Mud, cowbells, frites and fun! The world of Cyclo Cross by Alison Crutchley

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!

So, you remember my not-at-all-ambitious plans for the cyclocross season? Here’s a little update. The ride’s a little bumpy, so hang on to your hats.


Keighley was our first race of the season. The kids did well, giving it some welly up the hill and slithering over on the off-camber section. I started my practice lap, grimacing into the wind and wondering if the rain was going to hold off.

Alison enjoyed her first Cyclocross season so much, she’s back to test her mettle in 2013

The first obstacle was a little brook about a foot deep. Plenty of people were riding through it. I picked the wrong side; my front wheel went in and didn’t come out again. Slow-motion faceplant. Wiping the mud from my handlebars sheepishly, I rode off, slightly worried about the grinding noise coming from my gears.

Near the end of the lap, I changed right down to ride up a steep little climb; my chain leapt off and jammed solid. Everyone was lining up for the start; there was no time to try and get it sorted out. So my season kicked off with a DNS (did not start). I hung about for a bit shouting encouragement at the race as it sogged past in the pouring rain, but it was cold and the kids were fighting, so we went home, feeling fairly miserable.

Never mind. I was looking forward to Wakefield, as I’d had an ace time last year, overtaking people on the grass and falling off excitedly on the singletrack. But lo! the Gods Of Snot sneered at my mortal plans, and sent down a lergy upon me, and I had to stay at home.


Onward! The next race was Temple Newsam. This was a new one for us, so we completed the usual Yorkshire Cyclocross ritual of driving around for half an hour looking for the venue while wardens in hi-vis shrugged apologetically.

The joy of Cyclo Cross summed up in a photo

The sun shone, the park was beautiful, my kids raced, though the five-year-old fell off in the woods, and the eight-year-old had one of his near-legendary cyclocross meltdowns: I’M NOT DOING IT. YOU CAN’T MAKE ME.

Finally, I did my practice lap and, miraculously, nothing fell off my bike. I lined up, giddy with glee. We charged off into the woods and I got round all the corners, and up the steep little climbs, and even over the log without falling off or even foot-dabbing very much.

Out onto the grass, and down a gravelly hill with a woman behind me yelling OFF THE BRAKES! She hurtled past and fell off spectacularly on the next corner. We both had a bit of a laugh about that. More singletrack, and still no falling off (I know. I’m as surprised as anyone). Then uphill hurdles, and more woods, and zigzags on the grass.

Back round to the start, past people cowbelling and the boys shouting GO ON MUMMY! and Beate yelling DIG IN ALISON, YOU CAN CATCH HIM! And repeat, for another four laps. It was great. I mean, it was awful (if it’s not awful, generally you’re not trying hard enough), but honestly, it was great finally to be racing in the glorious sunshine, and not falling off, and feeling at least halfway competent at some aspects of the sport. I went home on a massive high.

Rapha Super Cross

A couple of weeks later, we got our bling together for the Rapha Super Cross. This is always a great laugh. The DJ! The frites! The mud! The pain! I gave myself a proper pro-style glittery cyclocross manicure and got out all my best kit.

Broughton Hall is a beautiful setting; the course wound round over footbridges, up and down the grass, and in and out of the heinous Spiral of Doom™.

The women started off a minute behind the veteran men; I cleverly positioned myself on the outside of the first bend, fell back immediately, and it all went downhill from then on.

I slogged round grimly at the back for a while, but the mud was getting thicker and the veterans were coming… I’m a bit better at being lapped nowadays: I mostly don’t wobble or shout ‘Hoo!’ any more. But the third time through the Spiral of Doom™, my number was up.

Words aren’t necessary…

My wheel embedded itself in the mud and I toppled over, just as a group was coming past. All I heard was ‘NO! YOU ******!’ as a bloke and his bike landed on top of me. I extricated myself from the mire and was about to remount when a spectator shouted SADDLE! Just in time; the thing was hanging off its rails. I pulled up the tape and left the course in tears. DNF (did not finish).

A well-known local hardnut offered to remove the saddle so I could ride on without it; he could barely hide his disappointment when I declined. Soft southerners, eh. I made some new friends wheeling my bike around; it seems broken saddles are up there with cute dogs in their ability to get people to talk to you.

But, I was disconsolate for the rest of the day. Even though I’m normally way down the rankings, I pride myself on finishing; it was really hard to abandon the race.

Happily, another Rapha Super Cross offered a rematch. Entirely coincidentally (cough), we were staying with my mum that weekend in North London, so we all headed off on a bright, windy morning to Alexandra Palace.

This time, despite sliding over in the Spiral of Doom™ on the practice lap, it all went a LOT better. Not only did I get GRIDDED* for the first (and probably last) time in my cyclocross career, I got a decent start and held my place in the middle of the group for about the first half a lap.

I nearly came off on a greasy bit of singletrack; the girl behind me shouted ‘Well recovered!’ Loads of people overtook me on the long drag uphill, but spectators were shouting YOU LOVE THIS, REMEMBER! IT’S WHY YOU DO IT! and COME ON THE WOMEN! So I had to, really, didn’t I?

The girl in front of me was flagging; I reeled her in gradually over a lap and a half and finished ahead. Result. I inhaled a crêpe and found my mum watching the seniors race, jumping up and down and going ‘This is really exciting! Is it on the telly, ever?’ We hobnobbed with people while the boys squabbled, then went home and fell asleep in front of Countryfile. A pretty good day.

So, it’s been a game of two halves, so far. The season’s not over yet, though. Will I learn to ride in mud before TodCross? Will we find out where Harrogate is in time for Ripley Castle CX on New Year’s Day? And crucially, will I think up a stunning costume for the Heptonstall Christmas Fancy Dress race? Stay tuned to find out…

* Gridding is the practice of lining up the faster riders at the front of the group. As ‘cross races are mass-start, this means they avoid being caught behind slower riders at the beginning of the race. I shouldn’t need to point out that my being gridded must have been a joke, or a mistake…


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