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  1. #1
    Team Water Andy_K's Avatar
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    Tips for Newbies

    ...from a newbie (to start with at least).

    I posted this a week or so ago on the main cyclocross forum, and somebody there suggested a sticky post. I've been dragging my feet, and now it's really late in the season, but here it is anyway. What does it take to get a post made sticky?

    I had just done my first race the previous Saturday, and I thought about writing up a "newbie tips from a newbie" or something like that. This is a really mixed bag, and a few of these will probably seem strange to experienced racers. Maybe if a few of you who know what you're doing add to this the thread will be worth keeping around.

    1. Do it! It's a lot of fun. I was unprepared in every possible way. This was my first time racing, and I'm very slow (everyone else in the race beat me by a full lap), but it was really fun anyway, and everyone was really cool about it.

    2. Get help pinning your number on. The human arm just doesn't bend in the way necessary to pin a bib number on the side of a jersey by yourself. If you're absolutely too stubborn to ask for help (like me) take your jersey off and pin the number on.

    3. Use run ups for recovery. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it worked really well for me. As you're riding through grass mud and who knows what else, your heart rate is going to be elevated. If you know you're not going to place well anyway, take the time off your bike as a break. Walk up the hill and catch your breath.

    4. Nearly anything can be a run up. Just because the other guys are riding up a hill doesn't mean you have to. If you want to get off the bike and push (see 3 above), do it. Nobody will think the less of you for it.

    5. Stick it out. You can do it -- really. There was a moment in the first lap when I thought maybe I should quit. But I stuck with it, and pretty soon everywhere I went people were cheering for me. When you're obviously sucking wind but you stick it out anyway, people root for you. It's very cool (and I can't tell you how much I appreciated it). One of the volunteers out on the course even pushed me up a hill.

    6. Don't worry about how bad you're doing. There were only nine other riders in the race I did, and right off the starting line I fell way back. I felt like an idiot. But just after I finished the second lap, the leader passed me. From then on I was distinguishable from the other racers only by how badly I was sucking wind. The guy who finished next-to last passed me in the last 100 yard (despite a flat tire) and he had no idea I was a lap behind him.

    7. Watch the lines other riders are taking. When you've got somebody ahead of you in stretch of mud, sand, gravel, water or what have you, watch where they ride. If it looks like it worked well for them, take the same line. If not, try something else.

    8. Keep pedaling. The absolute worst thing you can do in the mud is stop pedaling. You won't get started again, and mud isn't fun to run through.

    9. Don't overdress. When my race started, it was about 38 degrees out. I wore a thin thermal undershirt, a short-sleeve jersey, bike shorts and tights. That was about right -- maybe a little warm. Over 40 degrees and I'd probably have been regretting the thermal. The other guys were mostly using short sleeve jerseys, but they did have their legs covered.

    10. Know when to stay out of the way. At my pace, I was more of a roving obstacle than a racer, so when I saw a faster rider coming up behind me, I made sure to give him plenty of room. It was appreciated.
    Last edited by Andy_K; 10-27-08 at 04:18 PM.

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    Most of this list is right on. Especially the part of just friggin' doing it, seems like a lot of folk overthink it.

    Everyone has their own number-pinning mojo. Some guys like to crumple, some don't. Some use the holes, some pin through the paper. Just make sure you pin it in the correct location and in the correct orientation. Only ask someone to pin your jersey if you would be comfortable asking that same person to pick you up from the airport; yes, it is that personal.

    I disagree with #3. In order to ride the fastest overall race you are capable of, there are places to burn matches and places to take it easy; a run-up is a place to burn matches. Same deal with hills, people intuitively know that it's smarter to spend a bit more effort on climbs than on descents, and this intuition turns out to be correct.

    Regarding #4, you can waste a lot of momentum if you dismount too soon on a partially rideable climb. Learn to carry momentum into the climb and dismount just before you come to a standstill. There's a bit of a knack to it.

