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Cyclocross is one of the best ways to start your cycling career. The evidence is strong. Some of today’s top professional cyclists first made an impact in this off-road cycling discipline. And it’s not hard to see why. At elite level, cyclocross requires supreme bike handling skills and fitness.
Many of you came to help at the club’s annual cyclocross event (Shimano Lazer WMCCL Round 4 – The Heart of England Cyclocross) on Sunday 24th September. Thank you so much if you did. You helped us make it another showcase promotion by this great club. The Commissaires (BC race officials) said it was the best they had been to this year. And, as usual, we received lots of very positive feedback from riders and supporters.
406 riders from throughout the UK took part in the seven races. The youngest was 6 and the oldest 71. The winner of the race for men over 60 came from Devon, and the winner of the Women’s race was an Under-18 rider from Lancaster. It’s a popular event. The winner of the Senior race (Dan Barnes of Team Spectra Cannondale) said that it was his favourite cyclocross race, and one that he tries not to miss.
Amongst those riders was obviously a large contingent of Solihull CC members. We are one of the strongest cyclocross clubs in the region, and we are current holders of the WMCCL team trophy. There were notable performances from Ailsa Neely 4th; Judith Harper 4th; Rose Neely 5th and Jacob Lattimer 7thin their respective age categories. But the best (as usual) came from our rising star: Zoe Parker, who was 3rd in a very strong Junior Women’s field. Zoe is one of the youngest riders in that category and has just returned from a mountain bike training camp with Trek.
It takes a lot of effort from many people to put this event on. A core team is planning and preparing months in advance. We’ve done it many times before, so it does get easier. Most riders now enter online in advance. So the real work begins on the Friday and Saturday, when the woods need clearing of fallen timber and brambles, and the course is marked out and lined with stakes and tape.
Sunday starts early – when the first of 350 vehicles that need to be parked in a limited space begin arriving. We must then brief and assign the team of marshals to their stations around the course. Their role is vital to the safety of riders. Fortunately, the first aid company (provided by the League), were not troubled at all this year. Meantime, I walk the course with the Commissaire team, who want to check that the course is safe and well-marked.
The competitors sign-on in the Rider Registration tent. Some riders have not entered in advance and need to give their details; pay and be given numbers and timing transponders. This is a vital hub. The small team who perform this role are the unsung heroes of the day. They don’t get to see the racing, but without them, it wouldn’t happen.
Once the racing starts, the day seems to go by quite quickly. There are course adjustments to make: the youngsters ride much shorter courses, and the tape needs to be repaired where riders inevitably crash through it. We were lucky again this year to have Robin Fox doing PA announcements and a podium ceremony for the Under-12 riders. There’s not much he doesn’t know about cyclocross!
And when the final chequered flag is waved, the course take-down begins. Everyone is tired from a long day, and wants to go home. But they don’t! They stay that extra hour or so to wind-up the tape; remove the stakes; dismantle the flags; put away the PA system, and count up the takings.
I love the way that this event brings together the many parts of our club. It’s not just those who ride cyclocross. We couldn’t do it alone. From the youngest members getting their first taste of competitive cycling to the older members who give up their Sunday run to come along and help: the whole spectrum is there. It’s a great team effort. And this team does an exemplary job! I was going to mention the core team by name. But once you begin doing that, it’s hard to know when to stop – because everyone who helps at this, and every other club event, is playing a vital role.
Most cyclocross races take place in the Autumn and Winter. Although they only last for up to an hour, that time is spent at the racer’s limit. The effort required to be competitive is more like a criterium or track race – a repeated set of accelerations – except with the added challenge of staying upright on tricky off-road surfaces. Cross-country (XC) mountain bike racing is probably the closest in terms of effort and bike handling. But cyclocross races are much shorter and require lots of very short but intense efforts.
It’s no wonder top cyclocross riders quickly become competitive in other racing disciplines. But at the other end of the spectrum, cyclocross is very accessible for the beginner. It’s easy to get started with very few rules and prerequisites. Most races can be entered on the day without a racing license and on a wide range of bikes. You can have a good race – and great fun - even if you are toward the back of the field.
Solihull CC provides the opportunity for its members to train for and race cyclocross. We run coached sessions at Tudor Grange Park from September through until Christmas, which are led by coaches who specialise in cyclocross.
Throughout the Autumn and Winter, we have riders competing across all age groups in the West Midlands Cyclo-Cross League (WMCCL) and the National Trophy series. In the 2021-22 season, Solihull CC won the overall Team Award in the WMCCL.