Fall is one of my favorite times of the year. The weather is nice and crisp, the scenery is beautiful and it’s cyclocross season! Most of the mainstream races & events are done for the reach but if you haven’t heard of or tried “cyclocross”, it’s a great way to extend the season and have some fun.
Every September marks the beginning of the Eastern Ontario Cyclocross Series (EOCS). If you want to learn more about it, check out their website. http://cyclocross.org. For 9 consecutive Sunday’s, you can race (or participate, as I like to call it) in a well-organized event. You can do all 9 races, or just 1. And if you’re not interested in racing, spectating and volunteering is fun too.
A typical cross event has you biking on a course (usually 4 to 10 minutes to complete one loop) for up to an hour. After the hour, most laps wins! The nice thing about this format is that no one can tell who’s in first, or who’s in last. When I get overlapped by the faster riders, I like to think I’m in second place for a bit. It boosts my moral and I like to think that my friends might actually think I’m in second place!
Last week’s race was a little different than a typical cyclocross event. This one was called a “Madison”. A Madison is exactly like a regular cross race, but you ride in pairs. One teammate will do a loop, high five their teammate, then have the other teammate do a loop. Repeat until time is up. It’s a different kind of challenge because you get a break in between your loops but you push harder when you are riding – and I somehow felt more tired after the Madison. I think I have a hard time starting again, once I’ve stopped.
This year’s Madison was hosted at KIN Vineyards. The venue was great and it was really great to see someone local open up their business and land for us to use. I know the riders appreciated and most of us bought a few bottles of wine as a thank you (plus, they make great wine!). The course itself went up and down the rows of vines, and looped around the vineyard. It was a really cool set up.
So this race had a unique format and a unique venue but it also had a unique start. Instead of a “3-2-1 GO”, they had one teammate line up at the start line with their bike, and one teammate put their bike aside and line up down the road. After the “3-2-1 GO”, the teammate without the bike had to run up the road, around a flat and tag their partner. It was funny enough seeing 60+ people running in their cycling shoes but the real comedy came from seeing 60+ people trying to find their partner in the sea of 120+ people and their bikes. When it came time to tag off, people were trying to flag down their partner anyway possible – and it was a bit of comic relief to the pain of racing.
For me (a noncontender), cyclocross follows the same principle as Who’s Line is it Anyways – the points don’t matter. At the end of the race, they post the results and I place in the top half of the field, but I was having way too much fun to take too much about the final position.
As for the actual race report, it was a great course for someone like me – a triathlete. It had a running start, it has a transition every 5~ minutes and the course was relatively easy. There was one wooden barrier where you had to get off your bike and carry it over, but aside from that, I was able to ride my bike through everything.
There were 3 spots where you rode through a row of vines, and they had two different rows you could choose to ride through. They were pretty equal in distance and difficulty but choosing one row over another gave you a chance to pass, or be passed. I’m not as strong on the technical stuff, but the long straightaways gave me a small chance to pass some people, or at least close the gap.
On the very last lap, I hit a sharp rock when I was going uphill through the sandpit. I was trying to pick up speed to make it up the steep part and when I jumped out of the saddle, I heard my front tire burp. I was running 25 PSI that day, on a tubeless set up, but after the burp, I was closer to 5 PSI. I rode up the hill and through one more row of vines before I decided to put my bike on my shoulder and carry my bike across the finish line. My friends were nice enough to heckle me all the way to finish and everyone got a good laugh at the mechanic who had a flat tire. The irony was not lost on me either.
If you haven’t tried cyclocross, I recommend giving it a shot. It’s a welcoming community, it’s fun and it really improves your cycling ability. In a cross race, you have to ride in grass, mud, dirt, sand, water, and snow. You have to jump over barriers, run with your bike and bunny hop the little things. It’s a punchy race, but you can go as hard or as easy as you’d like. Either way, think about signing up for a cross race sometime.