  3. #3
    I eat carbide. Psimet2001's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by flargle View Post
    Most of this list is right on. Especially the part of just friggin' doing it, seems like a lot of folk overthink it.

    Everyone has their own number-pinning mojo. Some guys like to crumple, some don't. Some use the holes, some pin through the paper. Just make sure you pin it in the correct location and in the correct orientation. Only ask someone to pin your jersey if you would be comfortable asking that same person to pick you up from the airport; yes, it is that personal.

    I disagree with #3. In order to ride the fastest overall race you are capable of, there are places to burn matches and places to take it easy; a run-up is a place to burn matches. Same deal with hills, people intuitively know that it's smarter to spend a bit more effort on climbs than on descents, and this intuition turns out to be correct.

    Regarding #4, you can waste a lot of momentum if you dismount too soon on a partially rideable climb. Learn to carry momentum into the climb and dismount just before you come to a standstill. There's a bit of a knack to it.
    +1 - some of this is from my newb cross experience and some from my longer road experience.

    Can't crumple numbers here. I used to back in the late 80's and early 90's, but now with the cameras at the line the officals will slaughter you if you crumple.

    Don't use the holes in the number to pin. Take a stitch with the pin through the field of the number and the jersey. The holes punched through the numebr will tear out. I personally use 8 pins - 4 corners and half way in between along each side. With uncrumpled numbers it is the only way I have found to keep the number from flapping.

    Also....yes, everyone has their own thing with numbers and for many it's their superstition/pre-race routine. For me I take the jersey off and lay it on the floorboard of my van. I line the number up with either the arm panel seam or lettering along the side panel under the arm. I make sure it is high enough to clear the pockets, and low enough to not be completely in the armpit. Sometimes it is hard with the huge numbers they give out now.

    I use sections where it is nearly impossible to pass as recovery. I nail every uphill and seem to be passing a lot of people there. In run-ups I just try to maintain position - not falling back, but not trying to jump ahead. I sometimes gain ground right after remounting if there is a technical section right after.

    I am short so I have found I can use my size to cut under limbs near turns and cut quite a bit off of corners. I have also found it easier to have a lot of speed going into off-camber sections and not pedaling while on them.

    Best lesson yet - yesterday before our race one of the Cat1/2 racers on our team told a fellow 4b teammate the following while they were talking about the crappy weather, "yes you're going to be cold and hurting, but so is everyone else. the key is to be cold, hurting AND angry...."

  4. #4
    Team Water Andy_K's Avatar
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    I figured I'd get some flack for the resting run-up thing. Obviously, it's a tactic only to be used by people who are strictly out of the running. For me, I can't run worth a lick and while I'm pitifully slow on the bike, that is (relatively) my strength, so I figure it doesn't make sense for me to hold back while I'm on the bike. But, what do I know? I finished last.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Andy_K View Post
    For me, I can't run worth a lick and while I'm pitifully slow on the bike, that is (relatively) my strength, so I figure it doesn't make sense for me to hold back while I'm on the bike.
    Here is one way to think about it. Given a level of fitness, imagine two competing strategies:
    (1) Aim for the highest constant speed that is physically possible, vs.
    (2) Aim for the highest constant power output that is physically possible.

    For a perfectly flat, windless time trial, strategies 1 and 2 coincide. With varying terrain, however, it turns out that the optimal strategy falls somewhere in between the two. During climbs, for example, your speed should be less than average, but your power output should be higher than average. This applies to sandpits, runups, etc, as well. So it's natural to be really huffing and puffing at the top of a run-up, but you shouldn't run yourself into oblivion (obviously). It's a matter of carefully doling out those matches.

    http://sportsmedicine.adisonline.com/pt/re/spo/abstract.00007256-200737080-00001.htm;jsessionid=JG3QTLT1sjB8DwH37V4dQ1pNbsvb93ZzpBRvZ6MSDphDXXzgHKcB!-1891305337!181195628!8091!-1
    When environmental conditions are relatively stable (e.g. in a velodrome) and the TT is >10 minutes, then an even distribution of work rate is optimal. For a shorter TT (<=10 minutes), work rate should be increased during the starting effort because this proportion of total race time is significant. For a very short TT (<=2 minutes), the starting effort should be maximal, since the time saved during the starting phase is predicted to outweigh any time lost during the final metres because of fatigue. A similar 'time saving' rationale underpins the advice that work rate should vary in parallel with any changes in gradient or wind speed during a road TT. Increasing work rate in headwind and uphill sections, and vice versa, decreases the variability in speed and, therefore, the total race time.

