Pauls, Eggs, top tube, top tube, skills practice, repetition, 38/46 or 42, moto, 12-27, tubular, Kool-Stop, high 30’s, etc.
Every 1.279 racers out of 5 have a blog. Each day they wrestle with the same batch of questions that arise from season to season. Don’t get me wrong, that’s heady stuff and I’d read it all day long if I could. I eat up the tech aspects since I want to know what works and ponder whether it’ll work for me. I’ve made bunches of changes (most for the better) based on internet suggestions.
But here and now I’m interested in what it is that makes cyclocross the most beautiful bike racing in the known universe. I’ve mentioned to my cycling pals that I like cyclocross because the races are fairly short, multiple laps make it spectator friendly (good if the family wants to come), I’ve got a lot of races to choose that are a short distance from my door, the season is relatively compact, and it doesn’t hurt too much if you fall.
All of those are fine arguments for trying out cyclocross and continuing racing if the will persists. But it certainly doesn’t get to the heart of the reason that so many of us consider cyclocross THE season — all else is merely a sideshow, preparation for the big game, training. Most of the country hasn’t even raced a race and everyone is abuzz with electric anticipation of the fast approaching season. What gives?
Some people pray for mud, others decry it, some glorify the most horrid conditions, while others prefer a balmy day. Whatever your predilection, the weather always plays a significant role in the terms of the course. A course that may be fast and encourage packs in the dry might turn into a bog that strings out the field once the rain falls.
I fall into the camp that glorifies poor conditions. I relish standing in the grid with a cold rain soaking me and sending a chill through my body. Perhaps the best part of the race is when the weather falls into place as another obstacle, certainly bigger than a set of barriers, but a force to overcome nonetheless. It hearkens back the elemental struggle of man finding his way through the multitude of calamities that nature throws his way. I feel as a ship’s captain might as his boat is rocked by waves and pelted by rain and every sinew of his body is struggling for survival against the elements.
This struggle is to a large part psychological. Certainly there are physical demands of overcoming poor weather with hypothermia being a real concern. But some guys are already beat at the line. They are worried about cornering or if their tire choice is right or how miserable they feel right that instant. The trick is to embrace the struggle until the weather melts away and becomes just another competitor you have to beat.
The psychological element extends past the weather and into the realm of physical struggle and adversity. During a cyclocross race, a recovery period may consist of perhaps tens of seconds riding at a tempo pace — in other words, not much of a recovery at all. From moments into the race until you cross the finish, there is a constant challenge of will to keep going and not let up. The drive to push harder and harder has to be balanced with an understanding that you need to race your race and not blow up before the end. Even in this you need to guard against succumbing to complacency as your mind tells you that easing up is “racing your race” when in fact it is just playing tricks with you to make the pain go away.
Which brings me around to other racers. A cross race typically develops into many races. There’s the race at the front for first and then there are clumps and dribs of racers strung out behind carving out their positions. They will fight mightily to hold onto their spot when challenged by others and pour out their hearts in the valiant attempt to bridge up to the next guy up the road. I find it unacceptable to get passed on the bell lap and I’ve had many a battle to fend off hard charging foes.
While we all want to win, these races within the race offer stiff competition with a group of the usual suspects. Each season you get to know a shifting group of guys who inhabit the same space in the race as yourself. Sometimes you might start out referring to them by a moniker like “Cannondale guy” but by then end of the season you know all their names and follow their results almost as closely as your own.
So what’s all this add up to? Cross racing has it all. It’s a psychological drama that tests the mettle of your soul. It’s a physical struggle against both man and nature. And even in the struggle against your competitors, there is a warm comradery. What more could you want for twenty bucks and an hour of your time come Sunday.