The Blunderer’s Guide to Cyclocross – Part 2.1

  Three years ago, I wrote part 1, but didn’t quite get around to finish it. There were a couple of reasons for that. First and foremost, there’s another winter biking competitive activity in the Netherlands, beach biking, and I’d done a bunch of those, and was enjoying them thoroughly. Secondly, I was also running in those days. So CXing came 3rd place, and somehow fell through the cracks that year. One year later, I skipped CXing entirely due to having broken my collarbone earlier that year, and not feeling very confident. Last year, I started again, but was plagued by a painful shoulder, so after four races, the season was over. Now, with everything OK, time for a restart. This time, going full bore!

Getting started

October 6th.

Well, had the first CX training of the season. That’s almost by definition a lot of fun, but it was also a pretty technical training. This being the first time I really used the bike, the setup was somewhat sub-optimal: pressure in the front tire was a bit too low, I need to raise the bar, and replace the brake pads. But apart from that, it was a good training. Kinda like, OK, the others are riding down this incline without crashing horribly, let’s give it a go, and finding out you can reach the bottom in a more-or-less controlled fashion.
So, yeah, I’m looking forward to the first races!

October 8th.

So, I thought it be a good idea to join one of the local cycling clubs for some more CX training. Well, that was a very good idea, indeed. This evening was the first training, and it was far more race-like than last Tuesday’s at Leiden. In all, the two do complement one another very well. So, the remainder of the year will be training on Tuesday and Thursday, and races in Saturday and Sunday. One happy camp…, er, crosser, here!

October 10th.

3069  CX season has officially started. Did my first race at Woerden. I’d lain eyes on that one last year, but a shoulder injury finished my CX season after only four races. Now that my shoulder is OK again (through weight lifting, who’d’ve guessed that???), I fully intend to make up for last year.
After pinning up my race number, I rode a few miles on the road just to get the legs going before doing two recce laps. I’d searched for the course on Garmin Connect, so I knew it was twisty and turny, but what’s not shown on GC is just how bumpy it is. Well, some sections, especially the grassy ones, were very bumpy…
Obviously quite a few other riders were keen on getting their season started, as there were about 10 A-riders, 40 B-riders, and another 20 or so ATBs. As it took some time for everyone to line up, I started chatting to the guy next to me and the conversation pretty soon turned into a lighthearted philosophical discourse on the nature of this CX event. I just love it when weird things like that happen.
After the start, it was a 100m dash on the grass to the first curve and single-track. As sprinting from the get-go is not exactly my forte, I was the last of the B-riders to enter the curve, but was in contact with the field in front of me. After the curve, there was a straight for 50m, and I managed to pass two or three riders. I passed a couple more in the first lap, sometimes by better positioning before a turn, sometimes powering through, and one time by sneaking past with a bunch of ATBs, them having started a minute later.
The race went pretty smooth for a CX, I cornered OK, and went over the bumps without much hassle, also helped by the fact that no dismounts or bunny-hops were required. CX is never relaxed, but I could keep everything controlled as I never got into a position that I had to push it to the limit. My only concern was not getting in the way of the faster riders and since nobody cursed me, I think I’ve done well in that department.
In all, I’ve done better that I expected. When doing the recce laps, I was worried I might run out of steam on the bumpy false flat sections, but that never happened. I could maintain a good pace throughout, and only had to dismount once to clear the rear derailleur from a branch that had gotten in and was making the chain jump over the cogs. And I feel both Tuesday’s and Thursday’s training sessions had been beneficial, if only for having the confidence I’d make it through the technical sections. So, yeah, I’m looking forward to the next CX!
Just made estimates of my lap times. As start and finish were at different places, I chose the passages at the starting line. So, 6:46, 6:37, 6:49, 6:39, 6:35, and 6:36. Not bad, not bad at all….

October 13th.

2nd CX training at my club in Leiden. Tonight, we started off with some off-bike exercises that were not enjoyed by everyone. I’m fairly flexible, so I was cool with that. Others, no so much. Fun fact: the instructor was one of the club’s youngest girl rider.
After that, it was off to the starting line for a 1-lap, 2-lap, 3-lap, and 1-lap race. Darn hard, but every next race went better than the last. Next up was running up the stairs with the bike on your shoulder. That needs getting used to, and a bit more practice for me. At the last descent after running up the stairs, I took the obligatory tumble, and lost the GPS’ head unit. Last exercise consisted of jumping over the barriers (bike in hand, thankfully). I’ve dabbled with bike dismounts before, but in training, it’s something else. You have to time the dismount a whole lot better, and it’d be handy if you execute it well.
It was pretty tough going, but who said it should be easy? In all, it was another evening well spent.
Oh, and luckily I found the head unit.