  6. #6
    Team Water Andy_K's Avatar
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    Any more tips?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Andy_K View Post
    Any more tips?
    When it comes to turns, barriers, etc, think smooth, not fast.

    Figure out the parts of the course where drafting would help. During the race, make a point of closing gaps before those sections, even if it means burning some matches.

  8. #8
    Splicer of Molecules Nickel's Avatar
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    I think building a set of barriers for $15 is a great investment. Being smooth in your dismount/remount can gain you a good number of places over people that struggle.

    Pre-riding the course at least twice will give you an idea of how fast you can take corners and how you want to attack certain hill sections (run vs bike). I find it's good to have a feel for the course instead of riding blind.

    I think some 1 minute intervals are good from a dead stop to simulate the start of the race. Being in the first couple of lines helps before the course gets tight and things slow down. Suffer early and then find your rhythm.

  9. #9
    Don't smoke, Mike. shapelike's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nickel View Post
    Being in the first couple of lines helps before the course gets tight and things slow down. Suffer early and then find your rhythm.
    Agreed, go hard off the start and try to get in a somewhat decent position before you hit the first technical portion of the course. Even if you can't hold the pace hopefully you can get in behind someone and draft them or just follow their pace until you find your rhythm. It's way better than starting off at a more comfortable pace and realizing you're off the back immediately, at least in my experience.

  10. #10
    Life is good RonH's Avatar
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    It all sounds good to me so I'll make it a sticky.

    Went to my first cross race today (as a spectator). All I can say is AWESOME!!!
    My bikes: 2001 Litespeed Tuscany---2015 Cannondale Supersix EVO carbon

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    my tip: find your strength(s) & use it to your advantage.

    case in point: this is my first year crossin' & i've spent most of the season training for a marathon. i am also just a better runner than a cyclist. i hold on as much as i can & when the barriers &/or a run-up comes along, i pass more people or gain more ground than at any other point.

    (this is not to add to a to-run-up-or-not-to-run-up discussion, just to point out that you should find what you're good at & use it to your advantage.) i know so many people that aren't sure what they are good at (in various sports) & they're constantly lost as to what they should do & when.

    also: don't give up at the beginning. a friend of mine was in the lead of a race but held up to get some help from others to pull. from what i've seen, that tactic really doesn't work in cross. put the hurt on 'em early or end up like someone i know (brett).

    i hope that helps somebody pass that one person they're gunnin' for.

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    Senior Member brett_beddow's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 3MTA3 View Post
    also: don't give up at the beginning. a friend of mine was in the lead of a race but held up to get some help from others to pull. from what i've seen, that tactic really doesn't work in cross. put the hurt on 'em early or end up like someone i know (brett).
    What, whatchu sayin brah?!

    Anyway, my biggest struggle is cornering. I can pass people and attack on the straights and I do ok on the climbs and barriers but on the tight, technical sections I loose so much momentum. I am a roadie at heart but any tips on practicing cornering?

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    hahahahaha.

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    Quote Originally Posted by brett_beddow View Post
    any tips on practicing cornering?
    Is this a trick question?

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    Senior Member brett_beddow's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by flargle View Post
    Is this a trick question?
    Sorry! Definitely didn't think about that before I posted it. Any tips on cornering? or how to practice cornering?
    I really felt like I was losing all of my speed and momentum in the corners.

