'De Snor' on the Kopppenberg

'De Snor' on the Kopppenberg

Don’t Make Me ‘Cross

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Cyclocross could be the most perplexing of all the cycling disciplines. To me it’s  at once the most beautiful and the most unappealing. The beauty comes from the great European races, and of course by ‘European’ I mean ‘Belgian’. The lack of appeal stems from the fact that I just don’t want to do it. It looks hard.

Watching the pros ply their craft is one of the great spectating pleasures. Though all I have to go on is the online coverage of the races, you get a sample of the full sensory experience that comes from a cold, muddy field full of drunken, baying fans yelling their lungs out in what could only be an attempt to ward of frostbite by clapping and jumping up and down for an hour, before retreating to the bar from whence they came to thaw out and top up the already well-stocked beer reserves. Then there’s the riders, who sometimes might feel relegated to bit players in the big show, but in reality are the stars, the heroes, as well known in the motherland of cross as a TV soap star might be in the Colonial backwaters. The skills and fitness of these riders is, I think, superior to any other type of competitive cyclist, full stop.

To be able to go from a standing start, after waiting statically for five or ten minutes in sub-zero temperatures, to sprinting at maximum heart rate, then sustaining it for an hour is truly impressive. Not ony that, but to ride thos inappropriate machines in those crapulous conditions takes a special character. It’s like someone handed you a bowl of dishwashing liquid and an apple and told you to knit a cardigan with it. Skinny tyres, drop bars, shit brakes, off-camber corners, sandpits, fucking running for gods sake, it’s everything that should be kept well away from each other thrown into a blender and then force-fed, and you’re expected to give the thumbs up and a “ooh, that’s delicious” appraisal. It’s fucking ridiculous.

I was talking to friend and Kiwi cross champion Alex Revell over beers last week, and asked how crazy the crowds were and what the tunnel of noise that the riders must navigate is really like. He responded with a look of “well what the fuck do you think it’s like?” before more diplomatically answering in his dulcet manner. “It’s just crazy, it’s so loud it hurts your ears and gives you a headache.” Alex is used to probably more support from the mad Belgians than most backmarkers at a World Cup are accustomed to. After scraping up enough money for an airfare, he threw himself into the Euro ‘cross scene right at the deep end. Armed only with one bike, a bit of free kit and the moustache from hell, he stood out like dog’s balls. Who was this fool from New Zealand with handlebars on his face wider than those on his bike, slipping and sliding around just waiting to be lapped out? He’s our new hero, that’s who!

Back here in Wellington, he can walk down the centre of town and he’d be regarded as just another young guy with fancy facial hair. In Belgium, he’s mobbed for photos and autographs while trying to buy bread. And that’s why I believe cyclocross is a paradoxical discipline; I can sit and watch this year’s men’s World Championship race over and over, and marvel at the classic battle that unfolded. I’ll study the Svenness and Like A Vos videos and get much pleasure and insight from the race analysis that they provide. I’ll go to the local races and heckle my mates as they roll around a park for an hour and I’ll have a great time. But when they repeatedly ask “when are you gonna come race?” or “why don’t you get a bike?”, well I just want to slap them around the chops and ask my own question: “Do I look fucking insane?”

I just don’t see the appeal of pinning myself to within a whisker of a heart attack, on a bike that is sketchy enough just riding on a flat, smooth surface, on terrain that has no appealing features like corners, descents, roots or rocks, in the middle of winter while wearing a diaper filled with what equates to wet sandpaper. I can do that at the local Gentleman’s Club. But damned if all my mates, who ride all forms of bikes, aren’t hooked like junkies on this odd drug. Maybe I’m afraid I’ll get addicted too, such is my personality.

So I’ll resist as long as I can, and keep my belief that cross is fantastic to watch when done by pros in Belgium, but a little bit wrong when done by me, at the wrong time of year in the furthest part of the world away from where it belongs.

For now.

