It’s October. If you’re somewhere south this means you’re just getting a jump on next year’s road season. If you reside close to the best amateur CX series in the country , it means you’re getting ready to pull out the winter gloves and buy some thermal insulated boots. Maybe you’re searching for a great coach to help maximize your potential during the next race season. Hopefully you’re not hanging up the spandex for too long while implementing daily donuts into your diet.
Whatever you’re doing you should also be racing cyclocross. Yeah. Cyclocross. That sloppy, wet racing with the funky bikes that look like glorious road bikes but aren’t really glorious road bikes. That weird, chaotic sport where you might have to actually run with your bike (gasp!) or grow a beard. “Why?” You ask. Why should you race cyclocross?
Because You Don’t Want To Be Paolo Bettini, That’s Why.
We’re not talking about version 2006 of Paolo Bettini. That guy won the world championship and deserves to do whatever he wants. We’re not talking about the 2007 Paolo Bettini here, either. That guy won the world championship for the second straight time and deserves to do whatever he wants twice-over with a side of full-fat whipped cream.
What we are talking about is the 2008 Paolo Bettini. The man who, having twice won the world championships, appeared to eat all the donuts. And the whipped cream. We’re talking about the one who ate all the cheeseburgers and then retired. That Paolo Bettini went from being at the top of his game to being un-competitive pretty quick. Sure, he had some injuries. On the other hand, once he decided he would retire, he sure didn’t seem very motivated.
Motivation is a tricky thing. Nobody is saying you have to race cyclocross with the same discipline, gusto, or intensity that you attack road season. On the other hand, a couple of Sunday CX races a month very well may keep you intrigued enough to avoid eating all the cheeseburgers. Some CX racing worked into your off-season program can keep the bottom from completely falling out from under you.
Because You Need To Get Better At Turning.
You can make great gains with efficient and technically sound turning. Railing a corner, especially in a crit, is free watts. Clean turns conserve energy, make for a safer race, and help you to keep good position while helping to improve your results. If you can get into the turn without as much brake and get through it with more speed, you’ll have to do a lot less accelerating off the exit. 800 watt surges suddenly become 550 watt surges and it’s easier to stay at the front, easier to move to the front if you need to and a lot easier to lay the watts down when you’re either trying to escape or sprint for glorious industrial-park victory.
We know you’ve done a bunch of crits so you think you can turn. You can’t, though. Sure, you can nail the brake point, turn-in, and apex when you’re lined up on the preferred line. What do you do when some gnarly rider slips inside you and muscles you off that line, though?
Spectate a technical crit, post up at the slowest, nastiest corner and watch the cat 4/5 racers. They’ll come through the corner single file. Then watch the 3’s or Masters. The front of that field will come through the turn 2 wide. The P/1/2 field? They’ll rail through it faster than any of the other categories, and they’ll do it with more racers side by side through the turn (and probably less crashing). These advanced racers know how to turn from anywhere.
Cyclocross will help you get there. Especially when it’s sloppy. Changing course conditions, tighter courses, and less friction all make for excellent development of cornering skills. Throw in a few elbows, somersaulting bikes/people, and you’ve got the best turning clinic you can ask for. Cyclocross cornering translates to the road.
Because There’s That Whole “10 Years/10,000 Hours” Thing.
There’s a saying that the mastery of a skill takes 10 years or 10,000 hours of dedication. There’s also the saying that that saying is wrong, but the principle remains: If you want to maximize your road potential, you pay your dues. Even if you consider yourself a roadie, racing CX contributes to the dues paying.
Dues paid-in-full is why those dirt junkies are able come to the local road race and hang in when they hardly ever race road. Or why the elite roadies are also competitive on the velodrome or in the singletrack. On a very base level pedaling a bike is pedaling a bike.
Paying your dues is paying your dues. Climbing to the elite ranks in one discipline probably means you can at least hold your own in the others. Every revolution of the pedals with a purpose is chipping away at that 10 years or 10,000 hours. Sure, there are other ways to accomplish this in the off season. Which of those other ways is going to involve getting bacon from a stranger, though?
So, there you go. If you want a jump on next year’s road season, come have some fun at the Chicago Cross Cup or at your local CX series. You’ll get better at turning, you’ll be more motivated to keep your form, and you just might get to stuff your face with bacon. Plus, it’s fun and it won’t hurt (for more than an hour, anyway), and chances are you’ll end up loving the chaos.