October 15th.

I thought that a trainer had to make sure everyone understands what the next training is all about. No such requirement this evening at the CX training… After 20min of warm-up exercises, we made two laps on tonight’s course. After that, we were to get an explanation of the following exercise. Thing was, when I arrived at the spot, the dude in front was already half way through his story, and when he was about finished, some were still arriving…. So rather than guessing what we were supposed to do, I took off and biked another hour and a half in the cold rain. Well, I’ve got a 200km tour end December, so this might come in handy, then.
And I’ll probably come up with something for tomorrow evening in the park right here.

October 17th.

3084  So with today’s planned event, Omnium Drafbike, having been canceled, it was a perfect opportunity to make up for last Thursday’s botched up training by going to Woerden again, and racing the club’s CX. As it had been raining and drizzling for the most of the last three, four days, I expected it to be slippery. I arrived late, so I had to skip the warm-up and recce lap, and went straight to the starting line. There weren’t as many riders as last week, but still 49 showed up, with 24 B-riders, me included. Not having warmed up, and riding for the first time in wet conditions, I took it easy at the start, but still managed to not be the last to take the first turn.
The course was a bit easier compared to last week’s (i.e. a bit less technical), but with today’s conditions, the going wasn’t any easier. Still I felt like I wasn’t that much slower than last week. There were a couple of tight 180s where I clipped out a couple of times. Not sure if it was necessary all the time, but it was a good practise, anyways. It did make sense in a fast left-hander in a slippery section. I felt far more in control clipped out than being clipped in.
The race itself was rather uneventful. After passing a few in the first laps, I found myself in a sort of void, with no rider close enough to chase down, and far enough in front of the ones I’d passed to not have to worry about them. At which point it’s all about bringing it back home. Dirt included….
Lap times: 6:54, 6:54, 6:51, 6:52, 6:48, 6:56. Don’t think I could’ve been much faster…

October 18th.

3085 2nd CX of the weekend, this time SwaboCrossCompetitie, round 2 at Lisse. I’ve done Lisse once last year, and I remembered it to be somewhat tricky, as at some points, mistakes may land you in the water. I did have time to do a recce lap, and the course hadn’t changed much from last year’s. At one point I got a bit confused. I rode up on the side of the viaduct, but on top failed to see how we were supposed to continue, as there was a set of stairs on the other side. You only go up stairs, never down, hence my confusion. A few seconds later I realized it was just go right over the tarmac, but I also saw that you’d end up at the bottom of the stairs if you’d continued on the other side. And as we’d just practiced stairs last Tuesday, this was the perfect opportunity to put it to use.
The start was the usual mad dash on the tarmac to the first unpaved section. I usually opt for not doing the mad dash, but this time I could’ve even started at walking speeds, as the first unpaved section comprised an odd 7 bumps, and the entire field (about 50) had to pass it single file… After that, it was mostly twists and turns, with obstacles as a sand pit, barriers, and the set of stairs thrown in.
At the start of the 3rd lap, I noticed I was gaining on two riders in front of me. I tried to overtake one of them at the barriers, but I just hadn’t enough speed to get past. At the bifurcation point I continued on to the stairs, and they took the route I did at the recce lap. Turned out that their route was a few seconds faster. So, if I were to get past them, I had to open a gap big enough not to get overtaken again at the stairs. Thankfully, once I’d caught up on them, we were at a section where overtaking was fairly easy, and I’d gotten past them just before the series of bumps. Keeping in mind I had to open a big enough gap, I started pushing it. That wasn’t too difficult on the long straights, but at the more technical sections, I noticed I was starting to make little mistakes and errors, culminating in a botched-up dismount at the stairs, with the bike doing a 360 around me. Must’ve been a fun sight to see, but I’d gotten the message to ease a bit off. Even with that 360, I had a comfortable gap at the top of the stairs, so I could relax and trying to take the more technical sections at a more constant speed. I hadn’t caught the right rhythm in the first laps, so I had to brake a fair amount. Only thing is, this was fairly bumpy, so every time my rear wheel bumped up, it locked, and that’s not cool when you’re still paddling. But by the last lap I was cruising through those sections, hardly touching the brakes there.
Lap times are a bit more spread this time: 6:52, 6:58, 6:57, 7:02, 7:13, 7:08, and 7:08. And I know there’s room to improve on this course. Still, I’m happy the way it went.

