Give Cross a Chance- by Someone Who Hates Cyclocross

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Cross is here.

Last night, my cyclocross season began with the Angry Catfish sponsored Wednesday Night Cross at Aquila Park. It’s our local cross warm-up series, a great opportunity for new riders to check out the sport or to get their feet grassy. And if you listened closely, you would have heard me yelling obscenities at the grass from every point in the course during the Intermediate race.

See, typically, I’m a track racer. I love everything about track racing. It’s warm, dry, smooth, fast, and fancy.

Cyclocross, on the other hand, is cold, wet, muddy, slow, and gritty. It’s a completely different game. Each sport has its merits. Just because you love one doesn’t mean that you’ll hate the other. But my relationship with cyclocross is complicated. Despite the title of this entry, I won’t say that I genuinely hate cyclocross, but I certainly don’t think it is fun. I find cyclocross races to be completely miserable, actually.

So why even jump in the race? Racing costs money. Bikes cost money. Training takes time. It hurts. It’s slow. If it isn’t fun after all of that, why even do it? This is the question I ask myself when I line up for any cyclocross race- which I do a lot during the Fall. Despite how I feel about the sport, I still train and race for it.

See, cyclocross is amazing. Even as someone who finds no joy in the sport, I really can’t recommend it enough.

Why do cyclocross?

Cyclocross is a spectacle.

It’s a big, ridiculous obstacle course for adults on bikes in the middle of a party. If someone would have just explained this to me to begin with, I would have taken up cyclocross a lot sooner.

Think about it. You meet in the park on whatever bike you have, and you ride through sand, dirt, puddles, and jump over obstacles. In Minnesota, you do all of this, but you get to battle snow towards the end of the season. Oh, and then people dress up in costumes and give out snacks and beer to you while you race. That’s pretty freaking hilarious.

When you look at the sport this way, even on your worst race day, you can’t not look around and laugh a little.

Cyclocross makes you stronger.

On the velodrome, when you push really hard you have the instant gratification of speed- it’s one of the things that makes track racing super rewarding from a mental and physical perspective.

It doesn’t work that way in cyclocross, that’s for sure. You’re fighting a course and the elements. They’ll throw mud and dust and cold your way. They’ll muck up your drivetrain to a point where you’re fighting that as well. You will be in scenarios where it takes all of your physical strength to barely propel yourself forward and all your mental fortitude to keep pushing even though you may only be moving at a speed juuust fast enough to keep you upright.

It can be soul crushing at points. However, without even realizing it, you’ll notice that it gets easier from the first lap to the second, from one race to the next. You soon realize that you’re not just getting stronger, but that you were stronger than you thought you were to begin with.

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Cyclocross makes you a fantastic bike handler.

Your ability to push your pedals is only a fraction of what it takes to be successful on a cyclocross course. You have to know what to do with your bike… and be able to do it. You have to be sensitive to the surfaces you’re riding on and how these surfaces change throughout the race. You need to know what lines to hold and how to hold them… on an off-camber hillside… in the dust… while turning right… without crashing into someone else.

You’ll be able to bunny hop curbs. You’ll be able to dismount your bike like a pro when you get to school. You’ll also be much better at your next derby in the park. You’ll be a bike ninja before you know it.

Cyclocross makes everything else seem more fun.

That sounds pretty grim, but I mean it! Because the sport is so mentally taxing, you’ll find yourself able to enjoy other riding and life experiences more. Your threshold for what is unbearable will have been extended and suddenly, that one tough hill on your slog to the office doesn’t feel so bad because, after all, it isn’t uphill in the mud with your heart exploding out of your chest. Piece of cake!

Cyclocross makes you want to play on whatever bike you’re riding. With your new bike handling skills, you won’t think twice about riding what used to be intimidating obstacles on the road or trail. Plus, in Minnesota, training and racing cross equips you beautifully to ride on the ice and snow come winter.

Sucking at something is the first step to being kind of good at something.

The immortal words of Jake the Dog apply extremely well here. There are people who will naturally be great at the sport and who will find joy and encouragement in winning- wonderful for them.

For the rest of us, know that the only way to go from your first cyclocross race is up. You can only get better from here. Look for those signs of improvement in yourself and you’ll see them with each race. Last night, I managed to get through a 45 minute Intermediate race without needing to walk my bike up a hill. Sounds like peanuts… but that certainly wasn’t where I was last season. Plus, I know I can do better for the next race… and that’s what I’m looking forward to.

Eat your vegetables. They are good for you.

Look, not everything that’s good for you feels good- cyclocross is a perfect example of that. It feels terrible… but you quickly learn to relish in the fact that it’s making you better just for participating.

