This article was written in the context of racing during 20/21 when COVID rules limited local races to no pits and national races to an unmanned bike exchange. Whilst we have returned to normal pits for 2021, the advice is hugely relevant for those who do not have the luxury of two bikes.
COVIDCROSS racing has started with various adaptions to prevent cross contamination and ensure distancing. No once can say with any confidence how long this “season’ will be, but the main change for the UK ‘20/’21 season is one bike racing.
At a regional level there are no pits, one bike and no assistance. Many races are setting course practice time immediately before the start of the race too.
At National Trophy events there will be self-service pits or “bike change area”, where you can place a bike, but also no pit crews.
Course practice is before each two races, with 30 minutes gap before the first start.
National level races in France & Belgium are set to go ahead with pits and pit crews.
Back to basics?
Some will be thinking that there isn’t too much to think about with one bike racing, after all there are a lot of riders that race with one bike year after year, and make it through the mud of seasons like ‘19/’20 with good results. Those that have had the benefit of spare bikes, tyre choices, jet washes and pit crews may be under thinking it and not making plans and preparation for kit and tactics.
In preparation for writing this article, we sat down with Mark Adams, a friend of CYCLO CROSS RACER and one of the UK’s best cyclo-cross coaches.
I think that Mark loves cyclo-cross more than me! He is a major contributor to GB CX team selection decisions and a regular part of the team supporting GB riders at CX World Cups and World Champ's. In his career with British Cycling, Mark has developed many of the riders who transformed GB into the world-class cycling nation we are today (G, Dani King, Ian Field and Nicole Cook…), his input to this discussion was awesome and we are very grateful for his thoughts.
So what are the things to think about?
In a normal year, late summer races are often a dry, one bike affair. Save for the lack of pits and huge grids, racing will feel normal and COVID adaptions are less likely to effect people’s racing performance.
Some of the points made later on tyre selection and tyre pressure are relevant but we’ll come back to that.
October and beyond
Things change in October, Autumn kicks in and the going gets wet. Proper cross racing in changeable, wet or muddy conditions is where the fun starts, and is where you can make some good decisions for racing with one bike.
Keeping things clean will become a decider
If you have a second bike, use it. In our local summer cross events (with no pits), about once a season I’ve had a last minute problem on my starting bike and have been able to go to bike two without a fuss. And if your region has course inspection immediately before your race, you will probably not have time to clean your bike after course inspection, switching to a clean bike for the start will be a big advantage.
Prep your frame and wheels (disc rims) with Rain X, it will help to stop mud sticking. Careful, last minute application of GT85 or WD40 onto your frame and drivetrain will help too – but DO NOT GET OVER SPRAY onto your discs – no brake one bike racing is probably not wise!
Practice cleaning mud off your bike whilst carrying it – stopping to clean because your bike is clogged and watching riders pass you is super stressful, you’re less likely to make good decisions after because you’ll be chasing back to where you think you should be. If you can run and de-clog it at the same time you’ll seriously limit your losses.
Your tyre choice can help to keep things clean too, a Challenge Limus or a FMB Supermud can keep you upright in corners and moving forward in deep mud, but they rip up a lot of grass and when mixed with sticky mud can clog.
During the race, can you avoid the sticky mud? And ride through the sloppy mud which doesn’t stick? Remember the adage “green is good, brown is bad”, this could compromise the perfect lap but better to finish than lose your rear mech on the last lap.
Run Forest Run – Strong runners will do well with one bike. Running with the bike shouldered through the worst muddy sections will become decisive in the battle to keep your bike clean, and will help to avoid having to stop to clear your bike.
Nobody likes a DNF – manage the risk
Take extra care to ensure your bike is in good working order, clean and functioning as you would expect. You may be thinking that it is common sense but how often do you see panic and mayhem just before the start of a race? A bike which is not cared for, chucked in the garage then pulled out on race day, will do nothing to reduce your risk of mechanicals!
If you are riding tubulars or clinchers, setting your tyre pressure 2-4 psi higher than normal will significantly reduce your chances of pinch punctures. It will cost some grip so running a grippier tread is an option, I rarely hear anyone say that they felt like they had too much grip, but it will be harder to keep the bike clean…
As a single bike racer your key tyre choice is for confidence, having enough grip that you feel confident and allows you to race confidently. This may mean you are “over treaded” but potential speed lost by tread is gained in confidence to push a corner and race harder.
