Monday, October 22, 2007

'Cross My Heart and Hope to Die: A BSNYC Cyclocross Primer

Cyclocross is the opposite of sex--if you're doing it right it hurts, and it's only fun before and after. In my time racing cyclocross I’ve learned some tips for dealing with that nasty in-between part, which I present to you herewith. I won’t say they’ll make you a better racer--the way I race puts the “can’t” back in “cantis”--but I guarantee they’ll make you a better loser:

Know When And Where The Race Is

Eddy Merckx famously said, "The Tour de France is won in bed." Cyclocross races, however, are not won in bed, since misreading the schedule, sleeping in, and arriving after your race has begun tends to winnow your chances down considerably. Furthermore, as I've cited before, Woody Allen once said, "90% of success is just showing up." Of course, that still leaves a 10% window for failure, since I've showed up at cyclocross races and not succeeded innumerable times. I will say though that 100% of failure is not showing up, because it's tough to be competitive when your race is starting and you're 30 miles from the venue because you Mapquested the wrong address.

Don't Pre-Ride the Course

Yes, you read that right. While this bit of advice flies counter to every bit of cyclocross wisdom you're likely ever to hear, I've always believed that courting common wisdom is the path to complacency. I find that going in cold and flying blind can take the edge off the searing pain of those first few laps, since you're too busy being surprised to focus on how awful you feel. And dreading that terrible run-up for a half a lap can be demoralizing, while the shock of suddenly discovering it can give you that extra shot of adrenaline to get you over it. Complete unfamiliarity with the course can turn a killing field into a haunted hayride teeming with fun-filled surprises, thrills and spills at every turn.

Do Not Have a Pit Bike

This is another counterintuitive tactic. If you’re like me, a crash or a mechanical problem comes as sweet relief. It’s like a fire drill in school during a test. Suddenly, the pressure’s off and there’s no more pressure to perform. On the other hand, having another bicycle in the pit so that you can make a quick bike change and continue to race only expands the vast horizon of opportunity for you to lose. It’s like getting one of those flu shots they give out at the office—how are you going to call in sick for a week when everybody knows you’re immune? Never squander your inventory of excuses.

Get a Bad Starting Position

There are few things as embarrassing as getting a great starting position only to drop through the pack and completely fall apart on the first lap. Not only do your fellow racers notice, but so do the spectators. It's like you're an Alka-Seltzer and the race is a big glass of water, and everybody gets to watch your effervescent, frothy demise. But if you start the race in the back, you have nowhere to go but up. If you finish DFL, you can blame your start position. If you finish strong, you can point out how many places you had to make up and how high you would have placed if you'd started up front. Everybody hates a sandbagger, but everybody loves an underdog.

Constantly Re-evaluate Your Goals

As in everyday life, it’s important to rationalize and to temper your expectations. Certainly you should start the race expecting to finish well. However, if you cling to that expectation you’ll only be disappointed. So take the time each lap to analyze your position and re-structure your goals. If you find yourself slipping back, try to keep the guy behind you from passing you. If he does, try to hold his wheel. If you can’t, repeat with the next guy. When there’s nobody left, just wait, because eventually you’ll get to experience the thrill of battling the race leader as you try to keep from being lapped. And if all else fails, comfort yourself with your superiority over the other riders in areas outside of racing. Sure, the guy who passed you just then was stronger than you, but there’s no way he’s better at cooking eggs than you. You’re the Egg Master.

“Chunk” the Race

You may have heard of the memorization technique called “chunking,” wherein you break large chunks of information up into smaller parts to make them easier to remember. Well, you should do that in cyclocross races as well. While a ‘cross race seems short and appears to unfold faster than a Dahon on a Friday afternoon, it can feel like an eternity if you’re actually in one. So like an alcoholic or someone getting paid by the hour to retile a bathroom, focus on completing one tiny section at a time. Like life, if you think about how much more you have left you can find yourself overwhelmed. Another “chunking” trick you can take from life is picking some small section of the course and convincing yourself you enjoy it. That way, you have something to look forward to each lap. It’s like hating your job but looking forward to lunch.

