February is a bitter-sweet month for cyclocross riders. The season reaches it’s pinnacle with the World Championships in early Feb and other season long race race series in Europe come to a head too. Domestically, however it marks the end of the season as most UK leagues are done and dusted early in the month.
And the relief this brings is something to look forward to. Relief from the rigmarole of getting multiple changes of kit ready for racing in bad weather, relief from endless bike cleaning and preparation, relief on the part of your washing machine from the return of all that kit muddied to within an inch of its life. Racing ‘cross all winter, even relatively sparsely, is demanding on body and equipment and there is only so long before the multi-hour postrace clean up routine begins to drag…
For those riders like myself, who basically only ride ‘cross and for whom other racing is but a mere distraction or preparation for the real stuff in the winter, this feeling of relief lasts about 2 weeks before the pining starts. ‘Cross is addictive and even the smallest time away from the rhythm of weekend races results in a feeling of loss. Luckily, in the 21st Century help is at hand. In many areas, it’s only a couple of months before Summer Cross starts, and given our increasingly wet climate, the opportunity to have a winter season all over again.
But this hiatus in the ‘cross calendar is an important one. A time to recharge the batteries, fix battered drivetrains and bikes and give the washing machine a much-needed service as well as restore mud-stained relationships with long-suffering spouses and loved-ones . Importantly too, it can be a time to reflect. Reflect on what worked, what didn’t work and which technically-induced riding incidents you hoped no-one noticed out there on the course.. ‘Cross is highly technical in nature once you start delving into it a little deeper. It is also the branch of cyclesport in which, perhaps more than all the others, significantly measurable gains can come from tweaking technique and not training longer or harder. Some call it ‘free’ time gained – getting tyre pressure, cornering lines, mounting technique right and so on, to save say 10 seconds a lap. Or more. You don’t have to train harder or longer – just put aside a little time to work out what things you do well and what things you hope others don’t witness, and then find somewhere private to practice the un-witnessable bits until you feel confident to unleash them on an unsuspecting world. And of course with Summer Cross coming up soon, you have the chance to put your new found technical competence into action all over again.
It’s probably a good time to take that hard-worked ‘cross bike apart (or get someone else to do it for you). After the winter we recently had, no bike that was ridden regularly in the swamp like conditions most UK ‘cross courses found themselves in, will be working smoothly. Get those cables, pads and mud-splattered parts changed or serviced. Tubulars too will probably need at the very least an inspection – the best glue jobs can break down quickly when constantly submerged in highly organic water (aka slop). Every year, the first corner of the first Summer Cross race sees some poor unfortunate whose now unglued tub parts company from their wheel, depositing them unceremoniously on the ground.
But perhaps more importantly, this time of year can be a good time to go and have some fun away from the demands of blasting round an 8 minute lap. I ride on a ‘cross bike often still, as the weather seems to remain firmly oriented in bad-weather mode most of the time. Explore those woods near you that you’ve been meaning to check out for ‘cross training, get out on higher ground on the ‘cross bike, link some road sections with nice bridleways, go and let your hair down, if not your tyre pressure.
Before you know it, it’ll be time to prep the bike(s), pack the spare clothes, fiddle with tyre pressure all over again. But at least you’ll know you’ve moved things on a little in your quest for true Svenness