, it is usual for mountain bike shoes with toe studs to be used, because they allow for best traction when running with the bike, or jumping over obstacles.


If you're attempting your first cyclo-cross race don't wrap up too warm, you'll be surprised how hot you get and the amount of heat generated in this highly aerobic race form. Don't wear white either, you'll be pretty muddy by the end of the first lap, and no amount of Persil will get that sorted - we've tried.


You're likely to have a tumble if it's muddy and the last thing you want are gloves restricting your bar control and setting you up for another roll in the brown stuff. Either carry a spare pair of gloves or get your support or a friendly spectator to have some to hand. Another useful tip is to try waterproof socks, they are a little bulky but if you suffer from cold feet keeping them dry is half the battle.


The riders


In the UK, our number one 'cross rider, Helen Wyman, is also very strong on the road, but this year she is likely to be challenged for the National Cyclo-Cross title by Annie Last, a mountain biker on the Olympic Academy Programme.


Helen regularly places in the top 10 in the Cyclo-Cross World Cups and her best result at a World Championships was 5th in 2006.  She is currently ranked 6th in the world and is looking for a record-equalling 5th consecutive Cyclo-Cross National title this year.  If she is successful she will go into the record books with Caroline Alexander, who won the title from 1994 to 1998.


Helen is much more than just a cyclo-cross rider, she's based in Belgium and has spent the last four years riding for professional women’s road teams and has also represented GB on many occasions, including the Road World Championships.


Please note the date for the National Cyclo-Cross Championships has been postponed until 6-7th February – more details here.



HW Fat Birds

Photograph courtesy of Dennis Sackett - for more great cycling photos www.dgs-photography.co.uk



Full details of the results of the National Trophy Series can be found here  Cyclo Cross National Series

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