‘Cross primer: Get ready to race!

Cross Crusade Hillsboro 2007-1.jpg

Do what Tori says and
you’ll be smiling too.
(Photos © J. Maus)

Earlier this week, Tori shared some background on cyclocross. Now she’s got some key pointers for your first foray into racing. This weekend offers two great opportunities to get out there. So get out there (but read Tori’s primer first)! — JM

Pre-Race Prep

Practice makes perfect
Whether this is your first season racing or you’d like to freshen up your cyclocross skills, it’s a good idea to do some practice. Most of the clinics in the Portland area have wrapped up (the season gets underway this weekend); but you can grab some friends and head to a local park to do a clinic of your own.


Mr. Tonkin demonstrates proper
carrying technique.

While you’re out there, work on your starts (begin from stopped position and rev up to speed), turns (I like to find trees or poles and turn sharply around them), and balance. Another big thing to work at is getting comfortable carrying your bike and hopping on and off as you continue to roll forward.

If the thought of huge fields and hundreds of screaming fans freaks you out, try a smaller race. The Blind Date at the Dairy series is on Wednesdays and it’s much more mellow than the weekend races. Race lengths are also shorter, which is perfect for beginners.

A well-maintained bike is a fast bike
Bring your racing bike into the shop at least a week or two before to have it checked over and make sure it’s in good working order. Read my previous article to learn more about what kind of bike you’ll need or how to convert the one you have. Most races offer some mechanical ride support from a bike shop or sponsor, but don’t show up counting on them to fix your bike the day of the race. (And please, tip the mechanics. They’re out there for hours in the cold so you can have a great race).

Day of the Race

Get to the race at least an hour and a half before the start time and if you haven’t already pre-registered, leave sooner. When you get to the race, find the OBRA registration tent and sign in or register. They’ll give you your race number and safety pins to secure it to your jersey or shirt. If you’re not sure how to properly pin it on, ask an official or check out these examples. Improperly pinned numbers won’t get counted and they drive the race officials batty.

Cross Crusade-SSCXWC08-10

A pre-ride can help you pick
the best way through.

Arriving early gives you a chance to preview the course and get a sense of what you’re in for during the race. The on-line race schedule on the promoter’s website will have times listed for pre-riding the course. These are the only times anyone is allowed on the course the race day other than during their race. If pre-riding isn’t an option, walk the course which is almost as good.

Bring the clothes you plan to race in, a helmet, gloves and clothes to change into afterwards. A towel is super handy for cleaning off mud and some modesty when changing, as are plastic bags for carrying muddy clothes home.

Also, bring food and water for before and after. Some folks like a shot of energy gel or chews 15-20 minutes before the race. There’s usually not enough time to eat or drink during the race, so eating a good meal a few hours before and hydrating well the day before is your best strategy.

It’s good to warm up a bit before starting, either by working your skills or riding a bit around the parking lot. Get to the starting line 5- 10 minutes before the beginning of you race for announcements and getting lined up.

Bell Lap and the Big Finish

Cross Crusade 2010 #2 - Rainier-63

Proper spectating technique (note
the big smile and cowbell).

Once the race has started, laps are being counted down near the finish line. If you’ve pre-walked or ridden the course, you’ll see the place to look when you pass through each lap. A bell signals when there is one lap left as riders pass through the finish line the second to the last time. This is the time for racers to drop the hammer and bring it home to sweet victory– or at least relief for struggling lungs.

And for spectators this is a time to shine. In the last lap racers are often in — what is lovingly referred to as “the pain cave” — and can use all the extra encouragement the sidelines can muster. If you’re at the race supporting a friend or loved one, it’s nice to have water and a jacket waiting for them at the finish line and greet them with congrats of a race well ridden.

Crusade and SSCXWC 09-2

Rick Potestio demonstrates poor
post-race nutritional choice
(but he’s smiling, so who cares!?).

As soon as possible after racing, racers should be sure to eat real, healthy food — a PBJ, a cup of yogurt, or another healthy snack or meal — to help recovering muscles. As a beverage of choice for recovery some people swear by chocolate milk, others a nice, cold beer. Of course, both also work as excellent motivators to get through the race.

And buy a cone of fries or a warm waffle smothered in Nutella. All this fun is hard work. It won’t be long until the next race where new friends, bravery, challenges, triumphs (and hopefully, a bit of mud) await.

— Tori Bortman is the owner of Gracie’s Wrench and she writes a regular column for BikePortland. You can read her past articles here.

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Steven S
Steven S
12 years ago

As a first timer and slowpoke, what do I need to know if I get lapped before the bell lap? Is there anything that tells me to heck the #*@* off the course to make way for the next heats/divisions?

Adams Carroll (News Intern)
Reply to  Steven S

Hey Steven,

Yeah. The officials will be yelling “You’re done!” at you.

Steven S
Steven S
12 years ago

Works for me.

I’m already registered, and looking forward to it. Can’t wait!

12 years ago
Reply to  Steven S

Actually a lot of times they’ll let you keep going, just knowing that you’re lapped. Try to let the leaders around safely, and remember that you will always finish on the same lap as the leaders. Basically, once the leaders finish, the next time you cross the finish line, you’ve finished.

anthony sands
anthony sands
12 years ago

my first season , 3 races and 6 crashes (finished anyhow) under me, the best thing i’ve ever done period!

Jeff M.
Jeff M.
12 years ago

I’d like to summarize. You’ll be going anaerobic for about 45 minutes. Sucking air with tunnel vision. When they blow the whistle you’ll most likely be in a pack of 100-200 racers sprinting to a corner or hill. If you’re in shape and have a good mix of speed and bike handling skills you might do well. Just don’t fall down and finish. Race a few times and you might just do both.