Pic: SPOXE Clothing

On getting better at ‘cross and where strong is slower

Alan Dorrington reflects on the influx of new riders to the ‘cross scene and how strong does not necessarily equal fast

Pic above: SPOXE Clothing

Advancing years, lack of time to train, family and work pressures, 2 serious accidents in recent years – I’ve got all the excuse bases covered when it comes to explaining away less than stellar race performances. None of that is admissible ‘in court’ of course, and actually misses the point entirely anyway. The point being that ‘cross is one of the most engrossing and rewarding of cycling disciplines precisely because of its emphasis on executing specific skills, before you even begin to look at physiological aspects.

There’s not much fun to be had in my opinion (sorry if I offend any testers here) in rolling around a time trial course several minutes slower than the winner – you’ve performed what appears to me to be exactly the same technically undemanding ride, just at a slower pace. But there is much to be said for pursuing a technically flawless ‘cross lap, as skillfully as the leader, even if you are physically slower through lesser fitness or general speed. The reward is in the technical challenge, and meeting that head on (as well as the cut and thrust mid pack battles that characterise ‘cross racing).


Pic: SPOXE clothing

At least that’s my justification for pursuing ‘cross so rigorously, even if not hugely successfully, as well as where I can make the most of my meagre resources through efficient use of technique. It’s also where this season I’ve noticed an increasingly common phenomena – that of the fit, fast but technically challenged newcomer. There are some seriously strong riders appearing at races (particularly in the Vets) as the popularity of  ‘cross seems to be rising exponentially, along with sales of ‘cross bikes. Fit, fast, strong and often reasonably inept. Cue the unnamed rider in a recent race I was in, who was clearly a fit lad but who risked taking out himself and any rider within a 5m radius everytime he dismounted or sometimes even just entered a series of corners. The Force was strong in that one, as he came back again and again from a series of near disasters, and I soon learned to give him a wide berth round the sets of barriers. I even resorted to attacking him forcefully and at some personal cost physically, just to put myself out of harms way…

Exaggeration aside (though honestly, he was a danger), it was a scene repeated all over the front to mid pack of that particular race – many strong riders, probably with road or time trial backgrounds (boo hiss) who were super strong in a straight line, but who lost ground to me and other more experienced ‘crossers around technical sections, particularly those that involved getting on or off. And ultimately, in many cases, faded backwards under the toll of their repeated efforts to gain back lost ground. By even mentioning this, let alone offering advice on this site as to how to fix it, I am of course risking, nay dooming my own ‘intermediate’ level performances to even greater levels of ‘intermediateness’ but hey ho, charity is sometimes hard to come by.

Time spent getting familiar with some of the basics, and some of the less basics, will ALWAYS pay dividends in a race situation. We covered this in a previous blog post with our 60 minute drill session and the basics are of course in the Materiaalpost section of this site. It can seem daunting trying to master the different demands of ‘cross with its emphasis on unfamiliar skills but a little time invested pays you back in bucketfuls in the future. It’s also all about momentum or rather the conservation of momentum. Fast into a corner looks impressive but nearly wiping out trying to get round it is less impressive and almost always results in a lower exit speed and loss of momentum. Sometimes ‘strong’ riders are particularly guilty of this – the cut and thrust of racing is integral to ‘cross and will always be so, but with increasing field numbers, late braking and up-the-inside manouevres don’t always stick and are usually wasteful of your energies, not to mention irritating for others around you.

Essentially it is about using your strength as a strength, not against you, and working on being smooth wherever possible so your momentum is conserved wherever possible and works for you as much as possible.

1 reply
  1. Diego
    Diego says:

    This post is a bit old but still totally true.
    I experienced it last weekend in my first ever CX race. Coming from triathlon I am used to big and extended “solo” efforts (time trials) so I signed myself into the race in a muddy course hopping for the best.

    Only after 2 laps out of a total of 8, I found myself fighting to avoid the last place on the pack, at 180 bpm and struggling to recover the seconds lost in EVERY turn.
    I was surprised by how slippery the course was, how tight the turns were and how fast the other riders were leaving me behind (yes, even people who did not look fit or fast at the starting line).

    Cyclocross is a total different sport and I am already loving it.


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