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Guest blog: Doc Ed takes to cyclocross like a….

Written by Fiona December 02 2010

My newest guest blogger Doc Ed (another Glasgow Tri Club pal) has decided that this winter he’ll be keeping fit by cyclocrossing. Put simply, cyclocross is the sport of off-road cycling but on bikes that look more like road racers than mountain bikes.Cyclocrossers do laps of a usually very muddy course.

These pics give you an idea of what’s involved:

Yes, Doc Ed is a touch mad. Yes, he did feel the urge to buy another new bike. Yes, he did seem to love taking part in his first ever truly bonkers cyclocross event. Here is his write-up:

Doc Ed: Cyclocross may be one of the more unusual bike racing disciplines, but has got a straightforward honesty to it that can’t be matched in the relatively controlled arena of road racing. The simplest description would be as a bike version of steeple chasing – the course is mostly off road and can include such diverse surfaces as grass, mud, sand and water (some races pass through streams). It is a requirement that some of the course is unrideable and so bikes must be pushed or carried instead.

Laps are run over a short course that takes around seven minutes for the fastest riders and the winner is the person that completes the most laps in an hour and crosses the line first. It’s a great format and allows a diverse range of abilities to compete on the same route, the only possible problem is with leaders getting held up by backmarkers. As one of the latter I was rather wary of finding out how this worked in practice as I lined up for my first event at Strathclyde Park, Glasgow.

Waiting for the race to start I’d had a brief practise of dismounting and remounting the bike at a run – the best way of keeping speed up over the two small fences designed to force even the most accomplished riders off their bike. This brief trial taught me my first lesson of the day:

* Cyclocross courses are slippery and I couldn’t get nearly enough grip out of my tyres.

No matter, part of the attraction was the opportunity to learn how to manoeuvre the bike at speed with a soft landing provided by the ever-abundant mud should I overcook things.

This is how the race went: I joined the other 50 riders at the start and was pleased to see that the hardest looking cases were getting arranged onto a starting grid. I waited safely towards the back of the field, the gun went off and we were away. Getting the bike started over the wet grass with a touch too much excitement and I ended up in a wheelspin. Sadly a case of too little grip rather than too much power and the experts are quickly away out of sight, whilst I get into an enjoyable scrap with some of the other slower riders. I pass them on the flat and smooth parts of the course and they come screaming past me on the descents where I fail to dampen my survival instincts and use my brakes.

The course has a fair amount of climb, but I’m surprised by the energy I’m using freewheeling downhill. The bumps and mud mean that before long my arms and back are hurting even more than my lungs just from trying to keep the bike under some degree of control while freewheeling. After a couple of laps I’m starting to get a bit more confidence, and fancy my chances on a slightly tricky technical steep slope down a few feet into a ditch and steeply up the other side. A small crowd had gathered to watch this feature in the expectation of slapstick cycling.

It was definitely rideable, but I’d had to push on my first two attempts. On the third I almost made it back up the other side but didn’t quite have enough momentum, the back wheel span and I had a slow topple sideways. Watching friends gave me some encouragement so on my fourth lap I decided to give it some stick, and fired in with speed that would definitely have got me over the rise if my front wheel hadn’t bedded in against a root hidden in the mud at the bottom of the ditch. Jamming a front wheel at speed has only one outcome: I fired myself straight over the handlebars and stuck the top of my head into the mudbank.

No laughter and a couple of concerned comments before someone shouted “check your chain”, which was my cue to regain focus, remember I was meant to be moving, remount and push on.

I had a quick stock take and realised that my vision wasn’t quite right. After I’d wiped away the mud that I’d collected under the rim of the helmet it was much better and I got on with the rest of the race. I never did manage to ride up the other side of that bank, and had slightly bent my left hand, but got on with enjoying the rest of the race .

Another couple of laps down and I was absolutely cooked, there seemed to be no let up in the effort at all and as the course got further cut up, the mud seemed to be simultaneously stickier and slippier. I’d never experienced a two-wheel slide on a bike before, on the road it would surely be followed by a crash, but it seems straightforward on a cyclocross race. Straightforward and alarming, but manageable in some bizarre way.

The lack of grip, combined with fading fitness, meant that my running dismounts for the jumps had slowed to a stop. In fact my oxygen starved brain was having trouble remembering how to get off the bike at all. Despite all of this I managed to complete the hour and didn’t come last and hadn’t held up the experts who came flying past. Normally I wouldn’t enjoy being lapped, but in this case it meant I could see how it should be done. When national level cyclists come past riding up a muddy 45-degree slope that I was struggling to push my bike up then I didn’t mind at all.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable event, superbly organised and very welcoming to a novice. I’m already hatching plans to improve on my 38th place.

Thanks Doc Ed. I once had a go at cyclocross and didn’t finish. So you’re a better cyclist than me! I want to see some pics of you!

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