Ignore Your Surroundings

As the race leaves you behind like a club-footed tuba player in a marching band, try not to pay attention to the announcer or the crowd. The announcer’s spirited narration of the battle at the front will only serve to remind you how far back you are, especially when he starts describing the action on sections of the course you’ve just completed. Similarly, the crowd can be inadvertently discouraging as well. At first they’ll cheer excitedly. But as you slip back the cheers become gradually less animated and more conciliatory, until they eventually devolve into the type of “you can do it!” sentiments generally reserved for “special” people, and then finally disappear altogether. Then, it’s all about not getting passed by the riders warming up for the next race.

Have Fun!

That’s right, this is supposed to be fun. So try to remember that as you struggle to keep your perfectly-cooked eggs down.

62 comments:

e* said...

This is the best and most helpful thing that has ever been written about 'cross racing. Hail, BSNYC.

Anonymous said...

i do so enjoy lunch time.

Anonymous said...

"You can do it!!!" God I hate those people.
Loved it.

Daniel said...

4th!

GhostRider said...

"Never squander your inventory of excuses."

Now THOSE are some pearls of true, unadulterated wisdom...and can be applied to any aspect of life (work, relationships, you name it!).

Rachel said...

Bless you. This is my favorite approach to cross racing.

Anonymous said...

omg so exactly how I've approached cx for years. in fact, I can now go one better - prep your bike in February, after the season is over. ride a bunch in the spring and talk a good game about getting miles in the legs through the summer. plan to start running in july/august. put it off til Sept. then just put it off. follow the sport on-line and occasionally ride the cx bike for 'training' through oct. consider doing the turkey trot or christmas race in your town, since everyone else will have left for the holidays.

KanyonKris said...

Great article! Especially since my life's work is finding things that are the opposite of sex. Now I can add cyclocross to the list.

Jim said...

I find being the human version of a leg-shaved brown bear helps get the crowd behind me. I'm straight mid-pack mediocre, but beloved because most people my size don't hit the dirt that fast unless their last trip up to the Shoneys buffet for "just a couple more biscuits with gravy" proves to be a more than their chair can withstand. Basically, I place straight mid-pack in most races, and the other 40 guys probably could beat me if they'd just get out of my draft and pass.

I often chunk the race too, just like you recommend. Sunday, the chunks were a couple teaspoons of bagel and some Shot Blocs. I don't know how this is supposed to make the race easier.

Anonymous said...

That's it...I'm quitting and packing my Redline away for good!

leroy said...

BSNYC -- this is a great!

Now I can dismount on any hill, carry my bike and tell folks who stare that I am doing Cyclocross training.

All I need do is work into the conversation the advice from your primer to ensure that I sound convincing.

And if that doesn't work, there's always Plan B: "It's such a nice day, I thought I'd take my bike for a walk."

Thanks!

fixeryuppie said...

"You’re the Egg Master."

God do I need that on a shirt.

Anonymous said...

DANIEL,

Stop it. No one cares that you were 4th to post a reply. The mere fact that you would take the time to even write out your "accomplishment" speaks volumes regarding your overall intelect.
Stop.

Anonymous said...

BSNYC,
You'd probably have an easier time lapping (or being lapped) around the course using your new fangled carbon water bottle cage.

Entertaining post as always.

Huzzah!

bikesgonewild said...

...finally, someone w/ a sensible approach..

...yer last post has a great link through "a picture said" if anyone didn't take the time to explore...'30's french cyclocross primer w/ amazingly cool photos...

Anonymous said...

This is beautiful. I know it is written from the heart because everything you wrote was everything I experienced yesterday and last week, my very first CX race. And it is fun, right? For this weekend, I am going to try a Saturday AND Sunday race!! Oh joy. We'll see next spring if this sport does indeed make me a better racer and bike handler.

Anonymous said...

Those cheers of "you can do it!" are sooooo condescending. If it's so freaking "do-able", why aren't you out here "doing it"?

