Cyclocross is the polar opposite of regular cycle racing; it spurns smooth, predictable road surfaces for courses that include water, mud, obstacles and crazy zig-zagging bends, and its main season typically straddles Autumn and Winter, forcing riders to combat not only challenging terrain, but challenging weather conditions too. I got along to a race at Strathclyde Park (near East Kilbride) on Sunday 6th November.
Perhaps the image most closely associated with cyclocross is that of riders slinging bikes over their shoulders as they negotiate a particularly challenging section of the course on foot. There was certainly plenty of that at Strathclyde Park; a short but very steep section by an old bridge forced most riders to dismount. Those who somehow managed to make it to the top still in the saddle no doubt paid the price in muscle fatigue later in the race.
Obviously once you’ve got off the bike you have to get back on, and the re-mount techniques of some riders had the spectators whincing. Imagine the potential for pain and self-injury in the above maneouver! Such acrobatics weren’t needed for the other hill section in the course however; just an intense burst of acceleration in the lead up to the climb to build momentum, followed by sustained muscle-grinding action near the top.
The climbs in the course were balanced by some fast flat and downhill sections which gave the riders a chance for recovery and even brought smiles to some of their faces.
Rather than having a set number of laps, each race was all about notching up the maximum number of laps possible in the time allowed, which ranged from 10 minutes for young kids through to a full hour for the seniors. As the laps stacked up the riders became more familiar with the technically challenging sections of the course, but this was countered by ever increasing fatigue.
A variety of emotions were on the faces of the riders when they crossed the finish line for the last time. Some were still gritting their teeth, while others wore smiles of joy and relief. Tales of near accidents and burned out muscles were shared in the pit area, while those who had recovered sufficently got down to the unpleasant task of cleaning off their bikes in preparation for the next event.
There are more races in the Raleigh series to come this year, and one could be coming to a park near you. Keep an eye out for them and go along if you can; even if you’re not into cyclocross yourself it makes a great spectator sport!