Anyway, I had fun last night- the kind of fun you have when you’re at the depths of your misery. I’ll do it again. And again and again.

I hope you’ll give it a try.

See you on the course!

You are all diamonds.

xox

Anna “Mama Duck” Schwinn

Try Really Hard

So we have this common saying on the team. It goes something like this…

Person 1: Statement about how hard certain part of the course, race, etc was and how silly they looked trying to overcome it. 

Person 2: But at least we tried really hard!

Person 1 & 2: *highfive in agreement*

This whole conversation seems pretty inconsequential, right?

And in some ways, it might be, however the idea of celebrating coming in dead last during a scratch race, crashing a million times on a cross course, or having the least graceful dismount/mount ever because, in the end, you tried really hard is important and valuable – especially to a growing women’s field. Let’s take a moment to break that idea down:

koochella anna cross photo by matthew pastick

The face of someone who wasn’t having the best race ever, but still tried really hard. And looked fly as hell.

There’s no shame in trying hard.

Maybe you keep getting dropped in every single criterium you do. Perhaps you feel like everyone else is way faster at technical cross courses than you, or that your standing sprint is awful. Maybe you felt like you turned yourself inside out during a race, only to still miss that coveted podium spot. That’s okay. It’s important to recognize weaknesses as long as you don’t dwell on them, rely on them for excuses, or allow them to control your life. Regardless of how any race or training ride goes, trying really hard not only makes you a better rider, but also increases the excitement and overall skill level in the entire field. Imagine watching a race on the velodrome where everyone is only giving 60% effort because they know that there’s one fast rider who is going to crush everyone. Sounds pretty boring and uninspiring, right? Imagine that same race, except now everyone is giving 100% and trying to reel in that fast rider. That’s the race that’s going to motivate racers to keep coming back, continue to train hard, and progress as athletes. Even if no one is able to catch up to that super fast rider, at least everyone gave it their all, and that’s something to always be proud of. In short, trying really hard, even if you “fail,” is an achievement worthy of both praise and celebration.

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These women got second, third, and fourth place respectively. They were all trying really hard.

Dedication is the only thing you can control.

In a sport rife with crashes, inclement weather, malfunctioning equipment, illness, and injury, training and racing goals can easily become derailed. That’s why, in many ways, your dedication is the only thing you can control. It’s important and empowering to set goals for yourself and work to achieve those goals. Do those intervals you hate, go out of your way to ride up that hill on your commute home, eat more vegetables than you normally do, or go on training rides with cyclists who are faster than you. Even if you can’t complete that workout or are totally exhausted by the end of that ride, (or hate vegetables for that matter), dedicating yourself to something you are passionate about is brave. Even if you go into that season or race feeling like you’re still not where you want to be, knowing that you’ve been trying really hard is something to be proud of.

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This rider tried so hard that her legs got bloody.

That being said, we all have those races or rides where nothing is going your way and you feel that internal flame of effort die out. You might give up and switch into “survival” mode, in which your main goal becomes to just finish or find the nearest point where you can quit. As long as it doesn’t become a habit, that’s perfectly okay. We all sometimes get “beat down” by exhaustion, tough courses, or hard races. Acknowledge it in that moment and make a pact with yourself that, despite feeling negative about your performance right now, you’ll keep trying really hard next time.

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Trying really hard isn’t always pretty.

You think about you more than anyone else thinks about you.

This isn’t to say that we’re all self-absorbed assholes, it’s just that most of us are too busy working, volunteering, spending time with family and friends, and riding our bikes to worry too much about what’s going on in everyone else’s life. Think about it – when’s the last time you finished a race and immediately thought, “I wonder how so-and-so did?” Unless it’s a friend who you know was trying really hard to podium or was particularly concerned about this race for any number of reasons, chances are they aren’t your first thought (if they are, however, kudos to you for being a loyal and concerned friend!). Next time you leave a race feeling less than stellar about your performance, just remember that everyone else is probably thinking about their own race too, not yours.

Support other women who try really hard.

So you’ve made a pact with yourself to dedicate yourself to your passion (which we sincerely hope is cycling related), and try really hard. Awesome! Remember that not every rider celebrates trying hard like you do and sometimes they might need reminders that trying really hard is about as rad as it gets. Support your fellow cyclists by congratulating them on their efforts, whether they’re on the podium, DFL, or DNF and strive to make our wonderful sport as welcoming and enthusiastic as it gets. From our perspective, more is more. The more women, races, and posi feelings there are, the better cycling becomes for everyone involved.

