It’s hard to believe, but here we are again at the start of a new year of cyclocross. Ready or not, the season is well underway.

It’s funny, but I only recently realized this is my fifth year racing elite cyclocross — it seems like only yesterday I was learning how to do dismounts and jump barriers.

Words by Dan Chabanov / Main Image by Christian Thormann

Last season I really struggled, on the bike and off. Motivation is easy when the results are good, but when they’re bad motivation suffers and good results are harder to come by, and it’s a difficult cycle to break.

Right now my motivation is on the up and up. There’s the promise of a new season, for one. And recently I got in some solid training, did a really fun mountain-bike race or two, and got a couple new team bikes.

Speaking of, this is my new Richard Sachs team-issued bike for the 2014-15 season:

Dan Chabanov's Richard Sachs yellow cyclocross bike 2014
This year my race bike is yellow! (Photo: Dan Chabanov)

Another plus: A couple weeks ago, before the season began, my team, Richard Sachs, had a night out in New York City with one of our sponsors, House Industries, at the Rapha Cycle Club, which hosted a retrospective show of Richard’s extraordinary work as a frame builder and cyclist. The evening was all about sharing stories and talking cyclocross, which set a positive tone for what’s to come.

This is the one and only Richard Sachs that night in the Big Apple:

But soon it was back to training and getting ready for cyclocross — you know, gluing tubulars. I usually start daydreaming about having my own mechanic to take care of gluing after the fourth set or so. (Before you ask, no, I don’t have eight sets of wheels. I glue tires for my teammate, BrittLee Bowman, and myself and that’s it!)

The last weekend before the season started, BrittLee and I drove up to Easthampton, Massachusetts, to crash the JAM Fund’s cyclocross camp at the behest of our buddy and rising cyclocross star Stephen Hyde. What’s cyclocross camp like? Day one featured a ride on cyclocross tires to a practice course where we practiced barriers. Then we rode through the woods to a sandpit. In the evening we switched to road tires and went motorpacing. There’s nothing quite like motorpacing on 32c tires:

The second day started with a three-hour endurance ride (really it was two, with a stop for a swim). Our evening ride was on a practice course that featured sand and steep drops into sand. The third day we rode 50 miles, mostly off-road, and again stopped for a swim. All in all, there was plenty of eating and napping throughout the camp, too, so it was a win-win.

After that we had just a few days until the first race of the season.

This was only my second time starting my season at the Nittany Lion Cross. Nittany has traditionally been the first UCI race of the year in the U.S., and it’s the quintessential “grass crit” with its pancake-flat course set almost entirely in the grass just outside the velodrome in Trexlertown, Pennsylvania. Last time I raced there it didn’t go well: On the first lap I got hit in the face by someone else’s handlebar and had a tooth knocked out. That didn’t end my race, but the rolled tubular a lap later did.

At any rate, the shot at early UCI points draws a strong field to Nittany.

Nittany Day 1

Saturday was the hottest day of the year, even though summer was officially over. I lined up in the third row (thanks to a few top-10 results last year) and was nervous as hell. I’m guessing many in the start grid were, too. Then, before we knew it, we we’re flying down the start stretch, throwing elbows and bumping for position. The season was officially here.

My start wasn’t stellar — I felt out of practice — but I pushed on the pedals hard and settled into a group of four, and we rode just behind the leaders. I was comfortable, and about halfway through the hour of racing I started thinking of how I could beat my companions. Then my bike hit the eject button, literally.

I was accelerating out of a corner and my rear tire came off the rim and jammed my rear brake, throwing me straight over the handlebar. It must have looked sensational. I have bruises in places I’ve never had bruises before.

Nittany Day 2

Crashing is hardly ideal prep for another day of racing. Even if all your parts are moving all right, your body is using up energy trying to recover. Sunday’s start was better than Saturday’s, and I settled in behind my teammate Dan Timmerman going into the second half of the first lap. Unfortunately, I was fighting the bike. I could feel myself wasting energy getting easy corners wrong. I slid back through riders, and I rolled across the line in 15th.

Early-September cyclocross racing is like racing a crit on grass. (Photo: Christian Thormann)
Racing CX in September is like racing a criterium on grass. (Photo: Christian Thormann)

I wasn’t stoked about my results from the opening weekend, but I was happy to talk to guys I hadn’t seen since last season. And after what seemed like months of prep, it was good for the team to be together in our natural environment and to finally get racing.

It felt like the first day of school, and, considering how much gluing I still had to do, it even felt like I had homework.

Next up, Independence Cross (formerly Beacon) and Granogue.

Until next week, enjoy the ride.