Summer ‘cross – What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger
Taking a gander at the British Cycling ‘Get into cyclo-cross’ website page you’ll be greeted with a concise introduction:”Skinny tyres, mud, short, sharp off-road races, with hurdles, obstacles and intense action…”
So far so good. Read on a bit: “Throughout the autumn and winter, it’s probably taking place in a park near you.”
What? Hang on! Back pedal! “Autumn and winter”? What exactly then have I been racing these last few Wednesdays if it wasn’t ‘cross?
Yes ‘cross is autumn foliage giving way to winter rain and Yuletide fun, it’s about getting filthy dirty and ten types of mud in the washing machine. But ‘cross, in all its cowbell craziness, also co-exists in the off-season, the vainglorious British summer.
Cycling loves its seasons. Road racing and time-trials from the first signs of spring, through to the long hazy days of summer, track and ‘cross then kicking in when the roads get mucky and light starts to fade.
The major disciplines are rightly focused around their national championships with leagues and races working back through the calendar from there. But from the south west to Yorkshire, Scotland to London summer ‘cross leagues offer riders the opportunity to grab some drop-bar, dirty goodness when others are faffing about on the tarmac.
These alternative ‘cross races are really no different from their big winter cousins, largely the same format, similar parcours and many of the same faces on the start line. They do though have a few challenging subtleties.
Some organisers use courses purloined from the winter, while others negotiate summer-only venues testing out new obstacles and layouts. Age categories can be significantly different from the darker months. Don’t be surprised to find everyone over 14 lumped in together with vets, youngsters and women all doing battle on the same course at the same time, national champions and absolute beginners starting on the same whistle. Then of course there’s the summer weather. Over a few weeks you could be facing a dirt crit. Or a mud bath. You might be struggling ’round in twilight gloom or racing in blistering sunshine.
So with fields of over a hundred, massively variable race conditions, mid-week and weekend fixtures and the possibility of being truly thrashed by someone you could mathematically be a grandparent to (or vice versa), why the hell would you do this?
As you know, ‘cross is equal parts power and bike handling skills. Unless you’re a supreme ‘crosser, those skills will quickly fade in the off-season. There’s no training substitute to being full-pelt, shoulder-to-shoulder into the hole-shot, or battling to defend a line as it narrows to singletrack, or knowing exactly when to put the hammer down when those around you are backing off.
For those dipping their toe into the wonderful and frightening world of ‘cross, summer racing is the ideal introduction. Turn up and go. It’s much less pressure, and the benefits of learning on the hoof and quickly building skills. For riders already immersed, summer ‘cross keeps the fires alive, tickles the reflexes into action and allows for the testing of tyres, kit and any other secret weapons.
Why not give it a go? What’s the worst that can happen? Whatever the outcome, you’ll have an ace time, you’ll be faster, stronger, and certainly more confident. No matter how you fare, you’ll be race honed and eager for the glorious winter season to come.
Search the British cycling calendar here to find a summer ‘cross race near you.