Mud, sweat and cyclo-cross

Battling the mud is key to cyclo-cross (Photos:

It isn’t cyclo-cross unless it’s muddy.

And so I spent all of Sunday evening last weekend dealing with the aftermath of a muddy cyclo-cross race, the washing machine bumping and grinding as it churned through my mud-soaked cycle clothing. It took an hour to return the bike to its original state, first with the jetwash and then a more careful inspection, lubing all the vital mechanical parts to make it ready for the next race.

As I washed away the dirt and sweat from my face in the shower, running my hands through my muddy hair, watching a dirty brown slurry gurgle down the plug hole, I reflected on my earlier cyclo-cross race, my first of the season. The pain of the lactic acid still fresh in my legs, a dull ache spreading across my body, my toes still tingling from the cold wet conditions. Why? Why put ourselves through this?

I’ve dabbled in cyclo-cross in the past, but it was always more of a cursory one toe in the water approach.  I’ve watched as fellow racers and riding buddies have swapped their clean road bikes for the cyclo-cross bike after a long summer of racing, and get stuck into a winter of ‘cross racing. This winter will be different, I’ve told myself. I’m going to do the entire London season (as I alluded to in my last blog). Just  to see what it is all about, you understand.

Many road cyclists turn to cyclo-cross as a way to keep active over the winter. With the days shortening, the temperature dropping and the increased chance of rain, this obscure sport becomes a centre stage attraction for many. It’s hard, fast and tough, with races lasting just one hour. Courses feature obstacles designed to force riders to dismount and ‘shoulder’ the bike, with drops, ramps, tight corners and off-camber sections to test bike handling skills.

And so I decided to dust down my cyclo-cross bike last weekend, and take part in the third round of the ever-popular Mosquito Cycles London Cross League held at the Redbridge Cycling Centre (or Hog Hill, as it is better known). Cyclo-cross is synonymous with mud, the two go hand in hand. Fortunately the weather delivered, with ample rain in the days leading up to the race ensuring the course became a churned up mud-fest even before the end of the first lap.

The race was hard going, as you might imagine. The mud thick, clinging to every part of the bike and rider, wrapping itself around the exposed mechanical parts of the bicycle, the chain skipping and sliding over the mud-filled cassette, tyres desperately searching for grip through the soft layer of mud.

The course demanded good technical skills, but it lacked any flow, too stoppy-starty for my liking, the problem compounded by the dreadful conditions. But it had its good moments: some man-made berms, a few jumps and some fast descents, and even some Tarmac sections, a rare respite from the mud trudging of the rest of the course. There’s room for improvement.

There’s something just a little odd and peculiar about ‘cross, but ultimately it’s an intriguing branch of cycle sport that, if you give it the chance, will grab hold of you with both hands and pull you in. It’s also one of the most accessible forms of cycle sport, with competitors of all ages and gender taking part, enjoying the thrill that a cyclo-cross race offers.

It’s an addictive, one-hour rush of frantic, lactic acid-inducing cycling around a muddy field on tyres that offer barely any grip and, just occasionally a necessary section of dismounting to leap over a hurdle or other obstacle. But you know what, the muddier it is, the bigger the smiles. There’s almost a comedic element to cyclo-cross racing, thrashing through torrential conditions, slithering and sliding with barely any control, riders around landing on their bums after yet another spill.

If that makes you want to rush out and take part in a cyclo-cross race, you can find out where the next round of the London Cyclo Cross league is at, or for information on races in your area read this article

Thanks to for the photos.


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