The rumors are true: Cyclo-Cross is hard, technical and fast, requires special equipment, a strong cyclist who is a good runner, and it’s fun. Best of all, no matter how much running a course may offer, ‘cross races are still bike races, and only skilled racers have a chance to win. What athlete wouldn’t want to be part of that combination?
Usually, races are held on a grassy loop, no longer than a few miles, with a few short road or dirt road sections. There are numerous sections where riders must dismount to run over man-made barriers placed around the course. Mud and slippery conditions are very common, and the best courses are serpentine loops that give spectators plenty of entertainment and challenge riders with steep, short hills and sharp, technical corners.
During a race, the field will do a few loops so that officials can calculate their lap times. Shortly thereafter, racers are told how many laps they must race. Officials make these adjustments so that races are of a consistent duration.
Cyclo-Cross from fall through winter, a time of year when most cyclists have hung up the bike for a while. But the “off-season” is actually a time for cyclists to add and improve skills, power, bike handling and technical awareness, while maintaining cardiovascular fitness, and cyclo-cross is a great way to do all these things. Cyclo-cross requires you to ride hard on skinny tires in less-than-ideal conditions, make split-second decisions on which gear to push and whether to ride or run; every little mistake costs you energy. Imagine how much more efficient an athlete you’ll be on mud-free roads or comfy fat tires once you’ve mastered the intricacies of cyclo-cross. Here are a few of the benefits cyclo-cross can provide:
- Cardiovascular fitness. Depending on your category, a cyclo-cross race can be thirty minutes to an hour in duration. You will probably hit your threshold within 10 minutes after you start; you’ll also go anaerobic many times, requiring you to back off and recover. Just think of the fitness you’ll carry into your road or mountain-bike season.
- Strength. When you try to ride across a soggy meadow, you are fighting more rolling resistance than you could ever dreamed was possible. When you ride or run short, steep hills that seem to get longer every lap, you are essentially doing strength intervals. Think how easy that next criterium’s slight sprinter’s hill will seem.
- Bike handling. Drop bars, 700c wheels and skinny tires are not everyone’s idea of off-road equipment. After a few hair-raising two-wheel drifts into a corner at 30kph, you will learn the fastest way to corner; when to use (or not use) the brakes and how to position your body to give you optimum control. Next road race, when a jumpy peloton is strung out in the gutter and you are bumped into the dirt, chances are you will ride right back into the paceline without incident. As for mountain bikers, once you’ve learned how to keep skinny tires on the ground, you’ll be flying once you get back on those fat knobbies.