And now for something completely different: Cyclocross

Dirt contributors Rod “Rodders” Fountain and Steve “The Butcher” Walker had a go at this Cyclocross lark and discovered it was a bit bloody difficult!

The full story is in the next issue of the magazine, Dirt #130, so you can read all about their pain then. But for now here’s a video of the first Rapha Supercross race and an interview with the winner Paul Oldham.

How gay is that?

Words: The Butcher
Photos: Duncan Philpott

Someone (it was actually a downhill rider) once said the above to me. He was referring to the fact that I had told him about cyclo-cross racing and how we (myself and Rod Fountain) had planned on racing the RAPHA cross races.

Now let’s get a few things into perspective here. When he said ‘gay’ did he mean that I liked boys and not girls or that I secretly attended the annual village maypole festival and danced my cares away? Have you ever heard the expression ‘As gay as a maypole’? In other words, if you dance around a maypole (for fun) you’re Jolly, jovial, not manly? After riding and racing cyclo-cross I can assure you that anyone who enters and races as hard as they possibly can, is as tough as any bike rider can be.

If you doubt my word (or words) ring Paul Oldham.

Paul Oldham, who’s that? I hear you (downhillers, 4xers, dirt jumpers and enduro riders) say? Well I’m going to tell you. Paul has been national cyclo-cross champion, he recently won round two of the RAPHA super x series at Lutterworth by a country mile, he rides a bicycle (that looks like it belongs on the road)! Off road, as though he’s on a downhill bike and is fitter than any mother fookin, bastard butchers dog on the planet (which is saying something as I’ve dated a lot of dogs and I am a butcher). If you think you’re fit and good on a bike, go out for a ride with Oldham. After ten minutes you’ll be weeping like a baby…

Butcher: First up. Congratulations on your Rapha super x victory at Minerston Hall. You smashed it. Did you and the Hope team have a pre-race game plan?

Paul Oldham: Our main aim was to win each round and let the team classification sort it’s self out. We all race for every possible finish position, so you can never relax no matter what place you are in.

The Butcher wondering what the hell he’s let himself in for.

It was my first ever Rapha cyclo-cross race and I loved it. The atmosphere, the Belgian beer, waffles and cowbells were icing on the cake. Being as you’re as seasoned cross racer what was your opinion on the event?

I think they are a very welcome change from the normal national trophy events. They are more about entertaining the crowd rather than the riders. I do think that there’s room in the calendar for both. There is nothing better than racing in front of a good crowd!

Do you think there should be more Rapha type races (instead of just three) on the cross calendar?

I think maybe it should be 2 double-header weekends, but it does seem to work as 3, and I do enjoy the fact that it’s done and dusted in 2 weeks.

I’m completely hooked on cross racing (I usually spend most my time down the B.M.X track). But someone says the season finishes late December/early January. How come?

Yeah cross is a winter sport so the season runs from September to the end of January. This is so it doesn’t clash with the road/ MTB season. Also you don’t get as much mud in summer!

You ride and work for HOPE. After your victory at the RAPHA race, when you turned up for work Monday morning, did the boss bring you tea and biscuits all day?

That would have been nice! Ha ha. Hope have backed me for years now, and to be honest without their help I would struggle to race at this level. I get flexi time to train etc, and a big motorhome to travel to races in, which with two kids is a godsend!

Nice day for it.

Tell us Dirt readers about your bike set-up and the essential elements to what makes a good cross bike for racing on?

A cross bike is a cross between a road bike and a mountainbike; it’s basically a road bike with knobbly tires. A good cross bike needs to be light, good mud clearance and have disc brakes! I generally set my cross bikes up the same way as my road bike.

Tell us about tub wheels and the fact that the tires are actually glued to the rim! What do you use blue tack, bostick, or super-glue?

My life would be easier if we used blu tack! The tubs are stuck with a contact adhesive, which needs multiple coats on rim and tire. This takes ages, but the benefits outweigh the hassle with improved rolling and grip. Tubs have to be stuck well, if they come off your face hits the floor pretty quick! I always got told that there are two jobs you always do yourself, your missus and your tubs!

Have HOPE got any plans to bring out an off the peg, (competitively priced) complete cyclo-cross bike and if so when can I buy one?

Ha ha. We have been asked for team replicas, so watch this space!!

A month before I knew what I’d let myself in for, I tried to train for a 3-4 hours a week (mainly xc mountain bike riding). Without giving too much info away to your competitors what’s your training schedule and do you follow a specific programme (or just go for a blast around the woods like me)?!

I train mainly on the road due to being tight on free time. I generally do 2/3hrs three days a week, mixing in things like power work and speed intervals. The other days I just ride to work and back which is about 25min each way. Off-road training gets harder as the season goes on as it’s darker, wetter and I’m fed up of washing bikes!

I’m liking the foam pit feature!

Have you ever, or do you still race mountain bikes?

I started out racing MTBs and still do. I’ve been u/23 national champion and ridden two world champs. I still love mtb racing but I’m getting too old and my mortgage is too big for the new generation of world cup courses.

Cyclo-cross is massive in Belgium with most of the top events getting live t.v. coverage. Have you any plans to move there?

Cross is massive in Belgium, it is part of their culture. The races are a social event with plenty of beer and Euro pop. The fans are really clued up about the whole sport and for riders it’s great to race with such an atmosphere twice a week. I reckon I’m way too old for a move.

Where do you see yourself and U.K. cyclo-cross in 2-3 years and do you think it will ever be a mainstream past time (similar to mountain biking)?

I still think I can carry on improving and being competitive in the UK, I only started doing well about five years ago after an operation on an artery which gave me two equal legs. From then on I’ve improved no end. Cross is becoming more mainstream and things like the Rapha series is only going to raise its profile.

It’s not a race without a Mexican in spandex handing out Tequilla!

What advice can you give to anyone who rides a mountain bike who fancies giving cyclo-cross racing a go?

Try it. Cross is probably one of the easiest disciplines to get involved in, it’s proper grass roots with friendly approachable people. It is also one of the only sports where total novices and elite riders share the same race. No matter if you are at the front or back there is always someone to race.

Every top racer has people they want to thank. After racing myself at the RAPHA, I realise the effort and sacrifices you must make on a weekly basis, to be as good as you are! If anyone has earned a ‘thank you list’ it’s you Paul, so here you go. Thank away!

As most races are promoted by clubs and volunteers’ a big thanks to them.
Also, Hope technology for their support of our team.
The biggest thing is a supportive wife, which I have, so thanks to Sally and the kids.

The Butcher: So whether your gay, straight, bi, like to prance around in your grannies underwear, ride bmx or mountain bikes, next time you see a cyclo-cross rider (even if he or she is dressed in lycra) give them the respect they deserve. They are extremely fit and can jig around a pole (and not just in the month of May as cyclo-cross races are all held in the winter) better than most.
‘Butch’ big pole…..or so I’m told.

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