Robosauce said...

oh man I have my first cx race this upcoming Sunday I am so dead.

Anonymous said...

It's all about trying not to get lapped by the riders warming up for the next race... Nothing worse than having the Women's B class doing hot laps and cleaning the barriers when you're about to fall apart morally, emotionally and physically.
I've taken to the Nat Ross racing technique this year and I'm accepting all beer handups every lap once I'm out of top ten. Everyone loves a partier...

Illinoisfrank said...

It's like you're an Alka-Seltzer and the race is a big glass of water, and everybody gets to watch your effervescent, frothy demise.

Exactly like my race yesterday. At least Saturday, I started out in the back due to some last minute strategy. Oh, and I hope you don't mind me referring to something you wrote as a sarcastic reference to my bike.

As usual, a brilliant post.

Whitey said...

You forgot, Always blame the equipment.

Dan said...

Anonymous Oct 22 2:02 PM,

I can deal with the non-racer "you can do it" people. They're usually nice people there to see someone they know, and have good intentions. What sucks is when the "you can do it" is coming from another racer, usually in a higher class, that could stomp you without question on any given day. It's even worse when it's your friend.

Anonymous said...

@ fixeryuppie:

You ain't kiddin'

alliwannadoisbicycle said...

thanks for describing my race @ granogue!!! (almost)

Dirt Monkey said...

My strategy is, start at the back and stay ath the back. That way the only people that hear my wimpers of pain are the errant spectator and the Masters racers that always pass me.

It's like you read my mind BSNYC

Robin said...

Just when I was thinking I would train and start racing cross next year now I know I can just show up.

todd said...

You know, you really could have done some of us a favor by posting this before the weekend. Then, I just might have talked myself out of doing my first 'cross race of the season.

But no, I had to go out and get a stick wrapped around my spokes and get attacked by the course tape.

Illinoisfrank said...

One more strategy is to race on both Saturday and Sunday. Your crappy results on Saturday are because you are warming up/saving yourself for the more important Sunday race and when you blow up on Sunday, it's because you raced on Saturday.

Woman's B Class said...

Daniel you poor little boy; you're not 4th, you've been lapped!

vonteity said...

You must have watched a few of my infamous horrendously bad starts. And apparently a bunch of my races, too!

Brian said...

I am of the opinion that cyclecross does not exist (sort of like the moon landing was a hoax theory). I have never seen anyone actually in an event. I have never seen anyone even WANT to be in such an event. Further, every picture I have ever seen of these events have people running with bikes over their shoulders.

I think if you want to win a cyclecross race, GET RID OF THE WHEELS. They just add weight, and they make the whole bike-over-the-shoulder thing rather difficult. Hell, get rid of the handle bars too, don't seem to need those either. In fact, is their even a rule you HAVE to have a bike? Just get your team kit on and some decent shoes and run the whole thing.

Anonymous said...

i prefer to show up drunk from the night before.

Anonymous said...

Nice title for your article!

http://www.teamspin.com/Portals/3/FinalCrossFlier.pdf

Anonymous said...

You stole the name of our race! www.teamspin.com

jwm said...

It's like you were at my last race. Great post!

-jwm

The Great White Hype said...

I assume DFL is 'dead f**king last'?

One of our road regulars prefers to label us the Z-Group. Maybe I should suggest the DFL group instead? The acronym sounds fancier.

Philip Williamson said...

Daniel! You can DO it!

And anonymous 1:34... if yer gonna misspell a word... try not to make it 'intellect'.

Derisory Velo said...

Finally! A solution to all my cyclo-cross woes.

c_c_rider said...

chunk the race. genius!!! thanks bikesnob

Perhaps a Parrot said...

Bike Snob, you know me all too well. I am a cat 1 who considers himself the egg master. This weekend I sneaked into a C's race and absolutely wailed on all the 12 year olds....but one of their grandfathers beat me!

VeloStrummer said...

