Getting started in cyclo-cross
This article covers:
Where and when cyclo-cross races occur
Categories and duration of events
How to get started in 'cross
How to progress
Cyclo-cross is a specialist discipline of cycle sport, derived from a mix of cross-country running and cycling. It involves mass-start racing on a small circuit, which is relatively flat and can include a number of obstacles to test the skill of the riders, such as hurdles, off-camber tracks and steep banks. The races are shorter in length than road and mountain bike races; senior men race for one hour, juniors for generally 45 minutes and women for between 30 and 45 minutes. Due to the short duration the races are very fast and intense.
Where and when?
These races are very fast and intense
Cyclo-cross was traditionally used by road racers to maintain their fitness during the winter. It has long been a sport in its own right and there are a number of specialist cyclo cross riders. The season starts in late September and runs through till the end of February, with the larger races in January. There are however a number of races outside the season and even some summer races.
Cyclo cross racing is popular in all areas of the United Kingdom and every region runs at least one race series and a Divisional Championship. Because the circuits and small and flat there are a number of possible venues, including farmland, country parks and inner city parks.
You need a few basic items in order to race:
Cyclo cross bike
Special cyclo-cross race bikes
are built specifically for the job: light, stiff and have wide clearances for mud between the frame and tyres. A good alternative is to use a mountain bike fitted with some narrow knobbly tyres. On some courses you can use a road bike, but it is usually impossible to fit wide, deeply treaded tires under the tight fitting brakes and as soon as you encounter a wet or muddy course (that's most of them!) you will be at a major disadvantage.
section) is compulsory wear for racing (including when you are practising and warming up).
Cyclo cross racing is run by the British Cycling (formerly the BCF). To compete in events you must possess a British Cycling racing licence
. Day licenses are available but they are not very economical if you are going to ride more than a couple of events. For more details see the British Cycling website
Handbook. The cyclo cross handbook available from British Cycling contains details for all races in the country - venue, entry fee, categories, start times, organiser's details and whether you can enter on the line or need to enter before a closing date.
How to enter
Most cyclo-cross races accept 'entry on the line' (EOL) on the day of the event (don't forget your license). Many riders like this convenience but it helps organisers to have entries in advance and even as a rider it makes sense to plan your training for a particular event so do enter in advance if you can (it's cheaper too). For important 'Category A' events (such as a divisional or National race) you will be required to pre-enter the race at least three weeks in advance.
There are a number of specialist events, the biggest being the Three Peaks race in late September
If you are entering your first 'cross season, then concentrate on a local race series. As you improve and want a new challenge, then you can enter a Divisional championship or a National Series event. The bigger events attract better riders from around the country, often foreign competitors too.
There are a number of specialist events, the biggest being the Three Peaks race in late September, which is a point to point endurance race over the Peak District. The leading riders take over three hours to complete the arduous course, the more mortal ones perhaps six hours. For the true cyclo cross experience and the best competition you cannot beat a trip across the channel. Cyclo cross is enormously popular in Belgium, Holland, Switzerland and the Czech Republic.