I heard about this crazy type of bike racing called cyclocross last fall, spectated a couple races here in Alberta, and watched some races online like the US National Champs in Boulder and Cross Vegas. One year later, and pretty much just looking for an excuse to buy another bike, I decided to give cross a try.
(If you don’t know what cyclocross is, check out Behind the Barriers TV, produced by top American cyclocrosser, Jeremy Powers.)
About a month ago, I ended up with a Kona Jake the Snake and some shiny new Sidi mountain shoes (I thought I could just wear my tri shoes to try it out but I was quickly informed that tri shoes will not work for cx!) and was ready to hit the trails. Right. I am a triathlete through and through.
I don’t mountain bike, it’s too scary. I don’t like rocky paths. Or trees. Or descents. Hopping on and off a moving bike is terrifying.
My first “race” was a 20km single loop course in Nakusp, BC as part of the Kootenay Sufferfest. This is an excellent weekend of trail races that includes everything from a 10km trail run, to a mountain marathon, 40km and 100km mountain bike races, and a 3 day 200km “Loonie Toonie” trail ultra.
We had the option of a 40km loop but since I have no experience on trails I didn’t want to push my luck. The loop was a nice mixture of asphalt, gravel fire roads, and single track trails. I screamed my way through some rollers of loose sand, not used to the feeling of my rear wheel sliding out behind me. My heart rate responded nicely after 4 weeks of beer and poutine and I was able to really get my heart pumping on the ascents. But I had a BIG problem with the downhill section. Apparently on a mountain bike it’s no big deal but on a cross bike with no experience or confidence or suspension the descent was awful. After however-many-minutes of squeezing my brakes as hard as I could my hands and forearms couldn’t hold on any longer, and neither could my nerves. So instead of ending up as a crumpled pile of Lycra on the side of the trail, I got off my bike and walked down. I was so pleased with myself when I finally crossed the finish line, my first real off road bike race! And to top it all off, I won first place! (So what if I was the only female, and there were only 2 of us in the race. That’s the only way I ever get to win anything, so I’ll take it!)
At this point, I’ve done 3 “real” cross races and I can say I’m getting better every time! The cross season is really short in Alberta (well, every season in Alberta is short except for winter) and ends in the first week of November. The races pretty much alternate weekends between Edmonton and Calgary so these races are even bringing me back to a place (Edmonton) I never wanted to go back to and showing me I actually do have quite a soft spot for Etown. I’m trying my best to take advantage of the beautiful September weather and get out as much as I can.
In my first race in Edmonton I actually had a decent start off the line (I have photos to prove it!) but was immediately passed, within like 20m, by all the girls behind me. I actually liked being at the back because I wasn’t worried about holding anybody up or getting in anyone’s way. I know, not the typical cross mentality. I’m not used to sharp corners so my first lap was very slow and cautious but I totally improved through my 3 or 4 laps. The main problem was a big ascent and descent, mountain biking style. Standing at the top of this little trail heading straight down was like looking down a cliff. There was NO WAY I was even going to attempt to ride down the hill so instead, I shouldered my bike and walked/ran my butt down the hill each time. I guess that stuff just comes with experience and confidence, like on a ski hill, there’s (pretty much) nothing I can’t get down and not a lot scares me, but I’ve been skiing/snowboarding since I was 4. So at this rate, maybe in 30 years I’ll be able to go down a hill on my bike?! The one thing that allowed me to pass back a couple girls was that I have good fitness, and I like the pain of anaerobic efforts.
Race 2 was at the Airdrie pro rodeo grounds so there were no big hills but there were a couple kickers so I was actually able to ride the whole course! My big problem and where I lost a lot of time was over the barriers. This race I forced myself to do the moving dismount each lap, because I couldn’t do that in the first race! But I can’t for the life of me, figure out how to jump back on a moving bike, especially when I get tired. So I end up losing a bunch of time to all the girls in front of me and it’s hard to make that time up.
Race 3 was in the same location and on the same course, just in the opposite direction. I improved again, I’m getting better on the sharp corners and I didn’t even brake on one of the downhills! Small victories! The barriers were still a problem so that’s my next goal- to have a moving dismount and mount at the barriers each lap. The other big problem was a blister that developed on the palm of my right hand. It rubbed on every bump (and the whole course was a big bump) and hurt quite a bit. No, I wasn’t wearing gloves. I don’t like wearing gloves for tri or road, and the gloves I have I don’t like for cross. They feel like they move around too much and I can’t get a proper grip on the bars. But after this blister experience, I stopped at the bike shop and got a new pair of gloves, so hopefully they feel better.
I’m really enjoying the short, hard efforts and the challenge of forcing myself to do something that is totally out of my comfort zone. I feel like a total dweeb and I’m always at the back of the pack BUT I have “won” best dressed and best kit in every race, thanks to Betty Designs and SmashfestQueen. And we all know that’s really what matters most!