IllinoisFrank -

Thanks for the great tip!! I have done two races this year. I've been consistent - getting lapped by a few riders in each race, but meeing my objective of not DFLing. I have 2DFLd in both races (i.e. next to DFL), and your strategery is going to pay off in spades for my first weekend of racing Saturday and Sunday. But as an added bonus, my band has gigs Friday AND Saturday night, so I can just blame both on the gigging. GREAT SUCCESS AND HAPPY TIMES!!

gewilli said...

i'll be the old broken record...

effin brilliant man...

hysterical...

Pit Bikes are for Pros and Poseurs... no one else.... okay - Pros and Cat 1s and 2s...

flu shot - bwahahah
alkaseltzer - that's me Mr Holeshot and hold on for as long as possible... must be that hard candy shell that takes longer to dissolve...

THE ALL KNOWING ROOKIE said...

Absolutely funny. I damn near pissed myself. It was only that funny due to the fact that I am tryinjg to race cross.

Anonymous said...

Re: Daniel vs. Anon 1:34

Anon 1:34's finely crafted admonishment speaks for all of us. The cold, officious tone. The ironic typo. The apparent ignorance of the fact that BSNYC's blog is meant as a source of amusement.

So stop it Daniel. Stop it right now.


40-something!


-RT

Anonymous said...

Cyclocross spectator: "Looking good! Keep it going!" Translation= "Wipe the puke specs off of your chin, you pathetic loser."

Anonymous said...

"Furthermore, as I've cited before, Woody Allen once said, '90% of success is just showing up.'"

80%?

humancongereel said...

"i've showed up at cyclocross races"? come now, you know better than that. shown up.

BikeSnobNYC said...

humancongereel,

I can't guarantee you'll find laughs, insight, or enjoyment on this blog on any given day. But I can guarantee you'll find an error in spelling, grammar, or fact. And if pointing them out gives you pleasure I'm sure you won't be disappointed.

--BSNYC

gwadzilla said...

that is fantastic advice for all of us that are not seeking to break top ten...

the rules for cyclocross is different for that small pack of people actually racing

a great collection of words

I felt ever one of those words
as I have lived everyone of those words

I always want to quit on the first lap

EricM said...

welcome to cyclocross sisters and brothers. it's a hoot.

Anonymous said...

retiring is never far from the psyche in a cx race.

hamad said...

ramen...

this has been my philosophy for cross for as long as i've been racing. never pre-ride. always start at the back...hey, look at how many people i've passed.

Anonymous said...

First two minutes: "please flat, please flat, please flat, oh PLEASE flat"

Frank Brigandi said...

well, I though I was the only one thinking like this. I try to bribe soeone to hook me out of the gate at every race, it never works 'cause no one wants a lap dance from me, which is a whole 'nother issue based on self destruction besides bicycle racing.... but at least I try to quit before the race actually starts eh?

Anonymous said...

The "Ignore your surroundings" paragraph is one of the funniest things I have read in a while. So true... and applies equally well to crits. I'll never forget my first crit - "Go rider, keep it up, you can do it!". 2 minutes later, I was lapped and pulled from the field in total humiliation. Brilliant.

marlo said...

brian:

Fucking brilliant. I LOLed.

Zo said...

I could've used this advice a couple of sundays back, when I entered my first 'cross race.

Fortunately, I'd already mastered the "don't have a pit bike" item, so when my chain broke on the first lap, a grueling race suddenly became a contemplative walk in the woods with a bicycle slung over my shoulder, occasionally punctuated by the passage of cyclists who actually maintained their bikes properly. Suckers!

Anonymous said...

hloy carp that's some funny stuff

nice job

Ernesto said...

This validates everything I've been doing while racing and at the same time devalues all those ignoramuses who keep on giving lame advice like "switch to a different gear," or "lift your legs faster." Screw them, I'm having fun with the mud!

Anonymous said...

we invented cyclone cross here in Mebane NC! why wait for the DOT to get a bypass built?

nanc

Anonymous said...

lanterne rouge

Anonymous said...

............Nice..^_^v................