Cyclocross (CX) Racing

CX (as in cyclocross, not to be confused with XC, which is Cross Country racing) is a very fast growing sport here in Canada, and in Edmonton. Last year, and this year, we play host to the Canadian National Cyclocross Championships.

I went out to watch last year and it looked like a blast. The Elite winner was Geoff Kabush, who was 4th in Olympic Mountain Bike. There were a few categories, including a masters “C” category for 50 to 60.

It looked hard, but there was a guy having a smoke before the race, and there was an, ahem, fat guy, who finished near the top in one of the categories with his pot belly peeking out from under his lycra top. I thought to myself, with some training, practice, exercise, and the workouts I get from my twice daily commutes, I could do that. I might not win, but I could finish, and be competitive. I could do it.

I was wrong.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still gonna try. But I went out to a race on Tuesday this week and watched. It’s called the Tuesday Toonie training race because the entry fee is a toonie, and it’s not a “real” race – just for training. I watched to get an idea how to approach it, and I signed up for training on Thursdays.

I’ve been watching sports all of my life, but I’ve never seen anything like these guys, and girls. I’d bet the guys in their 50’s are in better conditioning than most pro hockey players. In fact, I’d compare it to hockey, if the players rarely glided, and there were no line changes or stoppages in play – going hard for 60 minutes, like 60 minutes of wind sprints with a steeplechase built in. These CX racers, at least at the Elite level, are going hard, hard, hard, for an hour. They also need the technical skills of a mountain biker. Intense!

I went out to my first training on Thursday. The trainer, Shaun Adamson, was in Seattle (racing, I think), so his dad came out. Lance just turned 50, which puts him in my age group, and is an experienced ‘Crosser. Let’s just say I’m not even close to being able to compete with this guy, or any of the other CXers. When I say not even close, I mean not from the same planet. Some of the training was technical, and was tough for me because my bike wouldn’t allow some of the necessary “tricks” (like the flying dismount/remount). This week or next, I’ll have my bike set-up (like removing my built-in bottle opener and “six-pack rack”), but I need a lot more than that.

Lance set up a course for us, and we were supposed to do it two or three times. It was as if I was lifting weights with Arnold or something, and he handed me a 300lb dumbell to warm up. I almost made it once. It’s like me climbing Lungbuster Hill at speed, over and over about five times.

And that was the beginning. And I was, for all purposes, done. Still 90 minutes left. Right.

I struggled through here and there for the rest of the way. At least I didn’t crash, but, apparently, that means I wasn’t trying hard enough. You don’t know where too far is, until you’ve gone too far. As Lance said this, I couldn’t help but notice he had a few fresh scars. Gulp.

The other two taking the training (a guy and a girl – names to come, I don’t want to get it wrong) both did alright. Actually the guy did great. Both of them had raced mountain bikes, and the younger guy had a fair bit of experience. He was impressive, even to Lance, who said he had a lot of potential.

Potential? On a short course, he lapped me, which wouldn’t be so disturbing if I wasn’t still on my first lap, and I cheated on some turns. Like half of them. At least it took the young lady until the second lap, which I ultimately ended up bailing out on.

We ended up with some speed drills – basically a race as hard as we could go for about a minute, then another then another. I did great for about the first 100 yards, and wasn’t too far behind the girl in the first race (because she missed clipping into her pedals at the start). The second race I got smoked, and my legs were turning to jelly. In the third race, I actually lost sight of everyone in the darkening evening. I was having a hard time just gliding to the end. But I made it.

Lance said it was good to see I was breaking a sweat. Oh yeah. I broke a sweat 90 minutes ago. (Note to self – next week bring some gatoraid or something to drink).

I have a whole new respect for the sport. It was like two hours of torture.

I can’t wait to do it again next week.