 

 

// Awesome Kiwi Guys // Cyclocross

  1. @brett Very nice article, a worthy read indeed.  

    Like you, I fear purchasing a cyclocross machine would take my further down the rabbit hole of this addiction.  I tell myself I would use it for other things (urban commuting or some shit like that), but I know that come winter… I’d have to test those frigid waters of what seems to be the more spectator friendly version of bike racing.  I get the feeling however, the spectators are just there to see a bloodbath….not a bike race.

  2. Ha, I saw him race last year in Louisville! Yup, he got lots of support too.

    I love riding cross as an alternate to road riding. Racing is okay. The biggest drawback for me is: spend a few hours in the car, spend a few hours waiting around, race for 30 minutes, then spend a few hours in the. Goodbye Saturday/Sunday.

    I could just go out and ride for 2-3 hours and be back with the entire day ahead of me. I’d rather that more often than not.

  3. I discovered it last year, first time in my life I’ve LOVED racing! Beware, EXTREMELY addictive!

  4. I’m drawn by the opportunity to link a mix of Strade Bianche equivalent (and worse) with a lengthy road ride.  Budget, common sense and s-1 limit me at the moment though!

  5. Great article.

    I like cyclocross. Mainly because, if it didn’t exist, you wouldn’t be able to buy full weapons-grade race-spec carbone bikes with sufficient clearance for wide tyres and mudguards for riding to work on shit roads in shit weather.

    I wish there was better TV coverage, unless I’m missing something there’s not much in the UK, if there were then I’d probably get addicted too.

  6. If road races went through beer tents and if you could then pull off a beer hand-up at speed then I think you could experience all the good things of a cross race sans mud and running. Until then…

    As a side note, I think a cross race is one of the few places where drunk folks are cautious when crossing the street (i.e. course). Kinda like the Master’s which is the only place you can get a crowd of drunks to be quiet.

  7. simply put,  cross is like fight club. not for everyone, but once you are there and engaged, well, it takes you to your core.

  8. Alex’s story is a real inspiration, I hung on every word of his first season blogs and over at Spoke. That happy go lucky, I’m gonna give this a try every week even though I get pulled every race, but becoming the peoples champion development is really quite endearing.

    I’m gonna give it a try, and his story is responsible. You don’t even need a cross bike to race less than A grade at most races, I’m gonna test the water on my MTB first.

    It also seems to be better to bring the fam along to watch, as they get to see you blowing your arse out several times within an hour, rather than at the start and finish with a 4-5 hour gap between for a road race (excluding crits of course, which I will never race in!).

  9. Sweet article @brett. Cross rocks!

  10. The temptation of cross has been knocking at my door like a certain black bird. I fear what may be uncovered at the chance I give in to the demons in my head. Great article!

  11. @Beers

    Yes, I tell the wife (and kids) not to bother with road races although my parents were keen enough once they manned a follow car. Not a bad way to see it really.

    Crits, I think, are the closest a club road racer will get to the spectator buzz of CX. The whole family come to watch those which is great because if they see me crash, I get a lot more sympathy.

  12. After spending the last few years “training” and riding longer rides (Belgian Waffle Ride for one), I took the plunge to try Cyclocross this year.  I like the appeal of full gas for a short duration and it’s another excuse to buy another bike.  I have zero bike skills, but after a few rides on one of the local cross courses, it’s pretty damn fun.

    Here is my new bike after first ride, some dialing in still to go.  Ritchey Swiss Cross full Campy (of course).

  13. @colnago_fan

    After spending the last few years “training” and riding longer rides (Belgian Waffle Ride for one), I took the plunge to try Cyclocross this year. I like the appeal of full gas for a short duration and it’s another excuse to buy another bike. I have zero bike skills, but after a few rides on one of the local cross courses, it’s pretty damn fun.

    Here is my new bike after first ride, some dialing in still to go. Ritchey Swiss Cross full Campy (of course).