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Pain faces = trying SO hard. Photo by: Blake Kelley

 

 

2015 By the Numbers…

Go Fast, Turn Left

  • 7 new female track racers…
  • 2 of whom upgraded to category 3 in their first season
  • 5 women total upgraded to category 3 in track this season
  • 7 total track podiums

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Photo by: Linsey Hamilton

We Don’t Mind the Mud…Stairs on the Other Hand…

  • 5 women total tried out a sanctioned cyclocross race for the first time this season
  • 2 second-year cyclocross racers upgraded to category 3 in cyclocross this season
  • 5 total cyclocross podiums

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Breaking into Road

  • 10 women (both new and returners) participated in Minnesota criteriums
  • 3 women tried road races for the first time
  • 27 criteriums registrations between 10 racers

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  • 45 unique days of sanctioned racing in five US cities
  • 7 riders continuing on and either forming a new team, joining an established team, or competing on an individual level
  • 1 recognition as Track Club of the Year by USAC

Thanks for the memories, 2015. Here’s to 2016 being even better.

 

 

 

 

MN CX State & Jingle Cross

MN State CX Champs

State Champs brought the ladies of Koochella their first taste of true cold-weather cyclocross riding with temps hovering in the teens for the first race of the morning. The course featured a mostly-frozen “litter box” sand pit, a long stair run-up, and some downhill off-camber turns, playing into different riders’ strengths and weaknesses. Emily raced the Women’s Cat 4, Beth & Tiana raced the Women’s Cat 3, and both France and Sarah took on the challenging 45-minute singlespeed race.

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While Beth may have not made it onto the podium, she took first place in the hearts of our fans.

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Photo by: France Barbeau

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Tiana rode/ran hard to a solid 6th place finish in her field – her best Cat 3 finish since upgrading earlier this fall! She reports learning that singlespeed bikes can sometimes completely outperform geared cx bikes when it comes to forcing you to mash up hills, and that sometimes your teammates play mental games with you during your race, but it’s always out of love.

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Photo by: France Barbeau

Challenging course. Strong ass field. My Best Finish as a Cat 3. I hate stairs… HATE THEM. Probably wouldn’t have made it up them a 4th (I think) time if my lovely teammates were not screaming so damn much. I was dying out there until Renee started running behind me screaming ” Shes right behind you!!” I finally looked back once I made it to the top only to find that I was alone. So…that worked. -Tiana “T-Bitz” Johnson

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NEW BIKE DAY!!!! Raced on my brand new All-City Koochella custom-painted 853! It was perfect. Pink on pink on pink. I thought it would be funny to wear colored checkered Vans during this event. This was a mistake only because of the temperature. Everyone tells me I’m crazy for rocking flats, but I guess I have yet to learn why. My feet feeling free to jet out when I need instant leverage around a sharp corner or stability through some sand or over ice? No mistake made. Wearing Vans when it’s 20 degrees instead of winter boots? Mistake made. When I came around the lap to my favorite part, the barriers, Mattio Montesano announced my name as Sarah “Speedway” Bonneville. This melted all the frost bite. Thanks, Mattio. :)  – Sarah “Speedway” Bonneville

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Photo by: France Barbeau


Jingle Cross

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Photo by: France Barbeau

For many of the Koochella ladies, Jingle Cross was their first time racing outside of Minnesota! With cars full of snacks, bikes, and our new arm/leg warmers and jackets from Podiumwear, we made the trek to Iowa City. The course was everything we dreamed it would be and more. Complete with derailleur-destroying mud, insane downhill sections, and the notoriously grueling Mt. Krumpit. Our new Nature Boy 853’s, however, were totally up to the task.

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During my two laps pre-riding the course, I came close to falling a few times because the deep ruts in the mud from the previous night’s racers was completely frozen, making “commit to the rut,” pretty much pointless. By the time the juniors were done racing and my field was up, however, the course had completely warmed up, making it soft again. The best was to describe the mud consistency was peanut butter-like. I definitely felt that I had an advantage as a single speed rider with disc brakes. Not only did I not have to worry about ripping my derailleur off my bike (many riders did!), but I also didn’t have a bunch of mud/grass clogging up canti brakes, thus preventing my wheel from moving (which was also super common). I got 11/22, which felt pretty good considering we had riders from all over the Mid West show up! –Renee “Dark Horse” Hoppe 

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Photo by: France Barbeau


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JINGLE CROSS WAS SO MUCH FUN! It was incredible to see an event/race at that scale – and watching the pros race was super inspiring! The course was – insane. Bikes were getting ruined. It was epic. Super fun – going out to race the single speed race was an opportunity to get on the course early & leave the rest of the evening to cheer on the other fields. I was a bit jealous of the HUGE women’s field Friday night; that would have been great to race in too! – Beth “Treasure” Franklin 

