Mike tries cyclocross

For the last year, my teammates were singing the praises of cyclocross to me. All I heard about was how fun it is, how it lacks the pretension that rears its head in road racing, and how it’s the perfect way to get through the chilly autumn.

I decided I ought to give it a go. When I told everyone I was signed on to race the Richmond Festival of Cross at Chimborazo Park in Church Hill, I heard the following:

“You’re going to be in the red the entire time.”

“It’s so much harder than road racing.”

And my personal favorite, “Last time I raced that course I vomited.”

I don’t own a cross/mountain/gravel bike, so I hit up Andrew Kenny who let me borrow his 2000 Colnago Dream, a bike that might have been raced by the old Dutch Rabobank team once upon a time. Sure, its drivetrain was a bit dated and it only had cantilever brakes, but it fit me and it did the job.

My teammates’ forewarnings about cross racing were correct. It is hard as hell. There is no coasting or recovering, you’re going full gas the entire time, and Chimbo’s course features a ~10 percent gradient climb that tears your legs to bits, right before you have to zig-zag through a false-flat on soft grass.

Neil warned me that the flow of the race could easily be decided in the first few turns since it’s so hard to move up, and he was right.

My chance to pass people was on the aforementioned hill, which was fortunately paved. I gave it all I had up that hill and was able to overtake a handful of people on each pass.

When I finally limped across the line, I was in 8th position which exceeded even my loftiest hopes for the race. Better yet, Neil rode away from the pack and took the win!

Neil on the top step.

In my limited experience, cyclocross is both extraordinarily hard and a total blast. Ripping through grass corners and bunny-hopping roots in the mud made me feel like I was 10 again, getting lost in the woods on my BMX bike.

It feels a bit unfair to compare a cross race to a road race because it’s so drastically different. Cross felt more like a rough HIIT workout with the technicality, running up stairs and general “smash-and-grab” effort required.

Part of me was hoping I’d hate it so that I wouldn’t feel compelled to buy another bike, yet here I am, bookmarking bikes that are fit for both cyclocross racing and randonneuring…

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