My first Cyclo Cross (CX) race

Club Women’s Representative Heidi Yates, gives an honest account of her first attempt at CX racing

There has been a lot of chat in the Cyclo Cross (CX) space over the last few years with people claiming it to be a fun and friendly event. So, with Milton Keynes putting on a summer series, the opportunity to have ago in this discipline without the mud, quite appealed to me.

However, as with most new cycling disciplines, this would first require an investment into some new kit. After a lot of procrastination, I finally found a second-hand Liv gravel bike at the end of last year and therefore had no more excuses.

So, on a Wednesday in mid-July saw the start of the Summer CX Series kick off at the Milton Keynes Bowl. It entailed just 30 minutes of riding, and no doubt the sunny and dry conditions would make for a pleasant evening of riding.

All ready to go and smiling

It’s not often that I enter an event for a new discipline or attend a venue that I’ve had no prior knowledge or experience of. I’m a glutton for familiarity, so therefore I took advantage of the option to compete in the ‘early’ 5:45pm wave and this also allowed an opportunity to ride the course beforehand.

After signing in and collecting my number, I took the opportunity of having a go at riding round the course to gauge an idea of what it might feel like. I have to say I was surprised to see how much the course snaked up, down and around the bowl. There was a lot more ‘ups’ than I expected, all of which were on show and nowhere to hide.

I set off on the practice lap and got to the first hairpin climb and it was soon apparent that I was in the wrong gear, but due to the steepness I couldn’t change down and came to an abrupt halt. I very nearly fell off, but fortunately wearing trainers, I was able to get my foot down quickly. Note to self – this course will only require the very smallest of chain rings! I continued round the practice loop, everything feeling so different from any kind of riding I’ve done before. The long grass and hard ground making it hard to pedal on the flat and the steep inclines making it even harder on the ups. By the end of the practice lap my legs were already feeling the hills – oh this is going to hurt!

Fast forward to the start of the event and with it being an early wave there was only 38 people in it and only a few other ladies. Eyeing up all the fancy looking bikes it was apparent that I was the only one, A – wearing trainers and B – not sporting a dinner plate style cassette on the back of my bike. So yes, I thought, this is really going to hurt.

We all lined up, the gun went off and everyone shot out at breakneck speed. I was soon almost last of the group to round the first bend – and this was pretty much where I stayed throughout. I’ve typically been strong on hills on the road and was able to use some of this strength to make up some places throughout. But it was so much harder than I had imagined. Just needed to keep going and keep some riders behind me so I wasn’t last.

There are obstacles as well as hills

Once the leader completed 5 laps the bell is rung on everyone letting you know this is your last lap. Unfortunately for me I must have been a few hundred meters in front of the leader which meant I had to do a fourth full lap. Another rooky error.

At the end of the event, I had ridden 5.3 miles with an average speed of 9.3 mph, but legs and lungs felt like they had ridden up a mountain. I did, however, pick up some good points in the female age category, which may entice me to do another one.

Lessons learnt – if I do anymore, I would need to change a few things on my bike and I can’t imagine doing that in wet muddy conditions, despite everyone saying it’s even more fun.

For anyone wanting to give CX ago, I would still 100% say to try it. It’s an experience and a great way to mix your training up as it’s bloomin hard work.