If you happened to be paying even the slightest bit of attention to the reports coming from eurobike and interbike the past few years, you’d know that cyclocross is currently the “in” thing in the cycling world. Whilst it has always enjoyed massive popularity in its traditional heartland of Belgium, it’s in Anglophone countries, and in particular, the US where it has experienced a dramatic rise in popularity. Often an excuse for a good old fashioned piss-up, cross races over there are light-hearted affairs with fancy dress being de rigeur; this in contrast with the often serious and intimidating atmosphere that can surround road racing. A true participation sport, the short length and the lack of barriers to entry mean anyone can come and experience the lunacy; after all, who doesn’t like a bit of fun in the mud?
The Rapha Super Cross series aims to bring this US party atmosphere to the UK, featuring some of the nation’s top racers, and with Belgian beer and frites thrown in for good measure. The first round of the three race series kicked off this past Saturday on the shores of Lake Windermere. The weather gods were kind and produced the kind of day rarely seen around these parts making for some scorching racing in more ways than one.
The Rapha mobile coffee truck located in the stunning grounds on the Brockhole Visitor Centre
Things kicked off with the junior races attracting a large field of budding cyclocross stars. These raced a slightly shortened course but with a sizeable crowd watching on and Ant McCrossan on the mike they got to experience an atmosphere usually reserved for the pros.
The visitor centre (and registration area for the day) overlooked the whole course
Next up was the combined Junior/Senior/Women/Masters ...(everyone else) field which was a massive 150 riders strong. With minimal gridding on the start line it was absolute chaos as you would expect. I’m sure many innovative line choices were made on this first lap – I know I certainly ploughed through a sizeable quantity of undergrowth as I tried to manoeuvre my wide USE mtb bars through the melee. Once the field had stringed out it was simply a case of finding one’s rightful spot within the race as it progressed.
The volume of racers on the track meant that there was always a rider up ahead to chase, always a rider behind hunting you down. This style of nip and tuck racing is what makes cross so special and what justifies the absurd amount of pain that you put yourself through. The beauty of it all though is that it only lasts one hour. The pain is soon forgotten to be replaced with an endorphin high – you’ll soon be chomping at the bit to race again, trust me. I finished the race in 9th (after finishing the first lap in 48th) on a bike which weighed 3kgs more than when I started. My rear derailleur was so clogged with mud and grass, it was a miracle that I could even pedal – that’s cross for you!
In places, the course came right down to the waterfront. What an amazing day!
With 150 odd racers armed to the gunnels with cowbells heading to the course-side bar for some post-race Duvel and frites (chips to you and me), the main event got underway featuring a who’s who of UK cyclocross talent. Similarly to the Tour series, the Rapha Super Cross is all about the team prize and placing 3 riders (out of a team of 5) in the best positions possible. The battle of the win ended up being a straight shootout between reigning National Points champion Jody Crawforth and Welsh XC champ Lee Williams, the latter eventually attacking away for the win on the penultimate lap. The team prize went to the Hope boys who were pushed all the way by Scott UK.
I experienced the true chaos of a cross race from technical pits where riders can switch onto clean and fully functioning bikes should their main bikes grind to a halt (almost inevitable really). The fact that they were on the wrong side of the track only served to amplify the craziness of it all. The pits were most certainly the place to see the dedication and effort that goes in to be a top cross racer not only on their part, but on the part of their support crew too. Unfortunately, lady luck didn’t grace the Charge team I was pitting for with her presence, but they managed to get 3 riders over the finish line regardless. Better luck next time guys!
All in all, it was a grand day out. A great time was had by all and everyone left with a story to tell.
The second round of the series was held on Sunday in Huddersfield with Crawforth taking the win and Hope the team prize. The final round will be held at Alexandra Palace in London this coming Sunday – I urge you get yourself down there if you can.
For 5 years, racing was my life and I went all the way from a newbie bonking after 40 miles, to a full-timer plying my trade on the Belgian kermesse scene. Unfortunately, the pro dream wasn't meant to be and these days, you're more likely to find me bimbling about country lanes and sleeping in a bush on the side of the road.