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Dave Haygarth's Guide to Summer Cyclocross

Cyclocross still has a reputation for being a winter sport but these days it keeps going long after the clocks go forward, as our sponsored rider Dave Haygarth writes...

A few years back (or probably more… I’m getting on a bit), cyclocross was the way roadies kept themselves fit and out of trouble in the winter. Legend has it, that was basically why it was invented. It’s certainly true that all the big names in cyclocross 50 years ago were big names in road racing, too. I remember when I started racing ‘cross in the early 90s that people often looked down on me tailing off from big mileage at the end of summer to concentrate on ‘cross skills and get myself used to the cyclocross drills and skills we get accustomed to as autumn winter bed in. It seemed wrong. You don’t prepare for cyclocross… ‘cross was meant to be preparation for the road. And none too serious preparation, at that.

Things have changed. Since the late 90s cyclocross has deservedly become its own specialised discipline for some, and rarely do we see today’s stars on the road mixing it at the top level of cross – or vice versa. But what’s really put a spanner in the works at club level here in the UK is a rapidly growing Summer ‘Cross scene. You can now use cyclocross to prepare for cyclocross and, save for a few miserable weeks between February and April, us ‘cross addicts can get our fill all the way through the year.

If you have never raced a summer cross (possibly you’re enjoying the roads without salt on them, or relishing dusty longer gnarl on a mountain bike) it’s something you ought to give it a go. Here’s a few things you may know, may not know, and may need to know about the UK Summer ‘Cross scene:

It’s not only the timekeeper and his mate to keep you company

Summer ‘crosses are getting very, very popular. At the first event in Yorkshire this summer, the main ‘over 14s’ event saw 240 people start at once. Yes. You can only imagine the first corner. So that start is all-important, if you’re a hitter.

Races tend to be a bit shorter

This is mainly due to daylight available. You won’t get separate races for each youth category – the normal format seems to be settled on an under 14s and an over 14s race. The latter will be usually no more than 50 mins, even in midsummer when light is plentiful.

 

Rain or Shine - Your kitbag will be virtually the same as winter

Yes – I know you think summer’s always balmy and hot, especially up here in The North, but I’m here to tell you that even in summer it sometimes can be wet, claggy, muddy, cold, and windy. Just be fair to yourself and keep those warmer clothes in the kitbag for warmup and cooldown. You’ll invariably need them, if only to keep your pristine race kit clean for the start line.

 

File under “Tread”

File treads are for sand, snow and gravel courses. That is because they grip better where there is something loose but soft to ride on. Grass in summer is hard but soft. Don’t assume that on a dry summer grassy course you will go faster with some tread-bare files. Knobbles on Tyres are useful for braking, cornering, cambers, and even accelerating in a straight line. Give yourself grip. It will not slow you down unless 50% of the route is on tarmac.

 

Like winter, only different annoyances

Whilst on the subject of tyres, be prepared for some slightly harder surface obstacles so watch those low pressures and expensive tubulars bottoming out. longer grass / undergrowth can also potentially be an issue - keep an eye on stuff getting stuck in your derailleur or cassette before it starts to cost you. Adjust your line where possible to suit. A corner line cut through longer grass followed by pulpng the grass out of your jammed cassette is not an effective line. As usual in ‘cross, just observe the course and conditions and adapt your gear / lines to suit.

 

Race hard, play nice

Having said that the start is important in a shorter event with a potentially huge field, more important are the all-round decorum, respect, and good manners that allow fast and slow riders alike to share a course. Whether you’re passing or being passed, be cool, be nice, and keep it friendly. No excuses. Nobody’s a better person than anyone else. The usual polite ‘grunt’ from behind normally does the trick if you’re lapping someone, but if it doesn’t do the trick, just wait til it’s open and safe. If you lose or gain a place based on lapping riders, it all evens out over a lifetime!

Photo courtesy of Neil Hendry