by Bart Egnal
The world of bike racing is undergoing seismic shifts. For years, racing was all about squeezing yourself into a Lycra skinsuit, swapping your 10-lb. bomb-proof clinchers for smooth carbon tubular wheels and getting ready to race as fast as you can around a parking lot or similar venue you wouldn’t even notice because you were too busy trying not to heave your guts up while you attacked the field.
Today, road racing is facing rising costs, declining participation rates and a growing perception of being not particularly fun. Now, the truth is that whether you like road racing or not, by this time of the year, it probably doesn’t matter. You’ve had it with sitting in the bunch at 40 km/h. So should you sit on the couch, eat that second croissant and just pack it in until April of next year?
Absolutely not! In fact, race season is just about to begin. You just have to know where to look.
Start with cyclocross. Of course, you’ve been subjected to the omnipresent and equally annoying #crossiscoming emails, posters and banners that have been running since at least July. Overexposure aside, racing ’cross is an absolute blast and the perfect way to bring family and friends to a bike race they will actually want to watch. Racing through mud, inevitably falling over things, trying to run up hills – and doing it all in an hour – ’cross has so much going for it you have to try.
If ’cross is too out there for you and you miss racking up the kilometres for your annual Strava goal, do some gravel races. While the gravel season runs parallel to road racing, it goes longer and is filled with big days in the saddle. These events also tend to be far less pretentious and stressful than road races, where the incompetent movements of your fellow pack-mates may cause you to crash and miss five weeks of gainful employment while incurring the wrath of the DS on the home front. Gravel races also have the benefit of allowing your brain to consider where you are and your surroundings because you’re not worried about slamming into the dude who decides to brake prior to entering every corner. Oh, and most have beer at the finish.
For those of you who live near a velodrome, you can also gear up for track racing. When I lived in Vancouver, I loved weekly races at the Burnaby velodrome. The high-intensity bursts combined with the ability to dive-bomb from the top of the track to try to fit through a gap makes this discipline a huge blast. Races tend to be so short that if you lose one, there’s another coming right up. Track racing is also spectator friendly (although it does have a baffling number of different race formats). An added benefit is that your significant other and you can bond when he or she pulls wood splinters out of your butt after crashes.
When winter arrives, you can really show your toughness by doing a fat bike race. I have yet to pursue this discipline, which seems to depend on your ability to withstand ridiculous levels of cold in the name of riding very slowly. Nevertheless, it’s far better than the alternative, which is e-racing. I hadn’t planned to mention this tragic option, which somehow continues to grow as a pastime. There’s even talk that the Giro d’Italia may start with a virtual stage as early as next year, which I will most certainly not watch, and nor should you. And don’t even think of trying to turn “pro” in a bike racing endeavour in which you can’t turn your bike.
So whether you’re done with the road scene and looking for something different or just want to take your amazing fitness from a season of smashing it and put it to use in more races, the off-season is no time to get off the bike. Just pin a new number on and get after it. Unless you’re in the basement that is. No number required.
Happy racing. Maybe I’ll see you in the snow this year.