August 2018 - BICYCLING
Women in Cyclocross - New Women’s Race Clinics
By Shylah Weber
I remember my first cyclocross race like it was yesterday, though it was nearly five years ago. I had heard about the sport from friends and teammates I met through triathlon and it sounded like a lot of fun: mud, cowbells, and lots of friends on two wheels. I figured my summer fitness from running and triathlon would easily translate. So, when the first race of the season came up, I decided to give it a go. I went out and bought the first used bike I could find in my size, slapped on pedals that someone else had thrown away, and signed up for Adirondack Cyclocross, which was the first race in the NYCROSS series at the time.
I showed up to the race without a clue of what I was getting myself into. As I looked around the grounds, I saw yellow caution tape strung up marking the course as far as I could see. I located the barriers that I had heard about, where I would have to quickly jump off my bike and carry it while running, and hurdle over the obstacles. Then there was the run up, where I would again have to dismount my bike and run up a steep hill, carrying it on my shoulder. I could see that there were some trails through the woods, though most of the course was on the grass, where everyone could see the action. There was a great section of chicanes, where I knew I’d have to smoothly navigate some tight turns on a downhill.
I pumped my tires up to 100 psi, because that’s what I knew from riding on the road. I lined up on the pavement to start and I took off as fast as I could when the whistle blew. I took the first corner quickly and realized that I would soon have to navigate a big mud pit, which proved nearly impossible with my total lack of bike handling skills and my excessive tire pressure. I ended up toppling over my handlebars, landing flat on my back in the mud, in front of the entire field of racers and a few lucky spectators. “What have I gotten myself into?” I thought. I hopped back on and finished the race, albeit a few minutes behind the winner. I was embarrassed at my lack of knowledge and skill, but everyone along the way was incredibly friendly and encouraging.
When I finished what amounted to four laps of the course in about 30 minutes, despite all of the trials I had throughout the race, I couldn’t help but smile. There was something intoxicatingly fun about the environment, about having both new and familiar faces cheering you on at every turn, and about learning something new. Andy Ruiz of Delmar, who is now my coach, walked up to me after the race and pressed on my tires, wondering what I was doing with so much air in them. That day I was taught that a much lower tire pressure, closer to 30 psi at my weight, is necessary when riding off-road or you will have a serious lack of control.
Over the last five years I have learned a lot of lessons about cyclocross the hard way, starting with that lesson about tire pressure. I have vastly improved my skills and equipment choices by learning from many friends and teammates who have offered a helping hand. I’ve suffered flats because of roots and rocks. I’ve crashed taking a corner too fast, more times than I’d like to admit.
Along the way, I’ve made so many friends and helped to get new faces involved in the sport. I’ve watched the pros race at the Northeast Cyclocross Series (necyclocross.com) and been in awe of the women out there executing the course with perfection. Each course is different and offers its own challenges and rewards, and the courses change not just each year, but even throughout the day as more racers cut lines into the terrain. Most race days consist of five or more events throughout the day, so everyone really rallies to support each other after finishing their own races. Cyclocross certainly hasn’t always been easy, but it’s always been fun.
That’s why when I joined NYCROSS (nycross.com), I wanted to work with the team to facilitate more female participation in the sport. Last year, we modified the schedule to ensure that the elite women’s field got to race on the course alone, without being disrupted by men’s fields.
This year, we have an even more exciting addition: a (free!) Women’s Race Clinic for first-time racers, where you can learn basics from UCI racer Rhys Niesen before you race at any of the NYCROSS Series Races. If you’re interested in trying out any of the races in the NYCROSS Series (see schedule below), you can also sign up for the women’s clinic when you checkout, even if you don’t have a bike. Thanks to the Jaybird Fleet from Bike Loft East, we will have a limited number of loaner bikes you that you can reserve when you sign up. Rhys will teach skills like mounting and dismounting, shouldering the bike for run-ups, and cornering as well as lead the group on laps of the course prior to the race. If you’ve ever wondered what all the hype is about, this is a great way to learn in a safe, women-only space, without having to make all the mistakes I made.
In the NYCROSS Series, there are also categories for junior girls (under 19 years old) and cub girls (under 15 years old) as well as free kids’ races for little ones. If you’d like to get involved and try it out before the season starts, there are also practices at Elm Avenue Park in Bethlehem at 6pm on Monday nights starting in August. You can learn skills and ride with some of the local teams, including Capital Bicycle Racing Club and NYCROSS. All are welcome to attend these free practice sessions.
Here’s the 2018 NYCROSS Series schedule: Kirkland Cyclocross in Clinton on Sunday, September 23; Uncle Sam Cyclocross Grand Prix in Troy on Saturday-Sunday, October 6 and 7; Wicked Creepy Cyclocross in Bennington, Vt. on Sunday, October 28; and Bethlehem Cup Cyclocross in Delmar on Sunday, November 4. See you out there!
Shylah Weber (email@example.com) is from Troy and works as a Senior Software Development Manager at Auto/Mate Dealership Systems. She is the Director Sportif of NYCROSS and a member of the race team. Shylah also races for the Cork Monkey women’s road cycling team. Follow her on Instagram @shylahw.