Think back to your childhood – that first day at a new school. Your nerves overwhelm you the night before. You can’t sleep, and the next morning your nerves own your every move. You have no idea what to wear – do you have any idea what’s “cool” and what’s not? Who’s going to talk to you? Will you have the courage to speak to others?
Okay – back to here and now. You may be chuckling because you’ve “been there before as a kid.” But if you’re like me, and started racing bikes just years from your 30s, this scenario may be fresh in your memory bank. Yes, showing up to your first cyclocross race can be scary, but step one is committing to show up. Step two is being prepared – and here are a few tips that just might help.
1.) Do your homework before the “first day of school.”
Cyclocross or “cx” is one of cycling’s fastest growing disciplines – probably because it’s suited to almost anyone, takes less time than most bike races, and has a quirky, super-welcoming atmosphere. It’s important you seek out as much as you can (hello Cyclocross 101). There’s plenty of information online, but your local bike shop is a great place to start.
However, not every bike shop – even the one you’re buying your cx bike from – may know the details of a typical cx race day. Some shops are more familiar with other disciplines like road or mountain. So, it’s important to ask plenty of questions. Has someone on staff raced cx before? How should your cx bike be set-up? If no one on staff has raced cx, ask them if they can connect you with someone who has.
Which leads me to my next tip…
My first cyclocross race in 2012.
2.) Find a mentor.
I’m not talking about the Hunger Games. But Woody Harrelson’s character developed into an important part of the plot. Why? Because he toed that starting line before.
I’ve thought a lot about my first cyclocross race – which was basically my first bike race. I had a great experience given my lack of fitness and skill (foreshadowing for another tip). But that wouldn’t have happened without insight, advice, and support from someone who’s raced before – my husband, Spencer (who was my boyfriend and then fiance at the time). I at least “looked the part” thanks to him – otherwise I would have authored the “Book of Fred” for sure.
So, pay attention to others around you, ask an experienced racer about your bike, your gear, and what to expect race day.
3.) Manage your expectations (especially on skill and fitness)
Cyclocross is fun – a lot of fun – even if you don’t have a lot of fitness or skill. But it’s not realistic to expect to master cyclocross skills right away if you’re new to it. The good news is there’s plenty of “how to” videos online and even attend in-person clinics or weekly practices held by your local cyclocross team.
It’s important to practice and try to improve but setting realistic expectations for yourself will help you have a great experience. Don’t try to bite off more than you can chew too soon – but know that more fitness and skill can help you be more competitive – if that’s what you’re after. I knew that was the route for me the moment I felt like throwing up during my first race – I was hooked.
Visit privateercx.com to learn more about Chattanooga’s Privateer Cyclocross Team.