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First-timer advice for winter cyclocross racing

imageI am a coach for the Boulder Junior Cycling team here in town. Many of my mini-athletes are about to experience their first ‘hard core’ snow race tomorrow here in Colorado. So this week I prepared an email to the team on things to consider before showing up to race unprepared…and experiencing misery where it really should be super fun! To maximize the fun, I advised the parents on these considerations…which really is all about preparation. It rides on the theme of my ‘race day rituals’ presentation but falls into the details of cold/snow day racing. Hope it helps any first timers out there! It should be obvious to the more experienced folks but maybe a good mental checklist for you…


Hey cyclocrossers!

It. Is. HERE! Real cross weather! The kind of weather that turns our Colorado race courses from grass crit drag races to highly technical obstacle courses challenging the riders bodies and bikes. I wanted to send out a note which will likely be a re-cap for the more experienced Tier 1 riders but essential knowledge for first timers/Tier 2 riders. It's a list of things that you should take into account for challenging weather days (particularly snow/cold in this case). Last weekend in Westminster was cold. But that was completely dry and sunny with a chill in the air. Tomorrow will be completely different in that we're dealing with arctic temps, another storm coming, snow cover on the ground and a very challenging course at the Louisville Rec Center. Cyclocross is ALL about preparation and thus tomorrow exacerbates the need to be prepared. Moreover, cross is never cancelled. It's why we do it. And days like tomorrow can be so rewarding and fun if you are prepared. So listen up!

Clothing needs

  • Hat: I use a skull cap under my helmet. If it's entirely nasty, try a 'balaclava.
  • Neck coverage: If you do not have a balaclava, then I suggest a neck gaiter. Keep that throat/neck WARM!
  • Eye cover: Eyes tend to water with cold temps so glasses with light lenses (orange, yellow, clear or very thin tint) will be good to protect the eyes and provide good visual fidelity over the course when it has [cross_champs1.jpg]snow on it. You want every advantage to see obstacles in treacherous weather. 
  • Gloves: This is a religious war and I am still in search of the best glove after 15+ years of cross racing. I am currently in love with a new Giro 25-30deg product that has an inner liner which is removable from a ski-like style outer glove. Come see me tomorrow if you are interested in seeing this product. Typically I will warm up with one set of gloves (typically bulky/warm) and then race with another, smaller-profile set. For the young kids, comfort is key all around. They should use whatever will keep their hands extremely warm. Ski gloves will work but the MOST critical thing is control over the gears and brake levers. Fingers go numb and reaction times may well as the inherent dexterity loss of using thicker gloves. See 'Preparation' below and TRY THIS OUT tonight. 
  • Upper body Base layer(s) - Tomorrow I will have a complete set of kit ready for me for the race. I will warm up in an entirely different kit (which is what I do even if it is warm out incidentally....ALWAYS 2 of everything!). My cold weather base layer will consist of: thin longsleeve base + thick longsleeve base. I purchased an XL skinsuit for this exact purpose so I could fit the thicker stuff underneath. My base layers are by Craft. If you have a BJC jacket, rock that. Else, consider all the normal ski-style base layers you have, then jersey, then thin profile jacket. Do not worry about the BJC team kit being seen. WARMTH IS KEY. 
  • Leg warmers- tomorrow I will wear one pair of thick weight leg warmers. Some folks double up with knee and full length leg warmers. For the little folks, I would recommend wearing your kit, leg warmers and then if you have any sort of leg cover that allows on/off bike movement easily....wear that OVER your thin profile stuff. My son will be wearing as an example (in this order): leg warmers (which are my adult arm warmers), a base layer designed for wearing under ski pants THEN his bib-chamois over that ski-base layer. 
  • Feet needs: EXTREMELY critical. Tomorrow I will be wearing a combination of wool socks PLUS a wind proof sock liner. You MUST ensure your shoes can accommodate the thicker layers so as to not pinch the feet and restrict (warm) blood flow. Outer shoe covers are most typically a waste of time. You loose most of your traction and 99% of the time they come flapping off as they are meant for road cycling...not cross where you are on and off the bike often. My son will be wearing wool socks on the skin + plastic bags + additional sock. The bags are hidden but provide a sealed layer more or less. 
  • Embrocation - This is a 'master course' subject. Embrocation for the uninitiated is 'hot sauce for the legs'. It is applied to literally heat the legs up and massaged into the skin. This is applied after the skinsuit/shorts are on and ALWAYS after sunscreen/contact lenses are applied as it can really sting. Skinsuit/shorts should already be on too as it can, uh, 'sting the nether regions.' Many of the best embros have cayenne pepper and/or artificial substitutes for cayenne that are literally HOT. It stays on for a long time and can even feel like its heating up in the shower many hours after your race. But that's it's magic. Your legs feel toasty. BCS carries various 'temp' embros from Mad Alchemy. I even apply it to my lower back but that's because I have a case of the O - L - D going on and need all the help I can get.

