Friday, 28 November 2014

How to be a cyclo cross fan

It might seem a little bit strange, standing around in a muddy field to watch cycle racers. We don't mind watching a Tour de France stage on the side of a mountain and we know what is involved, even if it means hanging around for hours just to see the riders whizz through in less than a minute.

The great thing about watching a cyclo cross race is that you get more bang for your buck when watching the racers. The course is about 1.5 miles and loops around back and forth so you can see the riders various times per lap. The women race for at least 40 minutes and the men race for 50 minutes to an hour.

Gabby Durrin by Andy Bokanev
The pros certainly ride quicker than we could ever imagine racing, but it is still not that quick given that they are riding over rough, challenging terrain. (In Belgium last week the pro riders raced over sand dunes!) Riders also have a few moments where they will have to dismount from their bikes and run up some steps or up a hill.
But you don't have to be just standing in one place the whole time - there are other things to do. There is usually a beer tent selling a fine selection of novelty beers, various refreshments and a cycling expo. You can even just go to the pits area and see how to wash down a muddy bike in 2 minutes, and how the pros dispose of one bike and remount a new one in 10 seconds.

Ahead of the first ever World Cup cyclo cross race in the UK, at Milton Keynes, which I talked of in my previous post, here are a few tips from some of my buddies who are seasoned cyclo cross fans and racers: (This is a longer version of what I wrote in this week's "Cycling Weekly" magazine.)

Claire Beaumont, cyclo cross racer for Vicious Velo
“Walk the pits. You get to see the riders close up and you might catch a glimpse of the might Sven Nys, or even give a friendly wave to Nikki Harris and Helen Wyman.”

Stefan Wyman, team principal to Helen Wyman, European Champion and Bronze medallist, World championships 2013
“Helen likes noise. She said she wouldn’t have found the strength in the finish to win the European Championships in Ipswich a couple of seasons ago if it hadn’t been for the home crowd. That’s how much it means to a rider.”

Paul Burgoine, photographer and cyclo cross connoisseur
“Supporters’ clubs make a coordinated effort to wear the same kit and congregate together. I have Sven Nys socks and bandana, a Telenet Fidea bandana, and a Helen Wyman hat.”
Nikki Harris (Telenet Fidea) Bronze medallist, European Championships 2014
“Anyone that comes out standing round a muddy field to support me, I respect! I don’t care what they do as long as they give me a big shout. Maybe even bring some running trainers if you are out to support me, then you can run to the hard bits to give me extra encouragement!”

More tips from the experts:
1. Wellies are king. Even if it's not raining the ground turns into a quagmire. All that walking and cheering makes it a long day. Jimmy Choos, brogues or Manolo Blahniks will be a waste of money!
2. Get in on the action early. Arrive before the men's race and walk the circuit, then check out your vantage point for the elite races. Find a technical spot where you can see a master class in bike handling... and the crashes. In the right place you can see your mud-plugging heroes a few times every lap and also see the action on a big screen.
3. Wear supporters' club kit of your favourite riders or fancy dress - it's actively encouraged - paint your face, where a silly hat or just carry a big flag.
4. Cheer loudly for all the racers - whether they are first or last, whether you know them or not! Cowbells, whistles, chants, is all welcomed by the racers.
5. It gets crowded. A camping chair might be useful but will get in the way near the barriers. Also the area may be a bit crowded to travel around it or stand around with your bicycle. Keep dogs on a lead!
6. Soak in the atmosphere. There's lots to enjoy besides the racing - the music, the commentary, the expos. There will be TV crews so put your best face on for the cameras!

It's here - World Cup Cyclo Cross comes to England!

It's not just me and my mates who think cyclo cross is in the UK is on the up. The world's governing cycling body recognises it too - so much so that they have agreed to hold one round of the World Cup Cyclo cross series in Milton Keynes. And the race is tomorrow. This is the first time that the UK is hosting a world cup.
Yes, as we speak all the great and the good of cyclo cross are alighting at Milton Keynes Central or leaving junction 14 of the M1 motorway to make their way to their hotels and reccie the course.

It's probably a big deal for them, because the top cyclo crossers generally race in Belgium, Holland and maybe a little bit in Northern France. Most of them are Belgian or Dutch so for them it is a hop, skip and a jump (with bikes slung over their shoulders) to get to a race! It is certainly a big deal for us to be welcoming them!

This will be the only round of the series that is taking place outside of the Belgian/Dutch heartland. So I, and thousands of others will toddle over there to see the pros show us how it's done (or maybe how it isn't done) if they struggle on an apparently very technical course based around a big hill with steps and hurdles.
Hopefully I'll be able to get a few words with the riders for Cycling Weekly and Sportsister magazines.

Nikki Harris (by Bart Hazen)
As it's a home event there will be a strong British contingent. Look out for Nikki Harris and Helen Wyman, who have realistic chances of getting on the podium. Then there is Gabby Durrin, who has been very consistent over the years. The battle will be between them and overseas riders such as Katie Compton from the US, Sanne Cant from Belgium, Sophie de Boer from Holland and a few other women from the Czech Republic and France. 

Helen Wyman (by Bart Hazen)
In the men's race our best rider is Ian Field, though the fight for the podium will likely be between Lars van der Haar, Kevin Pauwels, and a number of others from Belgium and Holland. There's likely to be a huge crowd around the legend that is Sven Nys from Belgium. Apparently he gets a similar reception to David Beckham when he is at home!

Yes, cyclo cross is to Belgians what football is to Brits! There will be loud crowds with various chants, and supporters' clubs for specific riders. That all sounds a strange concept to me, but I look forward to seeing it and maybe even getting involved in the fun.

For anyone going along to the race tomorrow at Campbell Park, Milton Keynes you can just turn up and buy a ticket. Take some wellies or sturdy shoes, wrap up warm (though the weather is not forecast to be too cold) and have something that makes lots of noise to support the riders - a cowbell, whistle, a trumpet, even a vuvuzela. The riders will appreciate it! More tips in my next post.