     

    Nice bike! I race similar, but with Groupsan for cheaper repairs, and celeste hoods and saddle. I notice you still run a front cantilever – do yourself a favour and replace it with a v-brake to eliminate the fork shudder. And if you haven’tdiscovered that yet, you will very soon. It is not pleasant!

  14. Had the great pleasure (well, sorta-in as much as you can experience pleasure in an hour long anaerobic effort) of racing De Snor last week at the National CX Series races in Melbourne.

    Awesome winter weather.

    Have a look at the video attached

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cFzSkHBMp8c&sns=em

  15. @Bianchi Denti

    Am I mistaken, or does where you’re riding look a little like Moonshine Park?

  16. Stop it.  Keep thinking I should get one but how often would one ride it in Melbourne? Plus now have zero skills on the dirt.

    Dirty Deeds CX is only 3 events a year as far as I can tell, not sure how many other races are on in Melb / Victoria. I can still remember the old MTB XC races with Fat Tyre Flyers at Rowville or Lysterfield I think it was – talk about blow up and suffer. Crits seem easy compared to that.

    What bike do you have Mouse and how often do you get to race it?

  17. I miss seeing him riding that old Yeti.

  18. @VeloSix I was fearing the same but I ended up buying one… Now I got hooked, spend even more money on cycling and I don’t have an ‘off season’. However, I am also using it for many other things like touring or commuting so go and get one :D

  19. some irony to this article, as this will be my first year attempting some cyclocross races.   blogging it at cxrookie.com – it’s the obvious insanity which attracted me.   We’ll see how well I can survive (contribute?) it….

  20. Nicely said @DCR

    @teocalli these are the reasons I don’t get involved in Cross.  It’s shockingly expensive… Gotta have tires for every condition, two functional and light weight bikes, and cowbells.  Just crazy.

  21. @therealpeel

    Nicely said @DCR

    @teocalli these are the reasons I don’t get involved in Cross. It’s shockingly expensive… Gotta have tires for every condition, two functional and light weight bikes, and cowbells. Just crazy.

    I used to have some cowbells somewhere from skiing……..

  22. I have been accused of living for CX season. My coworkers at the bike shop have nicknamed me “CrossLos” because of my adoration for this ridiculous discipline.

    What brings me back after all these years (and numerous converts!) is that cyclocross is a distillation of the insanity that is our sport. Condensed suffering, loopy spectators, and of course, beer.

    I love CX!

  23. @brett

    We have a few Canadians that fall into that whole, “let’s go to Europe and race cross for race experience.” Unknown provincial and national champions here in Canada, but lapped rock stars in Belgium. Fantastic. I have in my infinite or infantile wisdom, sponsored one of these intrepid souls with a set of carbon tubulars. The most and least I can do from CR right now.

    On a personal note, my first race post-A’stan and post PTSD diagnosis, was a cross race. I was riding ok on the road with some fairly good regularity when a riding partner decided to give cross a try. Unbeknownst to myself, I had been avoiding racing and was even mentally sabotaging myself for simple organized events and sportifs. Well I got talked into doing the race with him. I tried to get out of it, but a sponsor stepped up and provided me a bike and a veteran’s organization paid my race fees. During the race, which I claimed the lanterne rouge, because like fuck I was going to quit, I puked 6-7 times. One of the commissaries tried to move me off the finish line as I was vomiting up purple gatorade all over the line and my white bar tape. My buddy duly threatened the commi’s life for me.

    Once you cross, you’ll never stop.

  24. Oh and beer hand-ups rock

  25. It seems I’ll be dipping my toe into the pool this season, likely followed by diving headlong into the deep end.

  26. @NZ Ledge

    @Bianchi Denti

    Am I mistaken, or does where you’re riding look a little like Moonshine Park?

    You are not mistaken. I am the scourge of B-grade in the Hutt Cross series. Are you a local?

  27. I have the possibility of riding MTB or tweaking my franken bike and chucking on some cheap CX clinchers to run the race I’m aiming at. Which would you cx-sensei suggest to a cx-pedalwan?

