By Rebecca Gross
It’s that time of year, when cooler air starts to slip into your hot summer day. You begin to wish you had brought arm warmers, as you head home from an evening spin. While you feel a sliver of disappointment that summer is nearly over, it’s compensated for by that little thrill that cyclocross is just getting started.
Cyclocross is the perfect fall sport. The training rides can be shorter and more intense, keeping you warm in the cooler weather. The courses are more compact and close to civilization, so it’s no big deal to get dirty and wet; a change of clothes awaits you at the finish line. There is generally no need to eat, drink or carry anything with you during a cyclocross race, which is one less thing to be stressed about at the start line. And best of all, what could be better than joining hundreds of your best spandex-clad friends for donut and whiskey hand-ups ... with no second thought given to the question of “should I?”
The mentality for a cyclocross race is simple: go as hard as you can. Transitioning from a summer of mountain biking (or road racing for skinny tire folks) can be a challenge. The good news is that the endurance from your long summer rides will pay off as you transition to high-paced cyclocross. And taking on this new challenge will keep you from getting bored.
There are three areas to focus on for a smoother transition: equipment, fitness, and focus.
Equipment: Your cross bike, you know, the one that sat in the garage since last season, likely needs a little TLC. The bearings, tires, brakes, and drivetrain probably need some extra attention. Be sure to give your bike a few rides before race day so that you are comfortable that everything is in good repair. Taking your bike for a spin will also help get you used to the lower front end (more aggressive in the corners) and narrower tires (less forgiveness) again if you've been spending most of your rides on a mountain bike.
Fitness: Cyclocross fitness requires more up-front intensity coupled with the ability to hold on to the finish line. Your overall ride durations can decrease while your pace increases. Remember: shorter isn’t easier. Adding some running can be helpful, especially running stairs or steep trails. Also don’t forget to stay on top of a solid core routine. You will need that for the transitions, when you go from full-gas on the bike with your back flexed to running upright and lifting.
Focus: After a summer of barreling through the woods, honing your speed and flow, suddenly someone has abruptly interrupted your peaceful oblivion by placing obstacles on the course. Even more disturbing, you need to approach and tackle these while accelerating in order to be competitive. This has caught me off guard on more than a few occasions, as I settle in to give it everything I’ve got and then promptly forget I need to dismount. To counter this, always pre-ride to get familiar with the course. And remember to keep your head up, looking forward at what is in front of you. Last but not least ... practice, practice, practice so that every movement can be smooth and fluid. Cyclocross races are generally won by the person who maintains their speed the best, even when running or hauling a bike over barriers.
With equipment, fitness and focus (paired with good nutrition and rest), you should have no trouble joining the growing crowd posting #crossiscoming to Instagram. In the worst of the fall weather, nothing compares to cyclocross as a motivator to get out there and ride.
If you need a few more pointers, look for beginner clinics and practice sessions in your area. Cyclocross is a fun, inclusive sport and many people are happy to help you get started.
You can follow Rebecca at www.rebeccasgross.com and @rebeccasgross on Twitter and Instagram.