Bike needs -

  • Tire pressure will be key. Smaller tires such as the Redline Conquest's 24" tire tread have disadvantages in this kind of snowy element because the tread on the tire is sort of meant to be 'all conditions'. Lowering the tire pressure a bit will help...but is a risk/reward scenario. The risk is that too low and there is a chance to pinch flat on a curb or unseen obstacle under the snow. The reward however is that the tread will spread itself out and make it safer for the rider due to more contact patch on the ground (and thus better control). I will help feel out pressures at the start line tomorrow for the little folks. 
  • Larger wheels (700c) should have an aggressive tread such as a Clement PDX or Michelin mud. Tire pressure rules per above apply. I have found success by buying tubes from Boulder Cycle Sport with removable valve stems. I then fill the tubes with 3/4 cup of Stans Sealant to help with pinch flats when I run low. 
  • If you're already running tubulars, you know the drill. Loooow pressure. But Grifo treads (like the Typhoon) will still be at a disadvantage in the bad snow. I'd still swap out tubular Typhoons to run clincher PDX's if you have the means. The tread pattern will be infinitely better for control.  image
  • De-icer - on treacherous days like tomorrow, I will bring a can of spray on de-icer. The same that you can buy to de-ice your car. I will typically spray my pedals, my cleats on my shoes and my cassette before the race. This cuts down on ice build up which could make it hard to re-engage in a pedal or shift gears. There is environmentally conscious de-icer too you can buy at McGuckins.


  • Try on your kits and new clothing TONIGHT! Do not wait until race day to do so. Example: A warm hat that doesn't fit under a helmet. Know this in advance! Feel what your kit and new additional layers will feel like before you show up and pin a number on. Make sure you are still agile and not like the kid from "A Christmas Story":
  • Like above, if possible, have your child kit up with what may be worn at the race and rip around in the snow on their bike tonight. Let them feel what the snow and lower tire pressures will be like. Ensure it is dry and ready for tomorrow. 
  • Have everything assembled TONIGHT. Do not wait until the AM to get this stuff assembled. It is simply too cold and we want to MAXIMIZE fun here for them tomorrow, now have them in so much unknown discomfort that they don't want to come back! Ha!

Race Day Needs:

  • Fuel up with a KILLER breakfast. I am talking like eggs, waffles AND sausage! More calories will be required to handle the race load PLUS the body temp regulation. Get up earlier and FEAST LIKE A KING/QUEEN!
  • Keep your kids MOVING at the race course when you arrive. No loitering around. A parent should go and register while your child is warming up (typically with Ann or myself). If we can not be seen, send them out on course to warm up if allowed or have them warm up in a safe place near the course. Do power sprints....anything to get the blood pumping hard. If you see your kid standing there, tell them to RUN! Go sprint on feet for 100feet or so, Then JUMP on the bike. MOVE MOVE MOVE MOVE!
  • Have EXTRA TUBE available should a lower-pressurized tube flat before the race. 
  • Have hot cocoa ready in a thermos for your athlete for when they finish.
  • Have a complete set of warm clothes waiting for them in the car. Get them OUT of their kit and into this clothing ASAP. Warm extra gloves especially. 
  • Have a blanket should they be extremely chilled. 
  • HAVE FUN! You're riding your bike in the snow with your friends!

HUP HUP, BUTTERCUPS! Real cross is here.



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