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The Ring: A Collection of Voices

5 Things I’ve Learned Racing Cyclocross This Year

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I knew this was bound to happen, but I figured it would be a little more planned. This was the first weekend this season I didn’t race my cyclocross bike.

By Dan Chabanov

I was planning on hitting a local race on Sunday after some training, but I was thwarted by car troubles. At least the car got fixed and is good to go for this weekend’s trip to Northampton, Massachusetts, for what might be the oldest UCI cyclocross race in the country, the Cycle Smart International.

So instead of racing I spent my weekend doing some longer road miles and then going for an awesome mountain-bike ride with friends. The ride data from mountain biking was so similar to a cyclocross race that at first glance my coach thought I’d ended up racing. There’s probably some kind of lesson in this.

Because I don’t have any racing to tell you about, I figured I’d share a few things I’ve learned racing these past seven weeks.

1. If you want to be good at pedaling a cyclocross bike, you should probably not race nonstop from March until September. This year, after getting sick at the Cascade Cycling Classic in July, I didn’t ride my bike for a few weeks. This is the first time I took a break going into cyclocross in five years of elite racing. I think more than anything it has contributed to how well I’ve been pedaling these past few weeks. So take a break.

2. Always double-check your tire pressure at race speed. Yeah, this one might seem obvious, but not doing this forced me to pit at HPCX two Sundays ago. You should try to do at least a few sections of the course at race speed, just to see how it feels, what gear you need to be in, and so forth. But it’s worth remembering that your tires will feel totally different at preride speed and at race speed. What felt fine in my preride laps ended up being way too low for the high-speed corners of the course. This resulted in my front tire washing out at high speed. A pit bike saved my ass, but don’t make my mistake: Take some corners as fast as you can. It never hurts to double-check this stuff.

3. A warm-up routine that works for you can really affect your race. This is an obvious one to anyone with a good coach. But guess what? I didn’t have a consistent routine until this season. I just sort of did whatever on the trainer. This year I finally worked out something that works for me down to the minute. Initiating this warm-up routine has at least correlated with my good sensations in races.


While we are on the topic of routines … let’s just call this lesson 3.1. Nailing down your prerace routine is going to make your life easier. It’s worth taking a minute before you get out of your car at a race to think to yourself, “OK, where are the bathrooms, registration, and my teammates? And where am I going first?”

4. Enjoy the small victories. The past two seasons I’ve learned to appreciate the smaller races. When you’re getting smashed by the best guys in the country week in and week out, it’s nice to race locally and remind yourself that you don’t suck. No, I’m not advocating that people start sandbagging their local series. But it’s easy to get bummed on racing when you’re getting smashed all the time. More than maybe anything else, it’s important to keep perspective and keep your positive mental attitude.

5. Mountain-bike racing isn’t all that similar to cyclocross racing, but damn if it isn’t fun. It’s close enough in certain areas to make for a worthwhile addition to any cyclocross racer’s summer-racing plans. I feel that trying to hold Dan Timmerman’s wheel over some rocky singletrack has definitely taught me a lot about bike control via body movement and weight distribution rather than simply steering. Plus, it’s fun and seems to be working out OK for Cameron Dodge.

OK, hopefully next week I’ll have some good racing to share with you.