Rushing through the decaying leaves littering the trail. Shafts of sunlight beaming through the tree cover. The coldness of the air and the sting of the winter wind held back by the firm embrace of warmth generated by the sheer effort of shoving a cyclo-cross bike along a muddy trail.
Every pedal stroke takes all the strength one can call upon, the mud desperately clawing at the tyres dragging you back. The terrain, on this occasion a mixture of deep muddy tree-lined trails, hard-packed gravels paths and great swathes of grass, is winning the battle. It sucks out all your strength, leaves you a shrivelled shell of your former self.
Autumn is what cyclo-cross was designed for. A perfect partnership between season and sport. If road racing belongs to the golden summer months of June through to August, cyclo-cross has a monopoly on the autumn months. Not that it was ever 'designed' as such. If anybody had set out to design a sport for autumn, it would have looked very much like cyclo-cross.
Its key ingredients only existing with the magnificent transformation of the countryside into a rich palette of reds, yellows and deep browns. The moistening of the ground by relentless heavy rain. The freezing temperatures just another obstacle to do battle with. All combining in perfect unison. It just works. Take away one of the key ingredients and I don't think it would. It certainly wouldn't be anywhere near as much fun.
Cyclo-cross racing, it's a little bit of madness. Insanity on a bicycle. From the outside it's viewed with wide-eyed disbelief. Shock. Little wonder then it's so popular in the UK with our slightly eccentric sense of humour. It comes as a surprise that its roots aren't in this country, but across the water on the Continent.
Shame that, really. But it's not stopped us adopting this slightly insane sport and holding it close to our hearts. The most bizarre branch of cycle sport? You bet.
(Thanks to Gavin Peacock for the photo)
David worked on the road.cc tech team from 2012-2020. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds, and you can now find him over on his own YouTube channel David Arthur - Just Ride Bikes.