Knobbly tyres and lots of mud… winter’s imminent arrival means cyclo-cross season is upon us.
With the roads covered in winter grime and the thought of hours on the turbo trainer hardly the most appealing, more and more roadies are turning to ‘cross to continue their season through the winter months.
But cyclo-cross doesn't just mean an hour of eyeballs-out racing. There are plenty of cyclo-cross sportives to ride, too, with events ideal for anyone from seasoned ‘cross riders to those who have only just caught the ‘CX bug.
You don't neccessarily need a cyclo-cross bike, either. These events are often ideal for adventure/gravel bikes, which have the tyre clearance and relaxed geometry ideal for off-road riding, but a turn of speed to make up ground on road sections.
You could also consider sticking wider tyres on your regular road bike for some events, or going the whole hog and riding a mountain bike for more extreme rides. Check out the route description on each ride to help make your decision on the bike you need.
So, without further ado, We’ve picked out six of the best to circle on the calendar…
Sunday October 30 – Cross Mountain
Starting in Llandovery on the edge of the Brecon Beacons, the Cross Mountain event has two off-road distances available.
The 35km route spreads the pack with a road climb to kick things off but then heads onto the open moorland with sections around the Usk Reservoir and some super-fast descents.
The longer 52km route, meanwhile, splits at the 27km marker and includes another climb and fast descent past an abandoned mill.
It’s not your typical ‘cross event – the course is suitable for a cyclo-cross bike, but is better suited to an mountain bike, hence 'Cross Mountain'.
Nevertheless, so long as you’re armed with spare inner tubes and prepared to test your off-road handling skills, there’s no reason you can’t dig the ‘cross bike out and blast around on quiet singletrack lanes, off-road tracks, forest roads and open moorland.
Online entry for this weekend's event has now closed, so contact event organisers if you want to secure a last-minute spot.
Website: Cross Mountain
Sunday November 27 – Evans RideIt Thetford Sportive Cross
Evans Cycles have a range of ‘Sportive Cross’ events, designed for ‘cross bikes and adventure bikes, and offering a chance to keep things interesting over winter.
The Thetford Sportive Cross has everything from tarmac to gravel, grass, sand and mud, setting out from the heart of Thetford Forest on the border of Suffolk and Norfolk.
Two routes are available - 85km or 68km - with the former skirting through and around the likes of the West Stow Country Park, Knettishall Heath Country Park and Croxton Heath, the longest off-road section on the route.
For a full list of Evans Cycles’ RideIt CX events, check out their website.
Website: Thetford Sportive Cross
Sunday November 27 – Badlands CX Sportive
Also taking place on the final weekend of November is the Badlands CX Sportive, one of two great ‘cross sportives from CXSportive which focus on the Chiltern Hills.
The area is prime for ‘cross or gravel riding, thanks to the ‘Badlands’ above Henley-on-Thames – where highwayman and robbers lay in wait for cargo ships on the river below.
And event organisers say the reasons why is was prime territory for a highway robber also make the Badlands great for cyclo-cross, too.
So expect dense, wooded hills and a network of undulating lanes, tracks and trails to negotiate on courses of 35km, 50km and 68km.
Website: Badlands CX
Sunday February 12 – Chilterns Wildwood
CX Sportive’s other Chilterns ‘cross sportive is their original off-road ride in Woodcote, offering up a mix of terrain in the hills.
The twisting 80km route remains close to the event base at all times, which is handy for ride support, and blends farm tracks, roads and bridleways.
The profile of the three routes – 40km, 60km and 80km – is dictated by the Thames ridge, meaning plenty of short, sharp ascents to test your legs and get the thighs burning on a cold winter’s morning.
Now in its fourth year, the event is suitable for all off-road bikes, from CX machines to 29" mountain bikes.
Website: Woodcote Wildwood CX
Sunday February 19 – Kielder Cross Challenge
And now for something a bit different…
Based in the Northumberland National Park, the Kielder Cross Challenge features a 40km off-road night ride around the Lakeside Way at Kielder Water on the Saturday night (February 18) before the 60km ‘cross sportive the following day (February 19).
They can be entered separately or together, with the routes designed for cyclo-cross bikes but open to mountain bike riders too.
The night ride is less technical but still features nearly 1,500ft of climbing, while Sunday's 60km course makes use of the varied terrain at Kielder Water to throw in grassy trails, woodland singletrack, forest rides and open moorlands.
Website: Kielder Cross Challenge
Sunday March 5 – Evans RideIt Leeds Sportive Cross
As we’ve mentioned, Evans Cycles have a whole series of Sportive Cross events throughout the winter, with Leeds the most northern one and coming at the end of winter in March.
Again, expect roughly a 50:50 mix of road and off-road riding, rolling out from Harewood House – where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge officially kicked off the racing at the 2014 Tour de France.
The Leeds course is tougher than the Thetford one already featured here, with 2,700ft of climbing on the 58km course.
Making full use of the picturesque white rose countryside, the route again encompasses everything from tarmac to gravel, grass, sand and mud.
Website: Evans RideIt Leeds