Up until this weekend, my cyclocross season had been pretty mild. I’d spent a lot of time racing in my short-sleeved skinsuit and found myself reaching for embrocation just once.
Well hello, winter!
That’s what it felt like in Stony Point, N.Y., over two days of UCI racing near Bear Mountain. Now, Saturday’s weather was fine—cold and windy but normal enough weather for the Northeast in November. A few guys raced with bare legs, and I think Tim Johnson (the race winner) rode with bare hands, which he is known to do, even on below-freezing days. A few guys still complained about the cold, but only because whining is a pastime of bike racers.
On Sunday, everyone was miserable, even the one or two tough guys who wouldn’t admit it. We spent every moment we could huddled in our cars with the heater on. Cold days are a bit like mud days in cyclocross in that both require lots of special gear. For example, I usually travel with all kinds of socks and gloves to ensure that my extremities have enough feeling in them during the race to find the right spots on the bike.
How cold was it Sunday? In the low 30s with the wind chill bringing it down into the single digits. With that in mind, following are some simple tips for making it through a freezing race day with all your fingers and toes intact.
Before you leave your toasty car, plan your moves. Think ahead, and put your gear bag somewhere you can get to it without getting out of the car. If your friend wants to have a chat, tell them to get in the damn car so you don’t have to crack the window and leak precious warmth. When preriding the course, wear everything you own. Lots of guys will ride around in puffy ski jackets. Ski tights also work well over your bibs, if you don’t have thermal kit. Being warm beats looking “pro” every time. Again, if you don’t have access to thermal racing kit, a long-sleeved base layer can help insulate your standard Lycra skinsuit (an inexpensive Under Armour one will do the trick just as well as a cycling-specific one).
For your feet, windproof socks can mean the difference between being able to clip in and missing your pedal. Double-up on gloves or socks. There really is no such thing as owning too many when it comes to racing in the cold.
On Sunday, everyone survived the hour in the freezing wind tunnel, but I’m only guessing since as far as I could tell everyone made a beeline for their cars immediately after the finish. That kind of wind chill just makes everyone antisocial—and makes me less envious of those who have to stick around for the podium ceremonies.
My riding around in circles fast didn’t go that well. The rough and bumpy course played a number on my back. I was also held up both days with a mishap in the first lap, but even with that I felt like I was racing O.K. for the first half of the race. Slowly, though, the overwhelming pain in my lower back would bring me to a crawl. My teammate Dan Timmerman had a similar experience, so it wasn’t a good weekend for the backs of Dans.
This is as good a time as any to take thank all the people who spent the day out in the bitter cold to make sure the race happened: officials, organizers, volunteers, and the few brave spectators. A big shout-out to Myles Romanov, the race promoter. This guy has had a tough few years after losing his original venue, having to locate a new one, and getting back on the UCI calendar. I know it will be bigger and even better next year.
As for my team, we’ll be racing next weekend in Sterling, Mass., and in Warwick, R.I., the weekend after. Fingers crossed for some mud!
Finally, this week’s grab bag of questions and answers, culled from my Blog
Anonymous asked: Are both of your Richard Sachs CX bikes so much the same that you can’t tell them apart?
They are identical, but I can tell them apart. The Crankbrothers pedals are different colors. This season I’ve been riding one a bit more than the other, but I will often ride both on any given race day.
cargo1234 asked: Do you have a system for determining what tire pressure to run? How often do you bottom out or hit the rim, or do you air up to just keep that from happening?
I don’t have a system; it’s pretty much always by feel. Usually that means I’ll bottom out a few times per race. If I don’t, then I was probably running too much pressure.
Anonymous asked: I’m wondering what kind of gaiter you use.
I have no idea what brand it is. I got it as a prize from the Bilenky Junkyard CX race.
Neck accessories are the best.
Anonymous asked: I have found myself getting caught near the top on some of the shorter, steeper climbs, usually finishing off by pushing one- or two-legged, still on the bike, and losing a spot or two to someone running. How do you make the decision to commit?
You have to make up your mind before you hit the obstacle. Generally, changing your mind mid-obstacle will always be slower than just committing to running it in the first place. But to ride or to run will always be the question that plagues us.
Anonymous asked: How cold does it have to be to get you to stay inside? What do you wear just above that temp?
For me it’s got to be solidly in the teens. Above that temperature I just wear everything I own and suck it up.
Anonymous asked: How does one get on a team? I’m racing Cat. 5 for CX right now but want the team experience.
It varies from team to team. I’ve usually joined teams where I already knew people. But another option is to just ask.
Anonymous asked: Do you do any weight training? How beneficial is it for racing criteriums, and does help at all for road racing?
I occasionally run and do core work but no weight training. I don’t know enough to answer definitively on its benefits, but I could see it being helpful when integrated properly into a training plan.
Anonymous asked: I’ve been considering not racing road at all next season and focusing solely on cross. I would still train in a structured way, but would probably wait until way later in the season to ramp up intensity. The only con I can see is that there is a certain intensity level that you can really only get in a race (or motorpacing, I guess). You seemed to have had a very intense road season this year. Do you think it has hurt, helped, or had no effect on your current cyclocross season?
I’ve been thinking along similar lines this year. With how much racing I did over the road season I’m finding it hard to get into a proper mental state so late in the year. But on the plus side it has given me a vast base of fitness that I’m able to stretch very far into the cyclocross season. I think in terms of positive vs. negative effects; it’s kind of a draw. Yes, race intensity is something that’s hard to replace, but that’s a perfect excuse to hit some road races later in the year. I’m planning on adding some mountain-bike racing to the mix next year, for some variety. Ninety-minute XC races seem like perfect cyclocross prep to me.