Cyclocross is an odd discipline of cycling. You take what is effectively a road bike, give it a bit more clearance and whack on some 33mm knobbly tyres. Then you select a muddy field (any will do) and ride around it for an hour. Put a mini-festival/drinking session on while the race is happening and you’ve got the sport that we reckon you need to get into.
Sounds like good fun, right? It is, both to watch and ride. But what is so special about this weekend? Well, it’s the first time in ages that the Brits could do well in the men’s race. We stand an actual chance of netting the men’s title which has never been done before by a British rider, along with the men’s U23 title and women’s junior title. I’ve said ‘we’ a lot there. Tom Pidcock, Zoe Backstedt and Cameron Mason might go and win their events. I won’t have done much while sitting on the sofa with a beer, but we all play our part.
So, why should you tune in to watch the racing this weekend? Well, firstly, because the racing is exciting and with some top commentary from the Eurosport/GCN team, it’s easy to follow for a new viewer. But this could also be a very significant day for cycling as a competitive sport in the UK. Let’s dive into what to expect from some of the races before we tell you specifically why it's worth watching.
Men’s Elite - Sunday 30th Jan 20:30 UK time
The time differences between the UK and Fayetteville mean that the races will be on later than usual for European viewers. Cyclocross’ two big names - Wout Van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel - won’t be on the start line due to road race preparations and injury respectively and this means that there is change afoot.
Those two have dominated the sport for some years now, and you’d have to look back to 2014 to find a different winner. Their absence means that we will have a fresh men’s World Champion, and the race is set to be tightly contested. Britain’s Tom Pidcock will line up against a Belgian trio of Eli Iserbyt, Toon Aerts and Laurens Sweek. Dutchman Lars van der Haar will fancy his chances after a brilliant season and outside of these five favourites, you could pick five more that could challenge for the win on the right day.
Our eyes will be on Pidcock, and we’ll be hoping that he can do what no British man has done before and take the Rainbow bands.
> Check out Pidcock’s Pinarello Crossista Cyclocross bike
Women’s Elite - Saturday 29th Jan 20:30 UK time
If you are going to watch just one race all weekend, then make it this one. Yes, we really want to see Pidock win in the men’s race, but for pure racing enjoyment, the elite women’s race is where it’s at.
Lucinda Brand goes in as the favourite, but she has seemingly been on top form for ages. Can she hold onto it for the race that matters? Or, will a flying Ceylin Del Carmen Alvarado continue her return from injury? What we do know is that you can throw the names Honsinger, Rochette and van der Heijden into the ring.
And let’s not forget cycling’s G.O.A.T, Marianne Vos. Newly crowned as the Dutch champion, Vos won the Hoogerheide World Cup round on Sunday and if there is one rider that knows how to prepare for a big event, it is Vos.
Men’s U23 - Saturday 29th Jan 19:00 UK time
You might not recognise any of the names here, but this is another race with multiple contenders. Defending men’s U23 champion, Pim Ronhaar, is back in what will likely be his final year as a U23 rider before he makes the step up to Elite. He has taken multiple wins already this season and rightly goes into this race as the bookies' favourite, but he has been beaten and there is a cluster of riders waiting to take his crown.
Look out for Ryan Kamp and Mees Hendrikx from the Dutch squad, then there's Joran Wyseure, Thibau Nys and Gerben Kuyers of Belgium.
Having finished 2nd, just 4 secs down on Wyseure in Hamme last Saturday, Britain’s Cameron Mason stands a brilliant chance of repeating Tom Pidcock’s success of three years ago. Could the 22 year old from Scotland land the rainbow bands?
Giving it a go
The main reason for watching the racing this weekend is the one I care about most: watch this ridiculous sport, and I bet you get a nagging urge to go and give it a go.
Cyclocross is one of the most accessible forms of bike racing. Local leagues exist up and down the UK, with both summer and winter leagues catering for those that don’t want to get muddy and those that do.
Entry fees are generally not too expensive, especially when compared to a road race, and the chances of getting hurt are pretty low; although we won’t be held responsible for what happens should you try to hop the barriers.
You can take the racing as seriously as you like; and while faster people might lap you to begin with, the progression of most newcomers to cyclocross is alarmingly fast. There’s always someone that is roughly at your level, so clinging onto their back wheel, or trying to drop them, can really help to push on both your fitness and your technical abilities.
Speaking of which, if you spend your year ticking off the miles on the road, you’ll likely have encountered obstacles such as potholes, broken tarmac, sticks, wet corners and a host of other things that can make you feel like you’re about to crash. Cyclocross throws a concentrated serving of slips and near misses at you through muddy corners, ruts, descents and barriers. Just a few weeks of learning to slide around in the mud will have you feeling like a master of bike handling when you return to the road.
> How to: The essential cyclocross skills
If, sorry, when you get hooked on CX and start practising a bit, the training is actually fun. It becomes a game of ‘can I ride that’ and again, you’re off-road and away from traffic. Add in the fact that there is a bit of running to be done and some lifting too - of your bike, not weights - and you’ve got a slightly more full-body workout than regular road riding.
Once you’ve got comfortable on a ‘cross bike, that pothole which once scared you can be flicked around, the stick can be hopped and the wet corner now has seemingly endless grip.
At the local level, there are very few rules dictating what you can turn up and race on. As long as you’re powered by your own two legs, a cyclocross bike if you have one, a mountain bike or even a road bike if you’re really brave are all fine.
You don’t need fancy shoes or kit; in fact, the older the better as you’re going to be getting muddy. As the riding is quite challenging and the speeds lower, it’s also much warmer so you can leave the heavy winter jacket at home.
> Get your bike set up for cyclocross
Cyclocross takes place on closed, grassy circuits which are more often than not made muddy by rain. That presents a traffic-free environment where crashes are generally soft, and your frustration isn’t caused by a broken bike or body, but rather by the fact that you missed the rut... again.
It is a brilliant space for kids to be introduced to bike racing, and big kids might find the friendly atmosphere of a CX race a lot less intimidating than the local 4th cat road race.
Away from the high heart rates of the racing scene, cyclocross bikes have long been used by roadies as the tool for adventure riding; and while the gravel bike market has grown rapidly, you can still ride a huge amount of technical stuff on a cyclocross bike.
The joy of adventure riding is that it is just that, an adventure. Exploring your local area by linking up paths with stretches of lanes can breathe fresh motivation into your riding. Maybe it’s just us, but getting a little bit lost and muddy is great fun.
How to watch
For UK viewers, the Eurosport Player is the best way to watch. Access can be purchased through a Discovery + subscription. It costs £6.99 per month with no contract or £29.99 for the year. Subscriptions auto-renew, but you can cancel at any time. This will also give you full access to Eurosport’s coverage of major road races such as the Tour de France.
Yep, and the EOT will have gone too.
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