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Taw Velo CX event
The first corner!

What is this Cyclo-cross thing all about?

Cyclo-cross (or CX) has been featured by us before but, not in any great depth which meant that we needed to look deeper into it for you. We have always had knowledge of its existence however, there is nothing like seeing things with your own eyes! Luckily, we are friends with a gentleman named Graham Edwards who knows a thing or two about Cyclocross events.

Graham Edwards
Graham…looking good!

Why? We hear you ask! It so happens that way back in 2002, Graham and a chap called Roy Wyle Smith decided to start a Devon and Cornwall CX league. During that year, 3 events were held with around 20 riders per race participating (this was, apparently, considered a good run-out at the time). Times have changed – of which, more later on.

 

Is Cyclo-cross really popular?

Yes, is the answer! Massively popular in Europe, some of the best and most aggressive riders hail from Belgium. It is also big in the Netherlands, France, Italy and the Czech Republic. CX is currently enjoying a massive boom in the US and Australia, as well as experiencing something of a renaissance in the UK which means that you can take part too.

Traditionally, the CX season runs from September to January, ending with the UCI World Championships. This enables serious “off-season” training for professionals and amateurs alike. A chance to get fitter and muddier! Don’t feel that this is all about professionals, though. CX events like the one featured are normally aimed at the whole family and the atmosphere is great.

So, what’s new?

Whilst CX can allegedly trace its roots back to the early 1900s, when French army private Daniel Gousseau would ride his bicycle alongside horseback-riding friends through the woods, the CX scene nowadays is well developed. In the South West of England, Graham Edwards and Roy Wyle Smith have taken things much further since they began. Initially, the events ran with no kit, equipment and no real structure!

Scott MTB
Scott MTB

All that changed fairly swiftly and, through various stages of development, South West Cyclo-cross is now firmly established and is supported by British Cycling and The Bicycle Chain. It is run by a committee and boasts 11 rounds of racing every year in the league plus the regional championship. At the beginning, 20 riders may have been a good number, now each race has more like 200 participants!

Seconds out! Round 6.

Sunday, October 28th, 2018 saw round 6 of the South West Cyclo-cross season and our opportunity to find out more. Hosted by Taw Velo, the local cycling club, at Coxleigh Barton on the outskirts of Barnstaple. We arrived at approximately 08.30 on what was a bright, clear but, windy and cold day. Windy and cold was important due to the fact that the course that day was on a high hill with almost no cover at all! Spectacular views but, the wind was enough to cut you in half.

Our instant impression was that this was a well organised event. The course had already been set up by Taw Velo over the preceding day or so. In addition to plentiful parking, on-site facilities included a refreshment van, portable toilets, and a support van courtesy of The Bike Shed and Lickety Split. The club also had numerous marshalls on hand to ensure things ran smoothly. Graham Edwards and two others were present to act as “Commissaire’s” on behalf of British Cycling, helping the club organise the course details and adjudicate the race.

Fun for the kids!
Fun for the kids!

Since this was part of a series of races through the winter, a lot of people in attendance (children and adults alike) knew each other. This added to the family atmosphere and it was great to see so many young cyclists out enjoying themselves. Little ones were safe in a contained environment however, they were certainly part of the “great outdoors”.

CX Races galore.

The race day began at 10.30am with the Under 8’s race. I am not certain exactly how young the smallest rider was but, I doubt they were older than about 4! Obviously, they did not ride the full race circuit but, race they certainly did!

Next-up were the under 10’s and 12’s. Beginning at 11.00am, these youngsters were already seriously competitive. Again, a shorter circuit, meaning the race did not last as long as the senior races. These boys and girls were pretty serious about the race.

Youth/Novice clash.

At 12.00 noon came the youth/novice race. Basically for the teens, the race also caters for novice adults who are after a taste of CX. They certainly got it!! Fiercely competitive, this race was a definite sign of things to come. Running the full course distance (around 1.6 miles), just watching this lot made me feel distinctly unfit!

The Senior Race.

Last but, certainly not least, came the Senior race. Starting at 13.30pm and lasting around an hour, this was not for the faint hearted. An hour of cycling on this pretty tough course would probably kill me! My respect to those who took part. This was an endurance event that some actually made look easy…and it was far from that.

In all races, it was interesting to see how quickly the field spread out. Electronic timing ensured that results were recorded accurately – something taken for granted now but, which in days gone by had to be done manually. There still is a manual back-up just in case of equipment failure.

You should have a go…..

Why not? Cyclo-cross seems like a great way to maintain “off-season” fitness. The pro’s do it, keen amateurs participate so, why not you? Challenging, exciting, great for fitness, and just something a “bit different”. Check out the South West Cyclo-cross website for forthcoming events and ride as a novice to get a taste of the action. Alternatively, attend an event as a spectator initially. I can think of far worse ways to spend a Sunday!!

 

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