Cyclocross: A Newbie’s Account.

Cyclocross: A Newbie’s Account.
7 February 2016 Janine

A member of Bristol Rowing Club and seasoned cyclist,  Jess Hambly is no stranger to racing – but in the brutal sport of cyclocross she is a beginner. Here she reveals all on her foray into the mad, muddy, savage world of cyclocross.

Jess Cyclocross Triathlove

Photo by Rich Lewton

Cyclocross was established in the 19th Century as a way for professional road riders to train during the winter months. In 2016, it’s enjoying continued growth.
Men and women receive equal prize money in America and Belgium in the sport, thanks to lengthy campaigning from Britain’s cross star; Helen Wyman, who’s now also campaigning for equal race length.

In Jess’s race at the Western Cyclocross League in January, women made up just 4%. Here, she explains why we should all give it a go.

Ok, I’m a total newbie. What’s the 101 on Cyclocross?

“I think of cyclocross as a kind of cross country race but with cross bikes (chunky road bikes built for mud). If you’re considering it, just do it! It’s really fun and not as intimidating as it first sounds.”

How did you get into CX?

“I love cycling and road riding but have very little off-road experience. I went to watch a few cross races and decided it looked fun! So I got my hands on a cross bike, and after a couple of laps of the local park, decided to give racing a go.”

What’s the race format?

“Last week’s race was 2km laps for around 50 minutes. It had sections of grass, tarmac, gravel, a lot of mud and a couple of short stairways. Other races might include sand, hurdles, woods, streams and other delights! Everyone races at the same time – so the senior men go off, and then the vets and women as there was no specific women’s race, but. It’s a bunch start, which is actually a lot less manic than I had expected, and you soon thin out.”

How muddy is ‘muddy’?

“I’ve done two races now and both have been extremely muddy, as in… totally, utterly, everything caked in mud! On the first race my wheels kept getting very heavy, so I stopped to wipe off some mud. Unfortunately they were also caked in dog poo, which I realised when I wiped some sweat off my face – and then had to spend the next 45 minutes inhaling the most vile fumes. I think that is my number one cyclocross war story – it will stay with me as long as I live!”

How many women were there?

“Both times I raced there were three other women (around 4%). The fact that there aren’t really any women doing it is quite off-putting, and it’s really hard work which makes it intimidating. Plus there is a lack of awareness about what it involves – for example, I was worried about all the getting on and getting off my bike, falling off, looking like an idiot, getting in people’s way and getting shouted at by ‘serious’ racers – but actually, none of those things mattered at all!

I am used to competing in single-sex competitions so it definitely feels very different racing alongside a lot of men, but it was really fun and everyone was friendly.”

Tell me about carrying bikes…

“You might have to carry your bike up a section of stairs or over hurdles or some other kind of obstacle. Often the mud is just so thick, or the banks so slippy, that there is no point trying to ride. It’s up to you to decide whether to pedal through or get off and run with your bike.”

How hard is it?

“It’s savage! I do a lot of sport, but cyclocross is a killer. It’s just very intense, your lungs and heart are working all-out and at the same time it demands a lot of skill and concentration in terms of your bike handling. Racing cross has made me realise i’m actually not very fit and not a very good bike rider, haha!”

How was your race?

“It was very wet with thick cloud – visibility of just a few metres. The course was extremely wet and muddy! It got worse as the race went on, which was actually kind of fun – there was a lot of slipping and sliding.  I lost track of how many times someone went down in front of me.”

Ok I’m tempted. I need a special bike though, right?

“Most people do race on cross bikes which looks like a chunky road bikes with drop bars, space for wider tyres, more clearance between tyres and frame, often with disc brakes – but I’ve seen a lot of people racing on mountain bikes and that is absolutely fine, especially if you’re just starting out or giving it a go!”

What’s next for you?

“That’s me done for the season but I plan to keep up my cross riding in the woods alongside my other training – and I definitely plan to race the summer league! See you  on the start line!”

// Check out Bike Radar’s Six Reasons Why cyclocross is Good for You.
// Read an excellent article on Women in cross from The Guardian.
// Cyclo-cross training plans from British Cycling.

(c) Triathlove 2016 | Want to share your story? Get in touch.

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