October 19th.

Three years ago, when I’d just gotten my first CXer, I rode the MTB-route near Almere (the one close to the Stripheldenbuurt). It was a challenging route at the time, but just doable. This afternoon, I thought to myself, let’s try that one again. I’d read that the route had been extended. Well, that was a let-down. The first stretch was a new section, and it was fun, even though part of it was a single-track on clay, winding through the trees. The old route followed that section, but with the last 5km (of the old 13.5km) were replaced by new sections that got riskier by the mile. It started off with an odd 6 passes over 2m high banks. What made that particular difficult was the clay, and the number of bumps and potholes in the route. Another winding section through the woods ensued. That’s where trouble started for real. The route lead over tree roots with less and less grass in the clay, so traction became an issue, and there were a few small bridges built out of tree trunks, the holes filled with by now wet clay… So you’re slipping and sliding, and you have to lift your front wheel out of the clay over a tree root.. Further down the roots became increasingly bigger, the grass had returned, but was covering up what was right next to the small path. That lead to some emergency stops inches away from deep pits, or tree logs. At one point my neck was almost hit by the rear wheel. So I just walked the last km or so. It’s preobably doable on 6cm wide MTB tires, but not on the 35mm wides covering my wheels… It’s a pity, as these tracks are harder to ride than CX courses.

October 20th.

Not a lot of riding during the CX training hour this time. Partly because it was a free training, but mostly because the club’s CX course had been built, making it somewhat harder to pick small sections to exercise on. I did do a walk-about of the course, and it is very much to my liking. It’s not going a course that I can ride all the way through as some sections are steep and long, but I know I’m going to get a lot out of it.
So, after the start, there’s a sand pit that’s tougher if only longer than the one at Lisse. Then, it’s on to a long straight with a set of barriers. then there’s some zig-zagging, followed by this big climb. What goes up, must come down, and here there’s lots of room to come down, thankfully. Then it’s on to a set of stairs and going down right after it, some tightish curves, a long straight with a small bridge, a tight 180, maybe another barrier, and a 1m drop onto the tarmac, and on to start and finish.
I had other things planned on Nov. 1st, when the first race will be held on this course, but I’m now seriously tempted to forgo on that and ride at Leiden. Anyways, the bike was making some worrying noises, I think it’s telling me it wants some grease on certain parts. I’ll attend to that tomorrow, and have a go at the course on Thursday.
Hmmm, I just might put a camera (an old one, mind you, don’t expect HD) on the bike.

October 22nd.

So I hatched a plan last Tuesday to check out the CX course at Laiden today. And so I did. Drove down, and got to it. First, I put the second barrier back where it ought to be, then proceeded to the climbing section. That went sort-of OK, except that I probably won’t make the last part of it on the bike, even at the races. What goes up must come down, and so it’s on to the downward part, but that turned out to be a bit trickier than I thought, as after the first drop, it’s back up a bit. I hadn’t noticed that in the walk-about on Tuesday. Then it’s down all the way, and that’s where I made a little mistake, and went down. Nothing too serious except a sprained finger. Sure do hope that’s OK by Saturday. Continuing on, the rest was pretty OK, walking up the stairs, hopping on, and riding down again, and doing long straights with some obstacles here and there. Only problem there is the sand pit.There’s no way I can ride through that one in the current conditions. The wheels just dig in too deep to get through. Anyways, because of the tumble I did another lap, and kept it upright this time. I did a lap in about 7 minutes. I vaguely remember having similar lap times at last year’s CX on an easier course (in race conditions), so I’m reasonably pleased.
As my fingers were still hurting from going down, I left the course, and checked out a path I’d seen many times before while warming up for a race, but never actually rode on as I didn’t know where it went, so now I was about to find out. Well, more or less where I thought it’d go. Least now I know.
After this detour, I went back to the course to try a couple of things in the sand pit (all failed), and tried the descent once more. I’d figured out what I’d done wrong, and wanted to do it right this time. To be honest, I’d made a rookie’s mistake. I went down on the hoods rather than down the drops. I have no such problems on the road, but out here, you are mislead to feel more in control on the hoods. So I went down in the drops, and that made a big difference. On that positive note, I left for home.
So, where will I ride on Nov. 1st? I haven’t decided yet. My confidence took a bit of a hit when I went down on a section where I had no problem last year, but I think I’ve correctly identified the problem, and I know how to prevent it from happening again. And even though I haven’t done the Alphen course, I already know Leiden is the most challenging course. I like that. So I guess there’s a 60% chance I’ll do Leiden.


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