5 Questions with Kat Andrew – Cyclocross Racing for First Timers

Cyclocross is gaining a reputation for being an inclusive and fun-focused cycling event where elite international riders easily mix with amateurs and enthusiasts. Cow bells and craft beer, plus plenty of good-natured folks encouraging even the newest of riders, equals fun for all. In anticipation of this year’s Virginia’s Blue Ridge Go Cross presented by Deschutes Brewery on September 18-19th, we thought it would be a great time to ask one of our local CX (cyclocross) gurus for a few tips for riding in your first cyclocross race. Kat Andrew is the Outdoor Recreation Coordinator for PLAY Roanoke, has raced at Go Cross for the Downshift WTF team, and is the race director for the local SummerCross cyclocross series (8/18, 8/25, and 9/1 at Fallon Park). Kat is a great resource for riders looking to get into the sport, and well-versed in the welcoming nature of Roanoke’s outdoor scene. 

5 Questions with Kat Andrew on Cyclocross

1). What gear do I need for my first CX race?

A working bike and a helmet…that’s it!

My first CX practice season was spent on the only bike I had at the time – a flat bar, commuter bike with skinny tires. You are going to see all kinds of bikes on the course from super slick, high-end CX specific bikes to full-suspension mountain bikes. Sure, you could spend a pretty penny, but CX is a very beginner-friendly and accommodating sport. You may not be as efficient on a mountain bike and you may not roll nicely through the sand pit on skinny tires, but you’re going to have a great time and everyone will be cheering you along. Spandex is not mandatory but I do recommend a pair of padded bike shorts or bibs. If you aren’t comfortable wearing spandex alone, you can always throw a pair of shorts on top, just keep in mind that you will be jumping on and off your bike as you move through the course obstacles so fitted clothing is ideal, but there’s no need for a speed suit. Clipless pedals are advantageous as they are with other disciplines of biking but not a necessity, do keep in mind there is running in cyclocross, so I don’t recommend road shoes. 

2).  Is cyclocross more of a sprint or a long-distance sport? If I’m a runner or a swimmer and only a casual biker, will I be able to manage?

CX is a sprint but it’s a long one. Depending on your level of commitment you could be sprinting for 30-45 minutes. There are places to rest on the course but it’s not like a long road or mountain bike ride, racers will be pedaling and running the whole time. Again, cross is friendly so if you aren’t able to handle a 30-45 minute sprint, do your best and you will still be welcomed and encouraged.   

There are obstacles but don’t over think them. Same goes for hills, you can always hop off your bike and walk/run through the course. Can’t make it through the sand, just hop off. Same for the stairs (mortals can’t ride/bunny hop the stairs anyway). You can learn techniques to make your transitions more efficient but you can also just hop off and run up them! No fancy tricks needed.

3). I want to practice with other first-timers, what should I do?

Typically riders in Roanoke meetup on Wednesday evenings to ride the Fallon Park Cyclocross Course and practice obstacles leading up to the SummerCross series and GO Cross. Check out some of the local biker Facebook pages or just head on out there, chances are you’ll run into a CX rider. SummerCross, is a low barrier to entry, post-work race series starting August 18th, so I recommend everyone starting there. 

If you’re free on September 5th, head out to Fallon Park to practice skills and drills on the Go Cross course with elite rider, Kerry Werner. For more check out: Fallon Park Cyclocross Clinic.

4). It’s my first race, but I want to be competitive. What are some easy tips that will give me an edge?

  • Leave the water bottle/cage off your bike. It will get in the way of carrying your bike over obstacles and you won’t have time to drink out of it anyway. You can also have your friends give you “hand ups” with water and snacks if need be.
  • Practice getting on and off your bike while it’s moving, do this every day until it’s second nature. 
  • Watch some YouTube videos and practice how to hold your bike as you run up the stairs and go over barriers. 
  • If you’re local, practice on the course at Fallon Park, it will make you feel so much more comfortable for race day. 
  • Whether you are local or not, find a park with varied surfaces; gravel, sand, stairs, grass, etc. and make a loop. Ride that loop at race speed and see how many laps you can go in 30 minutes. 
  • Everyone’s race diet is different, but be sure to eat what you are used too! Don’t try new foods the night before or day of the race. Eat what makes you feel good, don’t over think it. And hydrate, hydrate, hydrate (especially for hot summer races)! 

5). Is it worth it?

Heck yes! Whatever level you choose to compete, chances are you are going to find a welcoming community of folks on bikes who are happy you came to race! CX truly is the most inviting and supportive of the cycling disciplines in my opinion. GO Cross was my first cross race and after that I was hooked! It was hot and uncomfortable during the race, but I raced my heart out and ended up coming back for more the next day. 10 out of 10 stars – I highly recommend! And if you don’t want to race come out and cheer! There’s always a tasty beverage on tap and cow bells a-ringin’! Costumes are highly encouraged! This year’s Go Cross will be Blue Ridge themed with bluegrass bands and more.

Go Cross is September 18-19 at Fallon Park. Learn more about racing or volunteering here.  All volunteers receive a free Hydroflask can cooler, branded Go Cross shirt, and an entry to win one-of-two $150 East Coasters Bike Shop gift cards.

Special Thanks to Go Cross Sponsors: