I couldn’t stop staring at the cover of Velonews. The February 2009 edition had just been tossed in front of my while I sat munching a sandwich in my kitchen. The cover depicted a wet, slimy, muddy and yet intensely focused cyclist – I was completely captivated. What crazy sport was this? Cyclocross – what’s that? Road bikes in the mud? That’s just crazy.
Although… That guy is really having a good time. I wonder what it would be like to race cyclocross…
So, after the glow of Leadville was fading and Coach Colin suggested I look into the cyclocross scene, I said, “Hey, that’s a great idea.” Only, I didn’t have a CX bike, people to ride with or the faintest idea of how the sport really works. But still, I thought about that guy in the Velonews cover.
My two closest riding partners both have road, mountain and track bikes. I tried in vain to piqué their interest in giving CX a try. Nope. I can’t get the Descenders to get on their mountain bikes, much less give Cross a second thought. I signed up for a local cyclocross clinic and made myself go even though I didn’t want to after my buddy bailed on me.
The clinic (put on by SoCalCross) was perfect. I was able to borrow a Cross bike and spent some time learning how to get on and off the bike – yeah, I thought I knew that already too. Getting on and off fluidly is important as you run up stairs, jump barriers, etc. It’s key to keep your momentum going and not actually stop.
We practiced carrying our bikes and running up hills with a bike on our backs – then it was time for a few practice laps. They had set up a micro-course around the soccer field and we toured it twice to get a feel for the barriers, sharp turns, run-ups, etc. My favorite feature was a 90-degree turn at the bottom of a steep hill.
After the second practice lap, we re-grouped for a mini-race. We lined up, someone yelled go and we were off. I was immediately “Game On!” – completely electric as we hit the first turns. I’m familiar with criterium racing so I tried to stay in the lead group. We got to my favorite turn and I became convinced it would be impossible to make the 90-degree turn at speed. I had to decide whether to overcook the corner and roll off the course or just go for it. I decided that crashing wouldn’t be so bad on grass so I just turned as hard as I could, in a pack of 6 or 7 guys (and a few gals). I made the turn, but fell back a little.
The second race lap was more fluid although I really screwed the barriers up and had to hammer like hell to get back to the leaders. It all got strung out in the last bits, but I finished somewhere in the top third, I’m sure.
Can you tell I had fun? It was a BLAST! Cyclocross is the sport you’d pick if you were nine years old. It would go something like, “Road races makes baseball look fun and forget about the track – please, round and round all day? Mountain biking sounds kinda cool, but what about those guys over there playing in the mud and jumping fences with their bikes? I wanna do that!”
While joining by buddies on the track would be practical, I just had no passion for it – I had to make cyclocross happen. And I did. In short order, I got a great deal on a Cross bike, connected with several local CX racers and got invited to a weekly local Cross workout. And now I have 6 CX races on my calendar between here and December.
My first cyclocross race is Sunday, wish me luck!