If you have a choice, choose clearance. If you have been used to multi-bike racing, don’t assume your kit is optimised for one bike racing. I have a pair of TREK Boones for racing and a Crockett for training, the Boones are fantastic in a pit crew situation, but the rear tyre BB/chainstay clearance of the Crockett is much wider/better.
If we have a mud season like last year and you have other bikes in your stable, a gravel bike or 29er would offer fantastic clearance with 33mm tyres, where the rules allow.
Adaptors are available for 6 bolt and Centre Lock wheelsets, so you can use your tub wheelsets in your Boost MTB bike!
Using an app like Rain Today will show you a detailed weather forecast for the next hour, in changeable conditions it will help you to start on the right tyres for a downpour half way through your race.
When the going gets tough, stuff gets broken. Consider sizing down your chainring, or fitting a bigger cassette to allow you to spin smoothly through tough spots, muscling through is where we see most rear mechs broken. A 38t or 36t chainring can be a game changer for smaller riders or hilly muddy courses and could really improve your enjoyment of racing.
Do you pedal backwards? You may not have noticed that you do, many riders will do it when setting their pedals before corners or obstacles. Get someone to watch you, and if find you are pedalling backwards, focus in stopping doing it! It is a great way to induce a mechanical in a muddy race.
We love a good tyre choice debate right...? For less grass ripping than a full mud and more grip at a few extra psi, our recommendations for this season are what we call the fast rolling aggressive intermediates...
Vittoria Terreno Wet, Challenge Baby Limus, Donnelly PDX or Dugast Typhoon
With most leagues offering individual pop up races instead of a regular point scoring league calendar, at private rather than public venues, there are some big gaps between event dates. And if your region is not offering racing, there may be little do between National Trophy rounds.
Getting and staying race sharp will be a challenge this year, take matters into your own hands and arrange or attend some race simulation training sessions with club mates or local riders. Chasing and being chased regularly will help maintain your race skills and fitness.
VO2 sessions and race pace repeats in the weeks between races are advisable, as well as keeping in at least one long ride a week to reduce aerobic decline.
If you want to do well in (if we get) races in Nov/Dec/Jan/Feb, and if you have not already, start running training now!
If you are racing at Westmorland or York this year, you will be able to use the pits, but will be self service (a bit like a triathlon transition) with no washing or helpers. You will be allocated a 1m space on a bike rack, numbered per your race number.
In order to be COVID save, jet washes (petrol or electric) are not allowed on the site at all... so it is bucket and brush by your car only.
Some races will have only 30 minutes to get cleaned up after practice. Sticky mud conditions with just a bucket and brush to clean up will be interesting.
Bring a bag to put your warm up kit in when gridding, there are no helpers allowed at the start area either.
We’ve added a page with the Westmorland Rider Info Pack and Facebook announcements in the week before the race. It may be different for York but will give you a good idea of what to expect if you didn’t ride the first round.
When to pit for a single bike change will become a significant decision, leave it too late and you risk breaking something...
Again, running through the worst mud and cleaning your shouldered bike will be vital this season.
Hopefully you’ll have picked up some “nuggets” to get you ready for the season and will be able to go out and enjoy some racing!
We know racing will not be the same, but if you do choose to race this year, don’t let a lack of thought or preparation take away the fun.
And if all else fails, how about singlespeed? A lot of fun, no gears to worry about and guaranteed suffering – what’s not to like?
Mark Adams has coached cycling for over 25 years, he has worked for Welsh Cycling and British Cycling for 23 years, both in World Class and Development, including the development of the Talent Team programme. And coached for the Hargroves CX Race Team for 10 years.
Today, Mark Adams offers some of the best cyclo-cross specific individual coaching available as well as group skills sessions.
If you or your club would like to get in touch with him, his email address is email@example.com
Some say he is like a cyclo-cross Yoda, we say that when you see him having a word in Tom Pidcock’s ear just before National Champ’s or standing on a bank advising GB riders at World Champ’s, he probably knows what to say at just the right moment…
He also contributed to THE training manual for cyclocross - THE CYCLOCROSS BIBLE
Take a look at our other articles - https://cyclocrossracer.co.uk/blogs/cyclo-cross-racer-ideas-reviews-and-advice