A cyclocross race day

Here’s what a typical cyclocross race day looks like for me. I’ll use the Kinneil race as an example.

The night before: get everything ready. I use mesh bags to vaguely organise my stuff: one bag for race clothes, one bag for bad weather gear (spare race clothes, coat/trousers, gloves, shoes covers), one bag for warm after-race clothes and a towel. I chuck all that plus helmet/gloves and food/drinks into a big sports bag to make it easy to carry out to the car. I also take a toolkit, but 99% of the time I’m just using chain oil, tyre pressure gauge, pliers for shoe studs and allen keys for thru-axle wheels.

In the morning, I’ll have a big bowl of porridge for breakfast and I’ll make a peanut butter + jam bagel to eat in the car (and a second one to eat post-race). I have a rule: stop eating solid food 3h before the race – I learned this the hard way! Then chuck everything in the car and put the bike on its bike rack and start driving.

I usually aim to get to the race maybe an hour before sign-on opens so I can see some of the earlier races and get an idea of what the course is like. Once sign-on opens, I’ll get my rider pack and head back to the car to pin on the number and keep drinking liquids. I’ll usually have an energy gel about 30mins before the race and then do a bit of ad hoc warming up and check tyre pressures. Usually a practise lap or two is enough to get warmed up.

Staying warm during gridding is sometimes challenging. I’ll usually have my cycling jacket and maybe a hat in my pocket, and I’ll take a cheap drawstring bag so I can dump them at the side once the race is about to start. This also means I can grab them easily at the end of the race.

The race itself is always fun. I always want to go hard in the early laps, but know I’ll regret it later. I find it useful to divide up the course and decide which sections I can push hard on, and where I’ll recover. There’s a lot of psychology – it’s good to try and hang on to slightly faster riders as they pass you, but also know when to give up hanging on. It’s also worth being tactical – it’s worth pushing to get ahead before you enter a narrow technical section rather than being held up. In the first half of the race, the positions are still getting shaken out but in the second half it’s a much more gradual affair: you can see the guy just up the road who you might be able to reel in, and you know the group that’s just behind have you in their sights. Everyone pushes harder on the final lap – and there’s always places to be won and lost.

After my race, once I’ve regained my composure and gotten back up off the ground I’ll usually stick around to watch the senior/open race and consume some calories. Then it’s time to chuck the bike on the car and drive home. If it’s been a muddy race, I’ll power-wash the bike and my shoes outside and degrease the drivetrain (screwfix degreaser is awesome). If it’s been a REALLY muddy race I’ll chuck my race clothes in a bucket of water outside to remove some mud before they get near the washing machine. Then shower and eat more calories … and relax!

SCX #2: Irvine Beach

A glorious sunny day! A warm 18℃ day! Surely it can’t be cyclocross?

Irvine Beach was unseasonably warm – perhaps too warm for cx if it hadn’t been for a decent wind blowing in off the sea. The course was largely the same as previous years – the area around the finish line was simplified, and the high ridge on the second half of the lap had lots of awesome up-and-down off-camber sections. Fun in the dry, but would’ve been a nightmare in the wet.

The course is a good mix of fast+flat, sand sections, steep climbs and technical switchbacks. I had mentally divided the lap up based on the four climbs, figuring out which climbs had decent ‘recovery time’ afterwards and which ones didn’t. I nearly got snagged on the first lap with a rider crashing in front of me – I had to track-stand briefly, but then as I tried to go past on one side, the rider got up and moved to that side too. But aside from that minor delay, there weren’t any big incidents. I had decided to run/push up the steep hill following the sand pit; I can ride it, but I wasn’t convinced I could ride it lap after lap all race long. So better to run, since you can choose your pace more easily (plus, all that practise running up the Sheep Heid stairs paid off). I think that was the right choice, since it meant the other climbs were all fine to ride.

It’s a long course, and I ‘only’ did four and a half laps but there’s plenty to keep the mind engaged. The long sand run was good – just stick to the right side, keep the power on, and STAY ON THE RIGHT SIDE. Apart from lap one, I rode the whole length every lap. The off camber switchbacks were pretty straightforward so long as you pre-turned nice and early. Even the stiff breeze wasn’t too onerous. Up high on the first ridge it was stifling hot and I was super keen to get back down into the wind to cool down.

My pace was pretty steady. I could see I was pulling away from a gaggle of riders behind me over the first few laps. Then towards the end I could see Paul McInally (who I’d passed on lap one) was picking up speed, and he passed me as my legs started to tire. I always wonder if I should do the ‘start slow, pick up speed later’ tactic but once the whistle goes, it goes out the window. Davie Lines and Gary MacDonald flew past me on lap three, locked together – which meant that the last lap bell came a bit sooner than I expected (always a relief).

In the end, I finished 36th out of 56 vet40 starters, so 64th percentile. That’s somewhat better than the first power-dominated round at Kinneil (which was 77th percentile) perhaps reflecting that Irvine was a climb-heavy course. But with the weather being so good, it’s all still pretty power dominated.