If you’re a seasoned cyclist, especially of the West Coast variety, the time of the year where burnout settles in is approaching. And if you’ve raced hard every weekend, you’ve probably raced even harder in the weekly ‘training’ crit. In other words, late-night reality TV is becoming addictive.
Truthfully, though, if you’re a cat 1/2, or even have such ambitions, your coach dictates that you take a few weeks off to regenerate before tackling endless base miles. That conversation is often prefaced with the phrase “Just have fun.” You then shudder at the fallacious assumption that every millisecond off the bike equates to dozens of watts lost.
However, there’s a way to “cheat” the mandated off-season—race cyclocross.
If you’re like me, cyclocross is approximately equal parts training, racing, and drinking. Generally, non-elite races are in the 30-to-45-minute arena. That’s 45 minutes of eyeball-breathing, leg-torching effort on a closed course specifically designed to tax every fiber in your body. And unless you’ve tried to chase Jens this season, you’re in for a shock.
Whether a seasoned cyclist or a first-timer, there’re three basic skills that you’ll need to master if don’t want ‘cross season to hurt too much. First, you’ll need basic body awareness. Not the “I-know-my-head-from-my-ass” awareness, but a step further. Can you ride a road bike with knobbies without running over kamikaze squirrels? Can you ride down a steep grade in close proximity without running anyone over? If not, put down your training plan, get on your bike, and commandeer your local cross-country trails.
Secondly, if you’ve never done a Le Mans start (running to and mounting your bike), your mental state will be taxed as you approach your first barrier. The only way to prepare for this is to find some grass, start to pedal towards it, and attempt a dismount. Then, keep the bike rolling, grab the hoods, and swing your leg back over the bike so that your butt makes contact with the saddle.
Having mastered the aforementioned, you’ll have full advantage come ‘cross season, and now it’s time to master the crowds. Unless you’re Nys or Compton, who pass by a beer hand-up as though it’s a blood bag, you’re encouraged—no, obligated—to indulge the crowd. By being able to grab a beer, stay upright, and not waste a drop, you won’t be winning races, but you’ll win the crowd—and the prize purse for that is more beer.
You may never handle your bike as proficiently as Marianne Vos does, but the “off-season” is designed for dreams. They never seem more obtainable than they do while imbibing in a few well-brewed hops. Indulge in the fantasy of the perfectly executed cyclocross race. Indulge in the rain, in mud, and on ice. Indulge while jumping over logs and running up stairs — just don’t spill your beer.