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    Fixed Commuter Bike4More's Avatar
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    Practice running the barriers and dismounting/remounting. Your fitness will determine how well you can do the run ups or whether you can ride some of them.

    Cyclocross is about endurance and technique.
    Ride your bike. www.bike4more.com
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    Don't smoke, Mike. shapelike's Avatar
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    Your lower back hurts (a lot) during races. You've tried:
    - stretching
    - core exercises
    - bike fit adjustments
    - bike equipment changes

    ... wear two pairs of shorts. It helped me out a lot this season.

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    Quote Originally Posted by brett_beddow View Post
    Any tips on cornering? or how to practice cornering?
    I really felt like I was losing all of my speed and momentum in the corners.
    start mountain biking.

  19. #19
    Team Water Andy_K's Avatar
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    Here's what I learned from my second race:

    1. Do it again! It is as fun as you remember, possibly even more fun. And you'll be able to start covering over the memories of how badly you did in your first race.

    2. Lower your tire pressure. I'm a roadie by nature, and as such in my first race I made the total newbie mistake of running my tires at max pressure (65 psi). Then I came to these boards and read a few threads and found out everyone else is running as low as they can get away with. My tires (Maxxis Locust CX) are labeled with a minimum psi of 50, but I ran them at 45 psi on a soft course with no problems. I probably could have gone lower. Somewhere I read that 25% of your body weight is a good starting point.

    3. Mud holes and water features have a curved bottom. If you have to run across a mud hole, two steps, one on each side, might be better than one step in the middle. In my second race, there was a deep mud hole. Sometimes when I went through I sank in up to my knee. Sometimes I only sank in half way up my shins. Thinking about it later I realized in was because I was hitting the center of the creek bed on the deep sinks.

    4. Use higher gears. My first race I started in the granny gear and stayed there. In my second race I resolved that I wasn't going to do that, so I started out in my middle chainring and stayed there. Starting out required more effort, but overall it wasn't that much harder.

    5. Warm up. This is probably a no brainer for most people, but I didn't do it in my first race. I didn't hurt myself or anything, but I wasn't loose. For my second race, I got there an hour and a half early and had time to preride the course at a slow pace a couple of times, practice some sprint starts to see what the traction would be like and do some stretching. By race time, I felt ready.

    6. The guy ahead of you is as tired as you are. This really surprised me. Finally getting the chance to pass a few guys, I was surprised to see that consistently, after I'd spent half a lap right behind these guys, as soon as I passed them they fell way back. The only thing I can figure is that they were pressing to stay ahead of me, and then when I passed them they eased up a bit. This was very good because I was afraid passing them would be wasted effort and they'd just pass me back after the next turn. Not so.
    Last edited by Andy_K; 11-10-08 at 01:13 PM. Reason: Added 5 and 6

  20. #20
    Senior Member MONGO!'s Avatar
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    For a muddy course you can run as low as 30-35 psi on a clincher, the trick is to adjust it for the terrain.
    No point using way low pressure if the mud is so bad you're going to run it anyway.
    Yesterday's race was a mix of pavement and dry-ish dirt/grass and total sloppy mud and standing water, so I set my pressure for the dry stuff and ran it when the going got too slippery.

    I see a lot of guys using the paved and flat sections for recovery, this is where you want to be going fast, big ring it and hammer, you can recover when you're done...

  21. #21
    I eat carbide. Psimet2001's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Andy_K View Post
    Here's what I learned from my second race:

    1. Do it again! It is as fun as you remember, possibly even more fun. And you'll be able to start covering over the memories of how badly you did in your first race.
    +1 - My first race I was 40th/67. I was just trying to finish and not cause issues and learn. My second race I was 17th/45 and third race 14th/55. Yesterday I was 22nd/55, but I chalk it up to a tougher field (cheeseheads from WI showed up), and my bad form/health.