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Photo by: France Barbeau

Mud up hill bad, Mud down hill… Awesome. -Tiana “T-Bitz” Johnson

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Bike handling through MUD means you gotta stay loose or you’re gonna lose. – Sarah “Speedway” Bonneville 

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It was great watching the more experienced racers, it made me really nervous think about my race the next day. They were just sleekly gliding down the muddy slope. The course I rode was much shorter and less muddy than the day before, but still very muddy. I rode down that same hill the next day and had no control of my bike whatsoever, I glided my legs against the mud as I slid down. I was trying to take the advice to not use the breaks down the hill, but I had no slick way of controlling myself. – France “Fancy” Barbeau

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Coming off the fly over on my second lap I hit the mud wrong and crashed pretty hard. I got up fast but only made it a couple feet before I had to straighten my handle bars. I didn’t notice it that moment but my break cable was disengaged in the crash so for the next 2 laps I only had a rear break which made going down hill off camber in mud very very difficult but very amusing to spectators *cough*Beth*cough*. I can also file this race under one of my better finishes for the season. 12th over all is pretty great in my book. On a single speed in a huge field too? I’ll take it. – Tiana “T-Bitz” Johnson 

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Photo by: France Barbeau

When we rolled up to the line on Friday afternoon I was super nervous. Though the mud and hills were intimidating, I was more anxious about being in a field entirely composed of men. Tiana saw my nerves and calmed me down enough for me to enjoy the sight of our bright kits along with Beth’s amidst a sea of dudes. The race was hard. But I was stoked I got to *walk* up Mt. Krumpit and impressed with my ability to go down the hills without breaking. Though I probably should have breaked down the last hill – a bad line sent me over my bars which was fun in its own way though I’m still a bit sore. – Emily “Eagle Screech” Wade

jingle socks

Photo by: France Barbeau

jingle wash

Photo by: France Barbeau

tiana muddy feey

Photo by: France Barbeau

Unless Otherwise Noted Photos by: Blake Kelley, Renee Hoppe, Emily Wade, and Beth Franklin

Star Cross & Wirth CX 2015

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

“Star Cross was pretty cool, literally,” “Fancy” France Barbeau said after shivering her way through the first half of Fulton’s two-day event. While she enjoyed racing at Aquilla Park in the dark, she was a bit intimidated by the lack of sunlight. The course’s steep hills and technical turns didn’t help matters, keeping France on her toes all night. “It was the hardest race of the season,” she said.

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Photo by France Barbeau

Teammate Renee “Dark Horse” Hoppe found the course just as challenging:

Overall this weekend highlighted exactly what I know my strengths and weaknesses are as a rider. Both Star Cross and Theo Wirth CX featured relatively long stretches of straights where I knew I could pick up speed, and then technical features like off camber downhills sections or 180-degree turns in sand, which really slowed me down.

Photo by Matthew Pastick

Photo by Matthew Pastick

For France, things started heating up the next day at Wirth CX. “It was the perfect warm November day for the Theo Cross race,” she said. “Though I mountain bike, I found some areas difficult for a cross bike, since I never ride as fast as when I race. There were a couple climbs that were hard, but everything else was nice and flowy.”

After her race France stuck around to watch teammate Tiana “T-Bits” Johnson in her element.

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Theo CX is one of my favorite races. There is a sick single track section that can really break up the feild. I tried to ride the hairpin drop with just my foot down and totally failed. I crashed pretty hard. I decided to follow Deidre’s lead and just run it from there on out. I went 100%.

Tiana ended the day wiped, but proud of her results adding, “I still hate mud.”

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Sarah “Beezy” Bonneville was stoked on Theo’s single track, switch backs, and steep sharp turns. “I definitely would never have tried these without blindly signing up for cyclocross,” she said.

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

The next weekend Emily “Eagle Screech” Wade joined Sarah for Star Cross II: Daylight Boogaloo. The course was mostly grass with several tight turns, short, steep hills, and off cambers. A wooded section marked the middle of the course, beginning with an uphill barrier and ending with a steep climb riddled with exposed roots and a matching descent on the other side.

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Today was one of the first cross races where I really, really had fun. Riding our new 853s is magical. They handle so well. Just having a nice bike motivates me to be a better rider. Even though it was just Sarah and I racing, I was feeling the love from her and France, who came to cheer us on, along with a few other friends. Combine all that goodness with sunny skies and 60 degree weather and you have the perfect day for a cross race.

While France was too sick to race, spent the morning navigating the course with her camera taking all these seriously incredible shots:

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

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Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau