For the Love of ‘Cross: Let Them Eat Mud
Weekend warriors feel it. Pros get it. ‘Cross is the delicious itch that gets under your skin and must be scratched — a brief flash of joy ahead of a fast approaching winter. In this series, we explore the essence of what makes us love the discipline of Cyclocross so much.
It’s cold outside, but you get out of bed anyway and shuffle about in your warm flat, collecting your kit while munching on warm toast. Later that morning, while loading your bike onto the roof of your car, you notice the sky look s mildly menacing — hmm, is rain in the forecast? You’re already thinking about tire pressure and post-race clean up. You head out of the city, winding through Sunday streets until houses begin to thin out and you find yourself in countryside. Rolling up with plenty of time to spare — your race isn’t until 2PM — you park. Like-minded souls have already gathered here, and as you sit in your car with the heater softly purring, you smile. “These are my people,” you think, watching familiar faces go through their pre-race routines. The parents, the kids, and the friends. This community — to you they are like a second family.
You switch the engine off and puff warm air into your hands. HTFU. Go time. You exit the car.
“[Sometimes] I’ll be racing people around me, I won’t be racing for the top 10. […] There’s always someone to race with, which is really cool.”
– Rudy Melo, 5th Floor
There is a kind of raw beauty to cyclocross leagues like the London X League. They embody the spirit of the ‘cross community in all its glory — supportive, competitive, and most of all, fun. There are the clubs, which every weekend, take turns to set the race table for that Sunday’s gathering, with volunteers laying down barriers and rolling out the race tape. There are the riders, who bring with them the desire to outdo themselves as much as their competition, and roll the dice whatever the conditions. And then there are the supportive families and friends who, week after week, turn up with carloads of enthusiasm to motivate all riders from 10 years old to 50+. Together, they make ‘cross happen.
“One of the main things that appeals to me in ‘cross is just the community behind it,” explains Rudy Melo, co-founder of the cycling collective, 5th Floor. “It’s very relaxed, but you can also take it really seriously if you want to.”
Seriously competitive or not, with multiple levels of experience in every race (there are no category rankings in this league, just age and gender groupings), there’s always someone to race against — even if it’s just your own inner demons.
“If you’re not doing as well as you wish, [then] you’re racing against yourself, or to do your best every lap, or you’re racing to do better than your previous race, or you’re racing to catch the guy in front or to stay away from the guy behind.” It seems no matter where you are in that precious 60 minutes of racing, the tussle is real.
It’s winter. In a season of hearty soups and comfort food, ‘cross is like that go-to bowl of soul-restoring, chunky stew — familiar, tasty, and immensely satisfying. Every week, you find yourself lining up at the start line, joking around with the people you’re going to be battling against for the next hour — maybe more, maybe less. You will ride, and ride hard. You will ride until your lungs burst and your face is contorted with the effort. You will race against whomever is next to you, behind you, in front of you, and fight for the scraps of victory. And when the finish line comes, you will slump over the bars, breathing hard and sucking in oxygen in big, hearty gulps. Before going home, you will swap your war stories, complain about the cold, clean all your gear, and pack up. And come next week?
Come next week, you will come back for seconds.
“It’s only an hour long, maybe a little bit longer, a little bit less […] and it’s a good way to kind of have a crack at the sport […] I think people who are just starting out in ‘cross can have a pretty basic bike and still have a go.”
— Rudy Melo
Story originally appeared on Specialized.com, December 2016 [archived]