Cross is coming

Cross season is almost here, and for us at Rapha that means one thing: we’ll be following the exploits of one of our sponsored athletes Jeremy Powers, four-time national cyclocross champion of the U.S.A. And for the first time in a couple of seasons, Powers has a teammate – fellow New Englander Ellen Noble, who cut her teeth in the development team run by Powers and two of his oldest friends.

With the UCIWorld Cup just three weeks away from its first race at CrossVegas, cross is most certainly coming, and the anticipation is the same for the amateurs: cyclocross diehards are likely to be gluing tubs and dusting off the last bits of dried mud from their bottom brackets right now, while novices might be questioning the logic of committing so many of their autumn weekends to the pursuit of chasing other cyclists around muddy fields. By way of introducing Powers and Ellen, we have some timely tidbits of cyclocross wisdom from them, for you.

But before we get to Powers and Ellen, we’d like to invite you to our CrossVegas after party. There will be cocktails, cross talk, and a special guest DJ who is as good behind the decks as he is behind the barriers.

Challenge yourself

No one finds cyclocross easy, and apparently this holds true even if, like Ellen Noble, you have an U23 national title to your name. Ellen spends most of the summer training in Western Massachusetts – a hotbed of cross talent in the US – where she seeks out the most difficult, root-laden, rutted, and generally inhospitable roads and trails. “The stuff around here is so much harder than the stuff we see in races – and, of course, there’s all the pro racers to ride with. For instance, we practice riding in the sand at a ‘secret’ sand pit, which has big, steep drops into a pit. I could barely turn the pedals in there at first, but by the time I rode the Koksijde World Cup [notorious for its sand], I was flying.”

Crashing isn’t all that bad

Naturally, pushing your limits can lead to falling off your bike on occasion, but trust us when we tell you that crashing in cyclocross is (usually) part of the fun. “There are some features around here that I don’t particularly like to ride, but some of the JAM Fund riders do them without thinking,” says Powers. “But I give it a minute, get loose, find some confidence, and go for it.”

Ellen is of the same mindset: “I’ve got plenty of dents in my helmet from tumbles in training, and I’m proud of each one. The only way you’re really going to know your limits is by going past them.”

Slow Down to Speed Up

When out riding, it is normal for Jeremy Powers to meticulously practice his dismounts and remounts. Seeing a rider of his caliber break down a motion to its constituent parts is enlightening – seen only at full-flight, the complicated skills of a cross race can seem impossible – but it’s also a reminder that even the best have to slow down sometimes.

“I’ve spent hours and hours of my life remounting my cross bike, and most of that was done really slowly,” explains Ellen. “It pays off, because it becomes second nature, and you never get that moment in a race where you don’t know what your body is doing.”

Find a mentor or two

The generation of New England cross racers that preceded Powers helped shape him. “When I was a junior, I’d race both the junior race and then hang around to race against the 35+ group. They pulled all the sneaky New England tricks, like breaking hard into the last corner to put you off your line, or letting their rear tyres touch the barriers so their whole bikes flew up into your face. But they also spoke with us post-race, dissecting all our decisions and telling us what we missed.”

Likewise, Powers mentors a new generation of riders (although no one has complained of him bouncing his bike off the barriers, to our knowledge). Ellen, who has raced and trained with the JAM Fund for several years, has her own perspective on this. “We call him Uncle Powers, and he’s the sort of uncle who isn’t afraid to let you know how to do things better – in a good way, obviously.”

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Ride, Think, Repeat

Rain and heavy wheels churn up a cross course, changing the racing line over time. According to Powers, figuring these changes out is all part of the fun, and the formula for success is simple: ride, think, repeat. “Over time, you figure out what sort of lines you like, and it can end up saving plenty of time in a race. Did you ever watch that Lil Wayne documentary, ‘The Carter’? Well, in it he says something that is the key to cyclocross: ‘The secret to success is repetition’. You should look it up.”