     I was just going to get the gruntiest tread I could find for the least money, to cover all bases…

  28. I’m safe here on Maui, unless some dick starts up a CX series. It would be good to be forced to run occasionally as I am so bad at it. I never got into it on the mainland, where it has been a very serious sport for off-season roadies for decades. We would just go right into MTB riding instead, no racing, just riding in the woods. I do remember being very impressed by running into a CX rider in the woods on the same trails when we had front suspension and he had none and thin CX wheels.

    Why am I taunted by Alex Revell’s ‘stache?  It says, actually I don’t know what it says but it bugs me. Thank god he is not a professional road racer. If that caught on in the peloton I’d be horrified. It does seem perfect for CX racing though.

  29. @anotherdownunder

    Stop it. Keep thinking I should get one but how often would one ride it in Melbourne? Plus now have zero skills on the dirt.

    Dirty Deeds CX is only 3 events a year as far as I can tell, not sure how many other races are on in Melb / Victoria. I can still remember the old MTB XC races with Fat Tyre Flyers at Rowville or Lysterfield I think it was – talk about blow up and suffer. Crits seem easy compared to that.

    What bike do you have Mouse and how often do you get to race it?

    Something a bit like this…

    Also, FWIW, there is a new 4 race CX race series announced at Essendon Fields called Fields of Joy. First race on 27 June.  No excuses now…

  30. @Bianchi Denti I am a local – live in Raumati.

    HuttCross #2 was my first cross race, on Jeff’s  loaner bike…. last weekend did it on an MTB, but currently putting a a cross bike together – might be touch and go for round 4 but should be ready for round 5. To paraphrase the article “I’m afraid I’m already addicted” :-o

  31. @mouse

    Ah ha http://fojcx.blogspot.com.au/

    Now I am worried. Do I buy a cheap CX bike and then get upgradeits and blow more money or buy a better one straight up. Alum or carbon? And discs or rim brakes, what is the preference these days.

    And what exactly is your bike, hard to tell brand etc from pic.

    Thanks

  32. I beleive that you should refer to Rule #5. also cyclocross isnt hard. It is very fun and entertaining

  33. downunder – worm your way into the local cross scene. Wait one year. Buy a used bike from the recently divorced guy who rides 15 races a year and upgrades every off season.

    Done. Very excellent cx bike at a great price. Al or carbone, you choose.

  34. I’m down for any cycling discipline in which the first item you make sure you pack for race day is your beer cooler…and truth be told, if someone put a gun to my head and told me I could only have one bike I would definitely pick a cross bike (but only after telling them they may as well just pull the trigger and put me out of my misery as a life lived with only one bike is a life that isn’t worth living)

  35. @Gianni

    I’m safe here on Maui, unless some dick starts up a CX series. It would be good to be forced to run occasionally as I am so bad at it. I never got into it on the mainland, where it has been a very serious sport for off-season roadies for decades. We would just go right into MTB riding instead, no racing, just riding in the woods. I do remember being very impressed by running into a CX rider in the woods on the same trails when we had front suspension and he had none and thin CX wheels.

    Why am I taunted by Alex Revell’s ‘stache?

    LeMan would do cross in the winter because he thought mountain biking allowed you to gear down on hard sections but cross forces you to run over those sections, keeping the engine running as opposed to idling. Also a certain Badger learned cross prior to kicking everyone’s ass at the ’85 tour (more or less). Regardless, both help your float.

    And cross allows you time to explore facial hair mistakes. You can race in a costume for Crissakes.

  36. @Gianni

    I’m safe here on Maui, unless some dick starts up a CX series. It would be good to be forced to run occasionally as I am so bad at it. I never got into it on the mainland, where it has been a very serious sport for off-season roadies for decades. We would just go right into MTB riding instead, no racing, just riding in the woods. I do remember being very impressed by running into a CX rider in the woods on the same trails when we had front suspension and he had none and thin CX wheels.