    Quote Originally Posted by Andy_K View Post
    2. Lower your tire pressure. I'm a roadie by nature, and as such in my first race I made the total newbie mistake of running my tires at max pressure (65 psi). Then I came to these boards and read a few threads and found out everyone else is running as low as they can get away with. My tires (Maxxis Locust CX) are labeled with a minimum psi of 50, but I ran them at 45 psi on a soft course with no problems. I probably could have gone lower. Somewhere I read that 25% of your body weight is a good starting point.
    I went the otherway and because I had heard so much about how low you can run them I was running them too low on dry courses. Yesterday I didn't seem to be able to relly get them low enough, but I was approx 35psi. The gauge on my pump does not have the correct resolution for this stuff. I probably would have been perfect at 33 or so.

    Quote Originally Posted by Andy_K View Post
    4. Use higher gears. My first race I started in the granny gear and stayed there. In my second race I resolved that I wasn't going to do that, so I started out in my middle chainring and stayed there. Starting out required more effort, but overall it wasn't that much harder.
    I have found that while pre-riding the course if I really think I need a smaller cog on the cassette then I am probably geared right. Racing will get you to churn tougher gears. I have found that while cross racing I am always churning a gear that's just a tad tougher than what I would churn on the road - presumably because I feel more comfortable with a lower rpm off-road. I also find I use my smallest gears and high cadence in the technical and switchback stuff in order to fly out of the corners.

    Quote Originally Posted by Andy_K View Post
    5. Warm up. This is probably a no brainer for most people, but I didn't do it in my first race. I didn't hurt myself or anything, but I wasn't loose. For my second race, I got there an hour and a half early and had time to preride the course at a slow pace a couple of times, practice some sprint starts to see what the traction would be like and do some stretching. By race time, I felt ready.
    Correct.

    Quote Originally Posted by Andy_K View Post
    6. The guy ahead of you is as tired as you are. This really surprised me. Finally getting the chance to pass a few guys, I was surprised to see that consistently, after I'd spent half a lap right behind these guys, as soon as I passed them they fell way back. The only thing I can figure is that they were pressing to stay ahead of me, and then when I passed them they eased up a bit. This was very good because I was afraid passing them would be wasted effort and they'd just pass me back after the next turn. Not so.
    This is very true. It is because you can hear/see the guy behind you and end up racing hard to maintain your position. When they pass you lose it and drift back. I love it when that happens when I pass someone. I passed a guy yesterday where it took 1/2 a lap to get by him, and the whole time I was running up his ass trying to get by. When I finally got around I did one tecnical section and then looked back. He wasn't even in sight anymore. Colossal blow up. It was awesome.

    The part that sucks is that it goes both ways. After fighting for 1-3/4 laps I got passed on a hill ....because I chose too small of a gear. It took everything he had, but when he finally passed I kind of relaxed thinking, "well at least that's over with. I've got nothing left."

    Mistake. It led to me getting passed by the guy behind him with only a few turns left on the lap.

  22. #22
    Don't smoke, Mike. shapelike's Avatar
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    Get angry. Whatever it takes, just get angry and go take it out with your bike.
    Last edited by shapelike; 11-10-08 at 02:24 PM.

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    Senior Member MONGO!'s Avatar
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    Shift down to the gear you'll need coming out of an obstacle or off camber, BEFORE you need it, you can pass by guys that are struggling to get their cadence up.

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    I eat carbide. Psimet2001's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MONGO! View Post
    Shift down to the gear you'll need coming out of an obstacle or off camber, BEFORE you need it, you can pass by guys that are struggling to get their cadence up.
    Oh hells yes!

    Even in my first race I understood that the whole point of the pre-ride was to determine where to "pre-shift" so that I could be in the right combos coming out of stuff.

    Then I found myself shouting to another rider in front of me telling him when to shift because his lack of pre-shifting was annoying me. "DUDE! Shift into your big ring BEFORE we get to the paved section so that you can actually USE the paved section to race instead of to shift."

  25. #25
    Don't smoke, Mike. shapelike's Avatar
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    Oh, don't be that guy.

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