Monday, 18 October 2010

Cross about cross

(courtesy of Cross-Crazy by LCS)

Yesterday was my first cyclocross race since last February. In the throes of hillclimb-cum-off-season, trying to cling to my five-minute max power from road race season while letting go of the endurance and threshold a bit, I found the race a lot harder than anticipated. Halfway through I started to fade badly and if I hadn't put in a fast final lap I would have finished even further down than 7th in the women's race. Nobody to blame but myself though; I'm caught in that self-induced mix of off-season dwindling fitness, lack of motivation to push myself and rusty cyclocross skills. And stuck with a bike that's showing itself more and more to be below the level I want to ride.

This was driven home in particular by the performance of CJ Boom yesterday, who's racking up an impressive run of good results in her cross racing. A perusal of her blog shows why: she's serious about it and is putting in the effort accordingly, both in her gear (hand-built tubs) and her attitude. As someone who was handy to measure my performances against last year in cross and this year on the road, it's pretty inspiring to see her doing so well and really driving her racing up a level. The result is she's dropped me like a 4th cat newbie. And I will admit to not liking this one bit!

So that leaves me with two choices:

I can get a lot more serious about cross, as I have with road racing. Make a point of practising those mud/sand/grass handling skills, mounts/dismounts, run-ups, gear selection, etc. outside of races. Get a much better bike, more wheel and tire choices, race more often and on as many courses as possible, get some results so I can be gridded. Train to start faster and more aggressively, go back to threshold workouts to bring my 40-60 min power up again.

Or I can forget about all of that and go out to race and have fun. Try not to crash too much and hope that my skills improve by coincidence or consequence. Enjoy myself on a day out with lots of other cyclists (cross is after all the most inclusive, welcoming and social of all races in my opinion). Keep riding my same old bike and clincher tires. Start happily ungridded, unstressed, and towards the rear of the field and see how many I overtake during the race. And most importantly, not bother to train for it and not care!

Not that these two choices are entirely mutually exclusive of course. In fact, the top-end crossers get just as much fun and enjoyment out of racing as the lanterne rouge Go-Race guys I'm sure. And I find it really hard to keep from being competitive when I have a number on my back, no matter what my pre-race intentions are. But at the same time, I'm a bit worn out from racing non-stop since March and I'm dying for a break mentally if not physically.

So in my typically half-assed way, it's going to have to be choice number three for now. I will upgrade my bike to something lighter with better components (if only to have a more enjoyable ride) but I won't do much different about wheels and tires. I will race when and where I feel like it -- and when I do, vow to make it count -- but not be too bothered if that doesn't happen too often. If the weather turns crappy and I want to ride but not on the road, I'll get the cross bike out and practise a bit. Once the national hill climb is over and I've had a few weeks off, I'll re-evaluate where I am and what I want to accomplish over the winter and whether cross is something that's important enough to me to train for specifically. And I'll still have fun! Not sure I can ever quite give up cake though...


CJ Boom said...

Nice write up - I was in that same predictament 2 years ago and decided to improve practise skills. I really love racing the London League and cyclo cross.
It took a couple of crashes to realise the limit of the bike.
A lighter bike won't make you better. Smooth transitions, pushing untechnical men out the way will. ok - tricks of the trade. Skills gets you to keep the speed through the corners and then you don't lose energy sprinting that little bit more everytime.

a) i never get gridded but seeing as Corrine and Jo McRae dipped the tape at the weekend I decided that I would push the point and get myself on the 6th row by arguing with the commissaire. 2 rows back from them.
b) i was running 38 psi
c) i was using fast filetreads not a usual cross specific mud tyre on this course because I was uber dry.
d) depends what gear your pushing. Prologue sold TC a bike that had a 50/34 with a 12-25 cassette. USELESS!
I run 46T, 38T with a 12-28.
e) it has taken me 3 years to figure this out.
f) so far this year i've raced that course or a combination of it 5 times, if we're counting jan / feb 2010 then we're looking at 9 times. i reckon i know that place pretty well.
g) no brakes. i like to just touch the brakes and be able to stop but that makes you trigger happy. SO. I have them slackened right back, therefore my force of habit squeezing the shifter a bit now doesn't slow me down, thats how I learnt to go faster through bends. Because stopped giving myself a get out route/ clause. Make sense?

maryka said...

Awesome feedback, thanks! Definitely thought my mud tires were not the way to go yesterday! I'm running a 46/34 with 13-26 (8 speed) but on the new bike I think I will try 46/36 with 12-27 or some such. And yes, confidence is everything. I need to crash some more I think to really know mine and the bike's limits. See you at the next one!