    Why am I taunted by Alex Revell’s ‘stache? It says, actually I don’t know what it says but it bugs me. Thank god he is not a professional road racer. If that caught on in the peloton I’d be horrified. It does seem perfect for CX racing though.

    “Some dick”…they always have to ruin things for the rest of us…

  37. @VeloVita

    I’m down for any cycling discipline in which the first item you make sure you pack for race day is your beer cooler…and truth be told, if someone put a gun to my head and told me I could only have one bike I would definitely pick a cross bike (but only after telling them they may as well just pull the trigger and put me out of my misery as a life lived with only one bike is a life that isn’t worth living)

    Holy fack. Wouldn’t that make a great story for the newspaper. “Velominatus Killed After Telling Thief ‘Death Before I Break Rule #4.'”

  38. @Ron

    downunder – worm your way into the local cross scene. Wait one year. Buy a used bike from the recently divorced guy who rides 15 races a year and upgrades every off season.

    Done. Very excellent cx bike at a great price. Al or Carbone, you choose.

    Excellent call. The recently divorced guy (divorced because S-1 could not hold) is a great asset. As is bike shop owner who just has to upgrade because he is the bike shop owner.

  39. Cross fucking rules, I hate it, Its the worst thing ever and the best, and the only kind of racing i do, wish it rained more hear in LA though, to hot and to dry, crashing on kitty litter and gravel sucks, I still love though can’t wait till september

  40. @anotherdownunder

    @mouse

    Ah ha http://fojcx.blogspot.com.au/

    Now I am worried. Do I buy a cheap CX bike and then get upgradeits and blow more money or buy a better one straight up. Alum or carbon? And discs or rim brakes, what is the preference these days.

    And what exactly is your bike, hard to tell brand etc from pic.

    Thanks

    It’s a Specialized Crux. Aluminium from 2012 (I think…)

    Depending on how keen you are to spend money, of course, regarding your new bike.

    I think you want the lightest bike you can manage.  If you can afford carbon, do that.  If you can manage your own build, do that.

    My next bike will be a chinese carbon frame with the best groupset I can get (SRAM) and Chinese carbon 38mm clinchers.  The frame and the wheels alone should be just below the $11-1200 mark.

    I’m sticking with Canti’s as they are significantly lighter that disc brakes.

  41. @mouse

    Thanks for the info. Am intending to head out there on the 27th and have a look.

  42. “Look for beer cans in the trees. They mark the path to the top of the ridge.”

  43. @anotherdownunder

    So, did you make it?

    Awesome, awesome parcours.

    So exciting to have a purpose built CX venue in Melbourne!

  44. Indeed I did, but as a spectator. I do not recall seeing the pink bike but do recall a Trail Mix rider ( must go through my pics ) but we left after Womens race so only saw Men’s B and C, not A. What grade did you race?

    We watched at steps for a while and then headed up to roller coaster bit. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, C grade looks to be about me I think.

    Still no CX bike yet………. trying to convince the group I ride with we need to do it.

  45. @anotherdownunder

    Ah, cool!

    I’m in A Grade, so you would have missed me.

    Roller Coaster was awesome!

    Get into it!  Its great fun!

  46. Couldn’t resist this old post…

    @VeloSix

    @brett Very nice article, a worthy read indeed.

    >>>  a cyclocross machine would take my further down the rabbit hole of this addiction. < <<

    I swear it’s gotta be the meth rush addiction of cycling… a friggen blast

     

    @gaswepass

    simply put, cross is like fight club. not for everyone, but once you are there and engaged, well, it takes you to your core.

    Every bit of that.

    @VeloVita

    I’m down for any cycling discipline in which the first item you make sure you pack for race day is your beer cooler…

    Indeed !

    @anthony

    Cross fucking rules, I hate it, Its the worst thing ever and the best…

    I’m with ya on that!

    Cheers all

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