Cyclo-Cross – cycling for lunatics

Steve has been doing lots of cyclo-cross this winter. what this actually means is whilst he’s trying to maintain fitness, build up to a peak and keep it going, i’m eating as much as i can, and cycling as little as possible. like all good training partners, i see it as my mission to provide succour and encouragement, in the shape of bottles of porter and stout, and the occasional indulgence in a monumental cheeseboard. i feel this helps, at least in building morale.

cyclo-cross is a perverse winter roadman’s discipline. it’s not mountain biking, it’s off-road mayhem on modified roadbikes. it’s a traditional feature of the winter cycling calendar in the UK, loved by northern hardmen, and is also staggeringly popular in Belgium – where men are men and cycling is a brutal feat involving constant defiance of the elemental forces ranged all around.

Included below is a cyclo-cross video from the early 60s. it’s amazing, and is made all the better for the witty, surreal commentary. i suggest you watch the full 8 minutes.

the highlight for me is the ‘riverbank bike-hurl’, a rarely practised manouevre of great risk to all riders, aquatic life and spectators. things haven’t changed all that much over the past 50 years – although there is a lot less fixed gear in evidence (unlike the first video, where a staggeringly high number are riding fixed, although the reasons are logical, especially the absence of a rear derailleur) and much more lycra. the technique of the top riders, ian field, jody crawforth, is awe-inspiring. brilliant bike handling skills in filthy, grotty conditions.

it’s a real throwback of a race, properly anachronistic, which of course makes it completely fantastic. this sunday saw the fifth round of the south western cyclo-cross league, and the trophy event for BSCC. Steve was riding – he’d only just mended his bike after the severe pounding dished out at hengrove and other races. DNF seemed to be his calling card. I have a sneaking feeling that this race was equally brutal to the spectators, I took my camera and hung out with some hardy BSCC club members and Steve’s loyal wife. it was exceptionally cold.

steve understands the significance of wearing the club jersey. this is something i am working on. i may need to invest in a newer, better fitting garment. it made him easy to pick out amidst the pack. the race was exciting, fast, and looked utterly horrible for the riders. having said that, despite the overwhelming, penetrating cold, the conditions were relatively benign, firm undertyre, with hardly any falls. steve rode away from the group that formed mid-race and seemed to do well – although it’s hard to tell from a spectator’s point of view. it was clear who won (Charles Coleman riding away from Tavis Walker on the last lap), but there was an almighty scrap for the lower placings. either way, i couldn’t help but be impressed by the skill and determination of the riders, and found that it instilled a newfound determination in me to never, ever ride this savage, bike-destroying discipline of cycling.

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