What the heck is… cyclo-cross?
Cyclo-cross racer, Clare Beaumont, shares the ‘dirt’ on the world’s fastest-growing cycling event
So, tell us about this cyclo-cross business…
In a nutshell, cyclo-cross is a cycle race that last up to 60 minutes, where you mess about in the mud on a bike that looks like a racing bike.
Cyclo-cross races typically take place in the autumn and winter months (October - February) because there is easier access to mud. They usually consist of many laps of a short (2.5 - 3.5km) course featuring a blend of terrains (wooded trails, grassy fields, paved segments - you name it) and obstacles.
These obstacles require you to quickly dismount, put the bike on your shoulder, navigate aforementioned obstacles, then remount and resume riding / racing.
It looks insane. Is it?
It’s a heart-pumping, snot, mud and spit fest, where you feel a little bit scared and A LOT exhilarated. Everyone should give it a go.
How did it start?
No-one knows how cyclo-cross became a sport, although rumour has it that French racers, some time in the 1900s (probably drunk on strong beer brewed by monks), used to race each other from town to town using shortcuts through farmers’ fields. This was allegedly a way for them to stay in shape during the off season.
Then, after a stylishly moustached rider named Octave Lapize blamed his 1910 Tour de France win on a season of cyclo-cross, the sport spread across Europe.
Today, the French and Belgium riders still dominate, but Brits and Yanks have started grabbing podium spots.
How muddy do you actually get?
It really depends how many times you fall off and what the weather has been like. Earlier this month I raced the Women’s World Masters. The paths and trails were quite dry as it hadn’t rained much and I didn’t get muddy at all.
It was a VERY different story in Namur, Belgium, however. Because the frost on the ground had melted away, the grass had turned into a full-on mudfest. I have NEVER been so muddy.
What physical and mental attributes do you need to get involved?
You just need a have-a-go mentality. No-one really cares where you come or how you do. It’s about getting stuck in and enjoying it.
Do you have to be a good runner?
Nah, if you’re a good runner, stick to winning ParkRuns. Most of the time you’ll be riding the course, so the running bits are sporadic and short.
What about the kit and bike? What do I need
Proper cyclo-cross bikes generally resemble road bikes, but they have easier gearing and knobbly tyres. The crucial difference in terms of frame is with the tyre clearance, which has been engineered to limit the effect of all that mud. Cables are also generally routed on the upper side of the top tube so that you can carry the bike on your shoulder and not interfere with the too much.
If you just want to have a go, you could ride a mountain bike… or any bike, really. I once saw someone riding a hybrid for cross. They removed their rack before the race, then fitted it again to ride home.
When it comes to what to wear, because the cyclo-cross is an Autumn / Winter pursuit, you wear deep-winter road bike gear.
The big change is when it comes to your feet. Make sure you use mountain bike shoes or even trainers. These help when you have to get off and run up a muddy mound, say.
Who are the current heroes of cyclo-cross and why?
There are lots of up-and-coming cyclo-cross riders, but if I had to pick a handful, I would mention Nikki Brammier, a British rider who has just launched MUDIIITA, a team and academy to inspire British cyclo-cross talent.
For years Helen Wyman has been campaigning for equal prize money and equality in cyclo-cross. Her Twitter feed is hilarious.
Young rider Evie Richards became world champion in the under 23 competition in 2016 and recently beat several professionals in her World Cup debut this year.
And PFP (aka Pauline Ferrand-Prevot) did some crazy riding in 2015 and won the road, cyclocross and mountain world championships in the same year. She got a diamond in her tooth to celebrate.
How can I follow all things cyclo-cross in the UK?
That’s actually a really tough question. There isn’t a central hub for intel.
British Cycling doesn’t have a huge interest in the sport as it’s not an Olympic discipline and most people do cyclo-cross to stave off the Christmas bulge.
Saying that, the UCI YouTube channel has live coverage and highlights of the World Cup series.
What would I need to do to give it a go?
A working shower at home. Other than that, no real training is required.
There are tons of local leagues if you fancy giving racing a go and races are usually £15. You will need a racing license to take part, although you can pay £3 for an on-the-day membership.
If racing seems a bit much, there are lots of organised rides where you take on a marked route that’s usually along bridlepaths and fields (for optimum mud exposure). Evans call their cross events ‘Sportive Cross’ events. Taster sessions are also run by local leagues in the late summer.
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Images: Gem Atkinson