Many years ago, before media was instant, cycling magazines ruled the content and news of our sport. As a keen young cyclist, the regular news hit of the English magazine, the Cycling Weekly, was my flavour of choice. To think today that our only source of information was a weekly English magazine sea freighted to the colonies, would be unbelievable to some. I remember when I received my first pay from a part time job, toying with the idea of investing in a 12-month air freight subscription, which would have had made me the envy of my training group, but I didn’t. Why not? cyclo cross.
My world revolved around track in the summer, and road in the winter. Mountain bikes hadn’t hit the ground and the closest thing to off road was a kid’s bike getting trashed by a 10-year-old in a muddy sports field. The thought of air freighting the 3 months of winter magazines full of cyclo cross, that I wouldn’t buy anyway, shut the idea down. No one talked cyclo cross, it was a freak show that happened when the Europeans and the crazy Brits had no road racing on and could barely go outside. Grim looking photos of miserable days out in appalling weather, covered in mud, with touring bikes (so I thought) slung over their shoulders running. It will never take off down here, where we can ride all seasons.
Two weeks ago PEDALIT sponsored a round of the Victorian CX Series, the Kings Cross at Sam Miranda vineyard, in the King Valley. After 35 years of cycling I was going to my first cross race. Like most cyclists, I had heard that cyclo cross had built a following, and imagined a hardy group of enthusiasts, like people who race model aeroplanes or cars, were going to ride around in the mud for the day, in a form of battle re-enactment of what happens in Europe. Wrong.
I raced my first road and track race in 1981, first mountain bike race in 1989, first triathlon in 2007 and in 2017, I will race my first cyclo cross race. At the risk of sounding like the last guy to get it, at least I got there eventually, I get it.
As I wandered the tight scenic Sam Miranda Vineyard course, I was immediately jealous of the physical effort, skills and genuine competition riders of all ages and abilities were enjoying. As a rider told me later in the day, “In cyclo cross you are racing the person just ahead and just behind you, you are always in a race”. Unlike road racing where you are either competitive with your group or blown out the back, cyclo cross riders still enjoy a race with whatever fitness they can muster for the day or where they are in the field. And races are short, so the barriers to compete are lower, a few hours training a week has you on the line, a racer.
Then when you get on the line you are more likely to have the support of friends and family, as it is great to watch with numerous vantage points. And if you see you loved ones fall off, its generally in mud and puddles, not on hard tarmac or rocks, which is great for riders as they pick themselves up and go, as well as make it to work on Monday.
At the front of the race the competition is tough, top riders, awesome skills, intense effort and a race that plays out like a 5-hour classic, all within an hour and right in front of a barracking crowd. Then there is the crowd. Riders who have finished earlier races, beer in hand socialise and encourage, loudly, everyone and anyone out on the course, and chant for a finish line display of skill, to be met with loud cheers. This is the sort of race culture that is driving people of all ages to the sport, and will continue to do so, this is not a fad.
Then throw in how much work it takes to put a road race on today, and the miles from anywhere we race. With cyclo cross, find some paddock or park and get to work. Central, local and no expensive road management, or pissed off local drivers. It’s a great mix of ease of access for competitors and spectators, and low local impact.
So 2017 I am racing some mountain bike and cyclo cross races. For me road takes too much time to achieve the level where I get what I am looking for, competitive participation and enjoyment. I have never really enjoyed being dropped off my group in a road race, to me it feels like a failure, no matter how many ways you try to convince yourself otherwise. So for me I look for events where you pick your goal for the day and create your own success, and get off the bike with a glow and buzz.
I simply cannot wait to get out and join the cyclo cross crowd. It only took 35 years.
And the best news for me, I get to buy a new bike. The bad news for you, I reckon I will ride in a skin suit.
PEDALIT are proud sponsors of Paul Van Der Ploeg + James Downing – CX, MTB and Road.