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.

6 Responses to “All the answers”

  1. Guy says:

    Another well thought out, and well informed read, your blog site has been the staple of my summer recovery Bravo! Thank`s

  2. Greg says:

    Brooke, man. Bravo. Your posts are a staple of my AM coffee reads. And I feel the kindred spirit that like me yearns for those leaves to just go on and get themselves changed. Thus signaling cross season.

    I look at it bi-directionally, man: from a racer’s eyes and from those of a spectator.

    From racers:
    Obviously this is personal. For me, it is about ‘the art’. My God, man, as geeky as it sounds, it’s the fluidity of getting my body to perfect the nuances of the various techniques. It’s just fun. WAY radder than road racing which my semi-ADD mind can’t tolerate any more and frankly boring on all levels (until the inevitable sprint finish comes). Cross is more like mountain bilking because it, like cross, is about finesse at its core. So in other words the sport (to me) *is* the technique. It’s funny. I like winning and all that sheeit, but I think I enjoy being on my own on the bike (hopefully out front) just doing my technique-y thing out there in the mud.

    From spectators:
    We’re freaks. Let’s face it but while I’m not thinking here ‘Circus act’ freak show, there’s something unnatural about being off the bike for citizen spectators and new comers. But our technique (and its fluidity) when done right suddenly makes being off the bike as natural being on it (running, porting through barriers…whatever). It’s exciting for spectators and the ‘wow’s’ are more prevelant when spectators suddenly appreciate the grace. So, from a spectator’s view, it’s is all about intimacy. The intimacy of being next to the tape, watching these racers every 6 or 7 minutes slogging by, as gracefully as those in a ballet. I mean, they get to see the whole course (if designed well) from nearly everywhere they walk around the tape. I am captivated watching it…whether watching Erwin Vervecken on a DVD or a some dudes in a local 3’s race.

    Damn dude, you got me all misty eyed like.


    GREAT post.

  3. zank says:

    Brooke, awesome stuff. I have been giving this one a lot of thought too. I may dig deeper in a future blog post. But so far, this is what I have come up with for why cross is special to me.

    1. It’s road racing without a lot of the risk.
    2. You race other people and not just the course the way you often do in a mountain bike race.
    3. Equipment. Of course, this is a special one for me. I have always loved seeking out obscure parts. “What are the Euro Pros using?” was always heard at the races I remember making “Runkel Levers” out of an old set of mtb levers before everyone called them “top mounts”. Grinding down old chainrings to use as guards before there were production ones in every corner bike shop? Hell yeah. I never could get Grumpys to really work very well. Not many cross frames around. OK, I’ll build one. On and on….
    4. Good, hardy people. Not many fair weather riders coming to the races in November. All that’s left of the gritty ones. I like them They don’t complain much.
    5. All of my pals do it :-)

    See you in December for the GP.

  4. josh says:

    Right on. Someone asked me (a roadie) why I race ‘cross….to extend my season and stay in shape was their guess. I couldn’t really give them an answer, other than “because its awesome and so much fun and painful and it sucks but its awesome” and some other mostly incoherent rambling. I’ll have to point them to this post next time I see him. Hit the nail on the head. I am like you, in that I love the grittiest, most challenging, heartiest conditions you can find. Thats what makes it fun to me. Even though all I want to do at the time is go back to bed.

  5. GeWilli says:

    i got chills reading that entry…

    you nailed it… brilliant writing!

  6. Steven says:

    Brilliant! Cross distills what is best about road and mountainbike racing into something that transcends sport. I love cyclo cross. Love it. I just wish the season was a bit longer.

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