I like to arrive at the course early to watch one of the other races and do a pre-ride. Pay attention to the starting process. Are they doing call-ups? If not, make sure you arrive to the start line in plenty of time. Watch the start and the first turn. Watch to see how clean they get through. Look for passing opportunities like up and around the sides. Walk around the course and check out other sections like the barriers and run-up, etc.
The Pre-Ride – Figure out as much as you can how you’ll be riding the course before the race starts. Many riders dial in their line and bike-handling tricks as the race progresses, but that means losing time on the first couple of laps. On the pre-ride you should be calm and better able to figure things out as well. At the starting line checkout the surface. Look for the smoothest and most consistent spot and the best angle on the first turn. I always check out the first straight to see if it is flat or has an up or down hill to it. This helps me choose the correct gear to start in.
The Turns – Again, inspect the surface for mud; wet, slick grass; loose dirt; sand or rocks. Also, are the turns fast, slow, or off cambered? This will help you choose the correct tires and pressure. At the same time choose the quickest line through the turns.
The Barriers – The idea is to be fast and smooth over the barriers. Some riders waste a lot of energy by using poor technique. So first take a look at the location of the barriers, make a mental note of whether the approaches are fast or slow, flat or on a hill, bumpy or smooth. This will help you determine the best technique for you. I like to step-thru when they are fast and flat and side step when they are slow and on a hill. Some racers are really good and can just bunny-hop them. It is good to practice your approach so you can get your dismount time down. Also plan which gear to drop down to on the approach so once you remount you can get back up to speed quickly.
The Run-Up – Like the rest of the course, inspect the hill to determine where the best traction and fastest line is to run. Then decide which technique is best. I like to push the bike up on the short steep hills and shoulder the bike on the longer hills. Again, make sure you determine which gear to down shift to on the approach so when you re-mount you are quickly back up to speed.
The Sand Section – Sand areas can be among the toughest sections on a cyclocross course. First look for the shortest and fastest line and how deep it is. Most sand sections are ridable. What I try to do is enter them very fast and try to float my front wheel across the sand in a groove. Lighten up your grip on the bars a bit and let the bike kind of track where it wants to go. If you are not out front, be prepared to run through on the first lap because of traffic.
Another very important aspect when pre-riding, is to look for sections that you might be strong in like climbs, off cambered turns, sand, run-ups, barriers, and fast long straights. Use these sections to your advantage. Plan your race Strategy!
The Cyclocross racing scene is so much fun, the people, and the atmosphere are awesome! The racing is very intense so I always try to prepare as much as possible. Remember to race hard and have Fun, it’s ‘Cross!