During the week cyclocross convert Charlotte Sampson is a cycling PR at Shift Active Media, but come the weekend she’s a mud-loving cyclocross racer. Here, she shares her top cyclocross tips for beginners – from kit and training to how to get started.
I’ve been working in the cycling industry for almost eight years now and cycling for just over five. I first got the bug when I was lucky enough to take a group of journalists to the Giro d’Italia, and instantly wanted to be a part of the exciting world of cycling. So when I returned home, I logged onto the British Cycling website, got my license and started racing local circuits and crits, followed by a few road races. I had previously run competitively so it didn’t feel strange to go in so gung-ho.
Soon I was riding for a team called Felt Racing and then Zappi’s – neither exist anymore but at the time Zappi’s had a spot on the Women’s Team series, so I was lucky enough to race against Elite level women which was both terrifying and exciting!
I really enjoyed racing and trying to rack up as many points as I could. I was freelance at the time which made racing and training a lot easier, but after a while some of my local women’s races were pulled and, with a new job back in an office and a more hectic to-do list, I began to struggle.
Around this time someone introduced me to Cyclocross, which I’d never heard of before. Instantly I fell in love with it; the people, the bikes, the obstacles and the courses. I found it a more accessible, more local way of racing and I really liked the mix of skills and speed – no longer just sitting in the bunch praying I don’t get dropped!
I’m just about to finish my third season of Cyclocross and I’ve really loved every minute. The people you meet at every race are incredibly friendly, every race is different and it’s a lot of fun.
What is cyclocross and how do I get started?
With a selection of leagues in most corners of the country, cyclocross races are around 40-minutes long. Races take place between September and February, and mix obstacles with riding off-road, so sometimes you’re off your bike, carrying it. My favourite obstacle is a sand pit and I love courses with mud. GCN (Global Cycling Network) produced a video on how to get into cyclocross which is pretty useful – here.
You can sign up to a race on the day (it’s normally £15- £20) or enter beforehand on the British Cycling website. You’ll need a cycling license and can race with a day licence (I find it’s easier to get one for the year.) Many series hold races for beginners called Go Cross which are good if you don’t want to jump straight in. If you can’t find any local to you, email the event organiser, describe your level and they’ll be able to help and advise – they’re normally always a friendly bunch.
With many shows and overseas visits to take as part of my job, it can be hard to train consistently, but I’ve found that the cyclocross season fits in nicely with a hectic year in the cycle industry. In the summer I try to commute to work by bike as often as I can and just enjoy riding; from September to February I’ll ramp up my training, throwing in as many interval sessions on the turbo as I can and trying to make as many races as possible.
I’ve tried various different training methods – I’ve used coaches, Zwift, Googled workouts and followed GCN videos. Having a coach was great; I was sent exactly what I needed to do, and using power and HR on Training Peaks was definitely an effective way to train. But different things work for different people, and I’ve also been guilty of racing myself fit, which is never ideal but sometimes has to be done when juggling work commitments!
My cycling future is still very much in cyclocross and I’m super-keen to get a mountain bike and head to some nice trails and sharpen my skills up! There are people from all walks of life on two wheels and it isn’t all about racing. The most important thing is to be happy and get the most from your time both on and off the bike.
Here are Charlotte’s top tips for sharpening your cyclocross skills, finding the right kit and entering your first event…
#1. Get to grips with the key cyclocross skills
Start doing some decent sessions on a turbo trainer or using a commute to practice interval sessions – these are essential as they very much reflect the nature of a CX race. Try 15 seconds on, 15 seconds off, 6 times, and do 3 sets.
Practise riding through mud and sand, turning tight corners, and jumping on and off the bike. Also practice standing with one foot clipped in, then clip the other foot in and sprint for 25 seconds – this will really help your starts. If you live in a city, take some cones to a local playing field!
Going for a run to boost your fitness can also help. Try a run off-road in your MTB shoes – add in lots of short hills and jump over any logs with high knees.
#2. Consider your cyclocross kit
A CX bike is ideal (and traditional), but if you don’t have one, no problem. To get started, a mountain bike is fine. Take off any mudguards – anything weighing it down (bells, reflectors, bottle cages, dust caps…) and get used to riding around in the mud. It’s only when you get to national level that you’re required to ride a CX bike.
MTB shoes are really essential (especially for running in the mud). There are lots of great brands out there and they all give you the option of screwing in toe studs to give you a bit of extra help!
Make sure you have a packet of energy gels (ideally caffeine-based) to take 10-15 minutes before you start. Having a recovery drink in the car for the way home will also help.
#3. Don’t feel intimidated
Don’t be worried about the sea of team and club jerseys – team tactics are few compared to road racing. A lot of people ride in whatever kit they own with the aim to get round, improve their skills and speed, and have fun along the way.
You can find out more about cyclocross by visiting https://www.britishcycling.org.uk/getintocyclo-cross. To keep up with Charlotte’s cyclocross training and racing, you can follow her via her www.instagram.com/charlotte878.