As someone who barely squeaked into the Top 40 in the overall standings of the SoCal Cross Prestige Series Single Speed B category, I am now staring down the barrel of a long and lonely offseason. Sure, I could use this time to devise and enact a training program to propel myself into the stratospheric heights of Category A mediocrity but considering I’m now a more decorated cyclist than Johan Bruyneel, I feel my energies could be better directed towards coaching up and coming cross racers.
As a favor to you, dear and loyal reader, I offer the first glimpse at what will surely become the authoritative tome of all things cyclocross.
When you reach the end, print this out and keep it on your person at all times. Then, when the first leaves of fall land softly on the ground and your riding companions start discussing cyclocross, pull it out and reread it.
It could save your life.
Or at least make you aware of the grave dangers that lurk ahead.
The first rule of cyclocross- DO NOT DO CYCLOCROSS.
Granted, a billion people live in Southern California but the fact that the once obscure single speed category is now split into two divisions with so many racers that fishing in the top 40 of the loser division is borderline respectable, there is no better sign that ‘cross is officially a mainstream sport. If you think you can get into CX and be a winner due to lack of participation, sorry. You missed the boat. If you hurry, there might be time to get into bike polo before it’s an Olympic sport in 2024.
If reading that first rule served no other purpose than stoking the competitive fire burning in the depths of your belly, congratulations.
You have what it takes to be a ‘cross racer.
The new first rule of cyclocross- Compete in the lowest category possible.
It can’t be sandbagging if you’ve never done it before. Just because you’re a Cat 2 on the road doesn’t mean you shouldn’t jump in and start winning Cat 4 races. And even then you’ll have plenty of chances to curb stomp the lowly competition for weeks before The Man at the USA Cycling forces you to upgrade. This could be your only shot to be a winner and if it’s there, you better take it.
The second rule of cyclocross- Don’t train for cyclocross.
File tread or knobby? Canti’s or Mini V’s? Brake levers Euro Style to save precious milliseconds coming into a dismount? Double or single ring? Water or no water? Tubeless or tubular? These are just a few of the conundrums you’ll be dwelling over in the days between races leaving you without enough time left in the day to actually train. Don’t worry. Success in ‘cross is all about proper equipment selection. Your fellow competitors know this and as such, they too will be relying on the superior fitness they attained over the summer months. Trust me. That 110 mile ride you did in July will totally help you in October.
The third rule of cyclocross- If you don’t have good bike handling skills, line up on the front row.
No element of a ‘cross race is more critical than the start. Since field will be peppered with a mix of roadies and mountain bikers, it is important to know which group you most identify with. If you haven’t been on a mountain bike since the early ‘90’s, plan on fighting your way into a front row slot. While your superior leg strength can give you a nice hole shot, the varying and bumpy terrain will negate any advantage provided by your fast twitch muscles. Even to a mountain biker with below average skills, a ‘cross race is literally a ride in the park. They will pick lines and take corners in ways you’ve never dreamed of. Your best chance of success is to get in front of them and ride as skittishly as possible, leaving them no room to pass. If all goes well they will get bored by the second lap and head back for the hills from which they came.
The fourth rule of cyclocross- Tell your Significant Other the barriers are the absolutely worst place to watch a race unfold.
Posting up at the barriers is actually a great spot to watch but this rule is in the books on the off chance your SO’s first glimpse of cyclocross in person is of you tripping over the barriers face first and getting trampled by those behind you. I swear I am not speaking from experience. It totally happened to another guy.
The fifth and final rule of cyclocross- Prepare to be embarrassed and shamed worse than the scenario outlined in rule number four.
This, I will own up to only because there is documented proof floating around the internet. In the span of one month, I managed to be ridiculed by the Bike Snob (the PowerTap having single speed wheel was an unfortunate by product of rule number 2) and had no fewer than 34 people email me a rather lovely photo of myself face down in trash can. No doubt about it, no matter how slow you go ‘cross is the hardest thing you can do on two wheels. Sometimes it’s so hard you’ll find yourself exorcising the remnants of Thanksgiving dinner. My only advice for when that happens, try to find a nice smelling trash can. I hit the jackpot and found one that was full of empty Starbucks cups which made for a rather pleasant barfing experience.
See you in the starting grid. You only have eight months left to not train.