Cyclo-Cross is an off-road version of cycle racing with races held over several laps of a parkland circuit. Typically a circuit is 3km in length and will cover a variety of terrain including inclines, woodland trails, natural obstacles and corners. Man-made obstacles may also be added in the form of short boards which force the rider to dismount and then remount.
The aim of a cyclo-cross race is to test the riders physical fitness and bike handling skills. The weather can also play it’s part as courses may be fast and dry or wet and muddy so the rider has to be prepared for all conditions.
Primarily a winter sport the cyclo-cross season runs from September to January with races held most weekends. At each race there will be seperate races for Under 12′s, Youths, Seniors, Veterans and Women. Sometimes for smaller events some races are combined so for example the veterans will compete with the women.
In the Wessex League the usual format is an Under 12′s race, a Youths (under 16 race), a combined veterans/junior/womens race, and then the Senior Mens race.
Cyclo-cross is very much a friendly grass-roots sport and participants range from National standard riders to the local club veteran riders. All cyclists, irrespective of age or ability, are welcome to take part. In this respect cyclo-cross is possibly the most friendly and accessible form of cycle racing with club riders able to mix it with some of the area’s top competitive cyclists.
A cyclo-cross bike is similar to a road bike in appearance except the frame has wider clearance for fatter tyres, cantilever brakes for better grip and mud clearance, and lower gear ratios.
They can be ridden off-road on most tracks and trails. Swap the tyres for some smoother road tyres and you have a great road and sportif style bike. And most cyclo-cross bikes have fittings for mudguards and racks so they also make excellent winter training and commuting bikes.
You can also ride Mountain Bikes in the Wessex League races so riding your existing MTB is a good way of trying the sport out.
How to Take Part
First check the calendar for the date, location and race times of the League race you intend to ride in.
Get to the venue in plenty of time to allow for entry and signing on, getting changed and prepared, and then riding a couple of warm-up laps.
Entry for Wessex League Events is payable on the day (although some events allow online pre-entry).
Entry fees vary between events but is typically about £15 for adults, £6 for Under 16s, and £2 for Under 12s.
If you are not a British Cycling Member then you will also have to pay an additional day-licence levy of £3.00 as all races are run under British Cycling regulations. It is recommended you take out British Cycling membership which starts from £15.00 for Bronze membership. This will include the provisional licence which is sufficient to participate in local and league level cyclo-cross races. Membership includes many other benefits as described on their website.
Under 12s do not need a licence or have to pay a day-licence levy. Events for the Under 12s are organised as British Cycling Go-Cross Events. These events are either free or have a small entry charge of £1 or £2.
Most events also promote a Novice race for newcomers to the sport who are nervous about a one hour race in the senior event. The novice race is run just after the Youth start (so you ride around at the same time as the Youths) and complete a race of around 30 minutes. There is less pressure in this race so just come along, enter and have fun. A smaller field means less bumping and barging and a chance to race the course at your own pace. Novice races are usually organised as Go-Cross introductory events so no licence is needed to take part, and the entry fee is lower.
When you enter you will be given a race number which you attach to the back of your jersey.
Before each race starts there is usually a window of 25 to 30 minutes when the circuit is clear. This is the time to do a couple of laps to familiarise yourself with the circuit and check your bike is working correctly. This should also get your muscles warmed up and ready for the race.
Just before the race starts the seeded riders are called forward to start at the front of the race. Everyone else starts behind them. When the race commences the riders will usually start fast in order to get a good position on the first lap. As a beginner just hang back and try to stay with the main group, there is plenty of time to catch and overtake later.
Races last for between 30 and 60 minutes depending on age category. This means riders will complete several laps of the circuit (each circuit typically takes about 8 minutes). Usually the riders at the front will catch and lap riders at the back. This is perfectly normal. It has been known in some races for the winner to lap everyone else in the race!
Once the leader has completed a specified time the lap bell is rung and everyone finishes on their next lap. This means the winner might complete 9 laps of the circuit but you only managed 7. In the results you will be marked down as being at +2 laps.
If you are overtaken, don’t panic!
The rider behind will usually call out which side he intends to pass on, e.g. with an “on your left”. Just hold your line, don’t weave about, and the rider will pass you when it is possible to do so. If you anticipate being lapped try to follow a line which allows the rider behind to overtake easily.
As a cyclo-cross race is quite short it is also an intense race and ridden at a fast pace.
After the race is a chance for a chat and a cup of tea and possibly a look at the results if they are ready (otherwise they will be on the web as soon as they can be compiled and posted).
The British Cycling Website also has some information on cyclo-cross so you can visit their Getting Into Cross webpage for further infomation.
If you have any further questions on cyclo-cross then just email one of the committee members and they will be happy to help.
Alternatively just turn up and have a go in one of the Wessex League events where you will be most welcome.