‘Crossers brush up on skills as season finally approaches

Posted by on September 16th, 2021 at 1:38 pm

Janelle Bickford (blue jersey) shared cyclocross tips at a clinic in Fernhill Park Wednesday night.
(Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Cyclocross is alive and well in Portland. Despite an all but silent 2020 season and the cancellation of a popular local race series this season, 2021 could still deliver a significant ‘cross season — especially if the rain and cold ever return!

The looming question on everyone’s mind these past few weeks has been whether or not the Cyclocross Crusade would happen. Covid concerns led to organizers questioning this year’s plans, but they ultimately decided to open registration and a six-race series schedule has just been released. That means for the next two months or so, local cyclocross fans will have plenty of action to choose from.

And since there’s racing to do, there are skills to brush up on. That’s where cyclocross clinics come in. A staple of the local pre-season, ‘cross clinics are usually held at public parks by race teams and bike shops. I checked out a clinic last night at Fernhill Park in northeast Portland that was hosted by Janelle Bickford of the Metropolis Cycles Cyclocross Team.

Janelle and her able assistant, local racing ambassador Mielle Blomberg (above, left), had set out a bunch of cones to create a mini-course on the big hill in the middle of the park. It featured a classic down-up, which is a staple of many ‘cross courses. After a warm-up lap around the expansive park that required them to dodge a cross-country running event, soccer practices, picnics, and dozens of dogs and their owners, the group returned to the coned-off area to work on basics.

They went over all the core ‘cross techniques such as; when to ride in the drops, tips for getting over barriers, how to balance front-rear braking forces, how to choose a line through a corner and maintain speed as you turn.

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Bickford watches as a rider transitions from hairpin turn to steep climb.

At one point, Janelle stood in a corner and asked the riders to make sure they looked at her — not the ground — as they pedaled through. “No matter what you’re doing on a ‘cross course you always want to be looking at the next thing. You want to look forward,” she implored.

Mielle offered great tips too. Great cyclocross riding is about making good choices. And Mielle has raced so many times she knows the tradeoffs between many of them. Like when to carry your bike through a turn or roll it; when to ride past a pile-up or jump over it (after you ask if everyone is OK of course); or when to ditch your favorite line through a technical section and make a decisive pass. When helping attendees get over the barriers, Mielle reminded them, “There’s technique, then there’s just whatever gets you over the bar.”

Lorena Labarbera goes over a barrier under the watchful eye of Mielle Blomberg.

The riders who showed up seemed to soak up all the knowledge. One woman, Anne McFerrin, didn’t even come to the park for the clinic, but joined anyway. She was sitting on a bench when the riders rolled up. “I just came to the park to look at dogs,” she admitted after practicing a bunch of the skills. “I have friends who’ve done cross and I’ve always been curious, but I really just came out to get on my bike.”

One person whose name I didn’t write down said this clinic was their first-ever experience with cyclocross. “I just did this because my friend got me to do it.” “It’s fun,” she continued, “But it’s a little violent for me.” They prefer riding alone like in a gravel race.

Another rider, Lorena Labarbera (lower right, in full “ballerina” remount pose), has two cross seasons under her belt and looked to have many of the techniques well in hand. “I’m a bit rusty on the remounts,” she shared.

After last year’s hiatus, it’s likely many Portlanders are rusty with their ‘cross skills. If you’re one of them, keep your eyes peeled for skills clinics, or just head to your local park and do some practice. As long as you keep your head up and keep looking forward — just like in a tight turn — you’ll keep rolling along smoothly.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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