The best hour of your life – Cyclocross

It’s archaic, impractical and exists in the dead of winter. A sport so devoid of logic it has been described as ‘utterly mental’ and ‘simply ludicrious’ by some of our top cycling journalists. Yet the undeniable fact is this, it is more popular than ever and truth be told, probably the most fun you’ve had all season!

If cycling is life and life is a box of chocolates then Cyclocross is the weird rasberry thing no one wants to eat.

Come the end of the box, those raspberry blobs start looking pretty tasty, so tasty that once you’ve had one you can’t remember why you hated them. On and on you go, stuffing those beauties into your face until quite suddenly, you are a bit queasy. It ends, and you can’t wait to try something ‘normal’ again.

Yep, Cyclocross is unique. Mud, ice, wind, rain and suffering, compacted into 50ish minutes of your life that, like bashing your finger in a car door, is visceral and extreme.

Focus and tenacity, cyclocross is as much brute force as it is slippery skill. Photo: Dave Hayward

To the uninitiated the thought of loading your bike, or if your are really hooked ‘bikes’ into the car, driving to a field where the owner assures you it has ‘almost no more poop’ in it, warming up in a toilet block because even sign-on feels like you are having an ice bath in a hurricane and eventually launching yourself into a fight for your very survival, seems a bit dumb.

But come Autumn, across the length and breadth of an ever increasing list of countries, riders in their thousands get ready to do just this. And they can’t wait! Old friendships, forged in muddy battles in non-descript post codes are re-ignited with ferver. Bikes are lovingly prepared for the show down, most a hodge podge of parts, an amalgamation of the riders style and preference and all bedecked with tyres that hold more conversation than a Sky jiffy bag. These are the full timers, the hooked veterans, the battle scarred war dogs.

No better way to spend a Sunday or complete madness? Either way some riders can’t get enough. Photo: Dave Hayward

To earn your veteran stipes, you need to survive a season. So roughly 13 hours of racing, add a couple of double weekends, minus a few punctures and DNSs (read: can’t be arseds) and you are looking at 10 hours. 10 tiny hours, barely a training week. Not even enough time to stretch and glue two of those sodding tyres. But survive you must, because having your name called in the grid is tatamount to having angels carry you to the start line, you earned this, you pecked this order and now its bloody yours!

The start of a cross race requires three practical things and three lucky things. The practical, a good warm up, a lot of fast twitch muscle fibre a good dose of bravery. You could probably add a ton more but let’s start with that.

…the mud in your eyes is now acting like Satan’s fingernails, stabbing at your eyeball while yelling ‘HAVE SOME YOU MONKEY!

Then the luck, you want a fast clip-in, think standing on the accelerator combined with hoping your parachute opens, everything relies on that clip-in, spoil it, it will spoil you, but some days no matter how hard you practice that bastard pedal just does not go ‘click’! Of course luck-bomb number two is the clean line holeshot, more than likely you will be facing the start behind a row of arses, should one of those arses decide to cut right instead of left, well then thats it, you are both in a shitfight just to untagle bars. Finally traction, sweet grippy accelerating goodness, does that line you chose hide a brick edge under that mound of grass just waiting to murder your cost-as much-as-your-frame Dugast or is it your highway to holeshot heaven? Who knows, pray!

Out the gate your heart rate will hit whatever number you haven’t seen since primary school athletics, it will be like watching a Veyron speedometer, 120, 150, 170, 190, 200, bring it! But you wont be looking at anything vaguely near your bars, no your focus is locked on to negotiating a swarm of riders into the single track, like you are running naked through a field of cactus, your ass is swinging, your legs are blazing you fly into the turns, 23psi feeling like rocks you wish you had gone lower but its ok you are free of the mob and pushing along with a crew of determined sidekicks, your enemies for the next hour.

The terrain can be your enemy as well as your friend, play to your strengths! Photo: Huw Williams

It all starts coming together then suddenly you slip, a small slip, you are off the racing line and a freight train of riders is thundering past as you scramble for traction DAMN THIS HELL. Well suck it up, you’ve barely covered lap one, the mud in your eyes is now acting like Satan’s fingernails, stabbing at your eyeball while yelling ‘HAVE SOME YOU MONKEY!’ why oh why didn’t you wear glasses??

5 laps in, you have dispatched most of your chasers, its the last lap, sweat is pouring off your brow and has thankfully given you back vague sight in your only functioning eyeball. Your bike now weighs as much as a moon and the sounds coming out the drive train are a warning that GT85 ain’t gonna sort this mess out. But you have your groove, you are Sven, you are Wout, this is glorius! CRUNCH! The rear mech has bypassed the standards set for mud immersed functioning and has ripped itself off and launched itself and a bit of chain into your long suffering rear wheel, PING PING PING three spokes are murdered you grind to a halt. OH FUCK THIS, shoulder the bike and run, inexplicably you are now moving faster than if you were pedalling?

You cross the line, more cameramen than an Olympic road race, fall on floor, bike underneath you…fuck…my….life.

It’s total absorbtion, it’s red mist chaos, it is completely and utterly, perfect.

Go get you some.