A season in the life of a Cyclocross rider

Total Women’s Cycling are following the exploits of ‘cross junkie Alison, as she tackles her second season competing. Full of hilarity, Alison shows us that rolling around in the mud on your bike can indeed be great fun! 

Be prepared to get hooked on the fun, accessible form or racing – cyclocross…

Already looking every inch the pro. Alison in her first Cyclocross season last year.

My name is Alison, and I’m a cyclocrosser.

It still sounds odd. But this is my second season trying to race ‘cross, so I suppose I should admit it to myself. I’ve become a bit of an addict.

A couple of years ago, I was ready to give up biking for good. Toiling along for hours on the road was dispiriting; I’d get despondent, forget to eat, and start growling at the backs of my companions as they disappeared up yet another distant hill. I got tired of freezing on rainy descents, cursing Picasso drivers as they sideswiped me while checking their twitter mentions.

But then I bought a ‘cross bike.

Tearing across soggy grass, charging up gravelly climbs and slithering around in the mud turned out to be a LOT more like it. My boyfriend was astonished.

I never thought I’d see you grinning about riding in the rain. I never thought I’d see you washing a bike.

I took myself down to the park to practise cornering, shouldering, remounts and dismounts. I found out that falling off in the mud is mostly fine.

Having never done any competitive sport (apart from coming 176th out of 244 in the Hot Toddy a few years back), I entered a race. The sun shone; people joked amiably. I was terrified. My kids rang cowbells and yelled GO ON MUMMY!

So I did. I creaked round gasping;

Never again. This is nuts. Whose idea of a good time is this?

But, in the car on the way home, I caught myself thinking, ‘Got to work on those right-hand corners. And those little steep banks. And we need to bring more sandwiches next time.’ Hooked.

Last year, I set myself some modest aims for the season:

  1. Come not-last at least once
  2. Learn to remount (and, crucially, do it in an actual race).

Astonishingly, I achieved both of these quite quickly, overhauling a 73-year-old in the final yards of one race, and leaping back onto the saddle right in front of my family in another (I may have squeaked YES! at this point).

So, I set myself new objectives, including the following:

  1. Overtake some people
  2. Ride up steep banks without getting off
  3. Get round corners without putting a foot down
  4. Stop falling off on the DAMN singletrack.

No. 4 is still a problem, but I can report definite progress on the others. With all this in mind for this season, I’m tailoring my goals to the demands of specific races.

Keighley: This was my first race of the season last year, and a bit of a disaster. Goals this year include: Ride the water crossing instead of getting off. Ride up and down the banks without getting off. Ditto the steep descent with a 90 degree bend at the bottom. And the muddy bits. And the off-camber sections. Basically, try and stay on the bike more than 17% of the time.

Wakefield: I loved this race last year. Fast grassy zigzags, tearing round the playing field, then off into the woods. Main goal: Stop Falling Off On The DAMN Singletrack.

Brighouse: This was a terrifying slither up and down almost-vertical singletrack last year. I wept in fear on the recce lap, and didn’t even start the race. This year: Arrange a lovely, relaxing family day trip to somewhere at the other end of the country.

Temple Newsam: I missed this one last year. From looking at other people’s race reports, the goal is mostly Stop Falling Off On The DAMN Singletrack. Also: get round the corners. And don’t knock anybody off.

Rapha Super Cross, Skipton: Everybody on twitter came to this last year. It was fantastically jolly. However, the race itself was a soggy, grassy, muddy, exhausting uphill slog. Goals: Pray fervently that they have changed the course. If not, pack a stout stick, to remove clods of mud from my back brakes. Try not to fall asleep on the ground before having a chance to eat frites, get the kids’ faces painted, and hobnob with everybody.

Rapha Super Cross, Alexandra Palace: This is another new one. Mum’s coming to watch, so no swearing. It has STEPS to run up. I love steps. Goals: shoulder the bike without concussing fellow competitors. Don’t fall off too often, so Mum carries on believing (erroneously) that I am competent. Practise too-cool-for-school Laahndan raceface. See Skipton re. falling asleep.

Sheffield: Another new one. Find out where Sheffield is.

Heptonstall Christmas Charity Fancy Dress: Never actually raced this one as I’ve always been ill by this point in the season. Goals: Wash hands obsessively and refuse to breathe in for a week beforehand. Think up a mind-blowingly ACE costume.

Todmorden: See Heptonstall, minus the fancy dress. No, sod it. I’ve missed this race four times due to illness (twice in winter, twice in summer). If I actually get to race, I’ll wear the fancy dress to celebrate.

Sounds achievable, doesn’t it? Not too ambitious?

In typical fashion, I’m already hopelessly overexcited. My kids are racing too. The 8-year-old is an old hand, now, but this year marks the 5-year-old’s racing debut. My long-suffering boyfriend will reprise his role as pit crew-slash-supernanny-slash-psychotherapist.

Stay tuned over the next couple of months to find out how we get on. Ring a cowbell for us. Hup hup!

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