Cyclo-Cross is Groovy

Cornwall cyclo-cross. Photo by Steve Morris

Cornwall cyclo-cross. Photo by Steve Morris

Cornwall cyclo-cross. Photo by Steve Morris.

Cornwall cyclo-cross. Photo by Steve Morris.

I can’t believe it is almost race day and I haven’t written about last weekend’s race in Cornwall. I guess it has been one of those busy weeks when I was out and about more than I have been sitting in front of my computer. (I think this is a good thing!)

The race last weekend in Cornwall was a classic. I’ve always like the Cornwall course, though I do at times curse the darn sharp steep uphills and the uphill barriers… These two features really highlight skills and explosive power.

I had a strategy going into last weekend’s race: don’t explode three laps in. In the previous races, I managed to race too hard early on and then did a slow but steady slide backwards through the field. So Sunday was all about race management and flow – racing hard in the sections that I knew I could make gains, find places where I could get a bit of recovery and make sure that I rode all technical sections as cleanly as possible. This strategy did work for the most part, but when I managed to drop my chain at the bottom of the lap finish climb, I did get tossed around mentally. I had to stop at the bottom of the hill and I did what I felt was the slowest chain fixing job ever and it took me a bit to decide whether to ride up the hill or run up the hill. By the time I got to the top, the lady I was chasing and had hoped to pass on that very lap was long gone…

Time to switch to  plan B – race as hard as I could with a goal of making up my lost time and throw caution to the wind. Well, this did work – but I simply ran out of steam in the last half of the last lap and didn’t have that extra edge to get by the lady I had been chasing. I have to say it was heaps of fun to be in a small race battle with another person – I was particularly impressed with this lady’s ability to accelerate up the steep hills and to dig really deep. Lots of fun.

I also learned some good lessons on Sunday. The major lesson being that I need to get out and practice my uphill barriers. This is an area that I really didn’t spend a lot of time honing when I was racing seriously. I suppose it was because in Belgium, Holland, and in other areas, uphill barriers aren’t used often. There the course designers let the terrain force a run or ride – I suppose this is due to the high probability of extreme mud and other natural factors such as deep sandy climbs and the overall skill level of the racers. I spent a lot of time practicing my flat barriers, my ability to quickly shoulder (still a bit clumsy) my bike and run up a hill, and learning how to “trust the rut” – but when it comes to picking up my bike and running over a barrier, I get rather clunky and slow down.

On Thursday night I met up with a great group of women for our weekly cyclo-cross clinic. The focus was on uphill barriers… (surprise!) Well, it was a great session. We did some crazy drills that to an observer would have looked pointless but in my experience, the best way to learn a skill is to break it down into its little pieces, get these right and then put it all together. So this is what we did last night. Well, I’m super impressed with how well these women progressed through the evening – for an hour of practice they definitely excelled. By the end of the night they were flying over the uphill barrier and were remounting with extreme confidence. There is nothing better than seeing people understand  a skill and make progress – particularly when everyone is smiling and having fun.

I get asked a lot lately about how I’m enjoying being back on the bike and racing cyclo-cross. Well, I can honestly and happily say that I’m having more fun this year than I’ve had in many years. I look forward to lining up on Sunday morning and racing my bike. After the race I l enjoy hanging out with the other women and talking about how the race unfolded. I’m really loving the weekly cyclo-cross sessions – these are a real highlight of my week. It’s different not having the fitness I used to have, but what really matters is that I’m out there and enjoying it. I’ve learned over the years that really no one is paying attention to your results except yourself – so it doesn’t really matter if you win or get lapped – what matters is the doing and enjoying doing it.

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