WHAT?!?! It’s the fever, it’s contagious, and you’re next.
I knew I liked riding my cyclocross bike from the very first pedal stroke, flying through the river valley on gravel and single track, easily transitioning from pavement to trail and anything in between. It was the perfect shoulder season bike that I could ride well into the colder months.
September is typically off season for this triathlete, and I take that pretty seriously: no structured training, just riding bikes and having a good time. A friend (and fellow awesome-sauce cyclocross lady) put on two evenings of ladies’ cross (CX) camp before the races started so we could get a taste of some of the necessary skills. Mounts, dismounts, barriers, off camber turns, run ups, we tried them all. I found myself feeling pretty comfortable with most of them, and I started to feel warm.
Cyclocross racing starts late August or early September in YEG with a fantastic midweek series at a variety of local parks. The Alberta Cup series alternates between Edmonton and Calgary with double headers most weekends. Naturally, I signed up for the mid week series ‘just to see’ if I liked it.
I survived every twist, turn and zone 5 heart rate minute of my first mid week race. I’d never worked so hard in 20 minutes to ride 7 km in my life. I crossed the finish line with a smile, and as I drank my finisher’s Coke in the grass with my friends, I knew I’d have to sign up for the next weekend race. The feeling was getting warmer.
I drove to Calgary for my first ‘real’ CX race. The course was longer and more technical, and there were far more people. I had two goals: don’t get lapped; don’t be last. Once again, this sport tested my limits. The small hills felt like mountains. I tried to recover on a couple descents, but was egged on by the race announcer to push harder. I crossed the finish line with nothing left in the tank, smiling and ready for more. I felt the heat...and it wasn’t just the 30-degree weather.
I was hooked. I committed to practicing these unique skills by taking over a park in my neighbourhood. I knew that mastering the seemingly small skills would pay off in big ways.
It’s not all good times and feelin’ fine. The truth is that CX is hard. But, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it...the hard is what makes it great.” (Thank you A League of Their Own.)
Even in the toughest of races, I love this sport. Just recently at a race on a long, wide open course with high winds and what seemed like endless climbing, I lost every wheel, and I started to fatigue out there on my own. Near the end of the second last lap, I looked over my shoulder and saw the race leader about 400 metres behind me, and the thought crossed my mind that if I slowed down and let her lap me, I could be done my race and not have to ride another lap. Then the fever hit me...why would I want to stop riding my bike? What kind of attitude was that? My parents didn’t raise no quitter! I put my head down and I rode that last lap on my own with everything I had left. I was the last rider in the field to not get lapped.
That fever? It’s the CX Fever. (Thank you Maghalie Rochette.) To be clearer, it’s the butterflies in your belly, and the inability to stop thinking about shredding a tough corner at your next race. It’s that silly grin you can’t wipe off your face when you think about riding your bike. That fire inside you when the barriers seem taller than they were on your last lap, and you still fly over them. The gritty smile when you grind your way up that muddy climb. And the feeling you get when you cross the finish line and collapse into the grass, knowing that doing another lap may have killed you.
‘I’m not ready.’ ‘My CX skills are poor.’ ‘My dismounts suck.’ Any of these sound familiar? I’ll let you in on a little secret...none of us are ready, we are always working on skills, everyone is nervous about the next dismount. But in reality, no one at your next CX race is judging. They might be heckling you from the sidelines, but in reality, they think you’re pretty rad for being out there.
So how bout it?