By Gordon Paulson, PCG elite coach
Cyclocross racing is different. Apart from the mount/dismount, suitcase carries, step-through dismounts, and bunny hopping, a CX race can present rare and mysterious challenges unlike those of a typical criterium. You’ll need to be prepared. Before you line up for your first CX race, make sure you’re ready for that ‘cross-distinguishing element: the hand-up.
Now if you want to get technical, there are most likely rules against accepting hand-ups in your ‘cross races, and there’s no feed zone. But it’s ‘cross; what’s a few rules to get in the way of general craziness? Hand-ups are as much a part of the culture as the dismount.
There are basically three types of hand-ups you should prepare for: bills, bacon, and beer.
The Dollar-Bill Hand-up
Payouts at most CX races barely cover the cost of gas to get to them. That doesn’t mean you can’t profit from ‘cross, however, but you’ll need to master the dollar-bill hand-up. (Sorry, the $1 bill seems to be the best you can hope for, although a $20 bill hand would make for a much more interesting event.) Novice spectators simply hold a bill out in their hand, while seasoned spectators delight in more creative methods of offering the bills for retrieval. To practice snatching your race entry in dollar bills, have a friend stand at the hardest part of the hardest hill you can ride with a dollar carefully hooked between his/her belt and rearmost anatomy (make sure it’s a very good friend with a very good sense of humor). But first you’ll need a plan. After you fish that grimy, sweaty dollar bill off the ground or, worse yet, out of someone’s BVDs, where will you put it? It’s not uncommon after events to see racers emptying skin suits of crumpled dollar bills.
The Bacon Hand-up
If collecting your travel money out of someone else’s gym shorts isn’t your thing, perhaps you want to pursue a quick breakfast snack. If so, the bacon hand-up is your best bet. Who doesn’t love bacon? There’s just something unique about shoving bacon in your mouth between gasping breaths as you charge along in your VO2max zone. Things to watch out for are undercooked bacon, bacon covered with whatever’s floating around on the ‘cross course, and too large a piece of bacon. It’s a good idea to think through the consequences of taking a bacon hand-up before grabbing a slice. Like the bill, what are you going to do with it? Stuff it in your mouth, and you may find your race is an exercise in choking and gagging.
Oh, the Beer
If you have enough money for gas and have already eaten breakfast, there remains a hand-up that can turn a dull race into a party: the always-popular beer hand-up. This is the trickiest hand-up to master, and the process can be broken down into four phases: the snatch, the drink, and the what-do-I-do-with-this-darn-beer-can? (Obviously, this particular hand-up is not one for the under-21 crowd. Also obviously, you should have either a designated driver or lots of time to sleep off the effects before heading home.) Again, think through the process. Are you going to stop and enjoy the beverage before continuing on? This puts a bit of a damper on your chance for a podium finish, although to be fair it’s a rare athlete in general who can manage to accept beer hand-ups and finish on the podium; this requires lots of practice and highly dedicated training.
It doesn’t take too much pedaling before ‘cross racing starts to look decidedly un-racelike. It’s hard enough riding full gas, then no gas, then off the bike and back on, but when you encounter the hand-up gauntlet, you realize you truly aren’t in Kansas anymore. There are new skills to develop! But play your cards right, and you can leave that ‘cross race with a belly full of greasy bacon, a slight buzz on, and a pocket full of gas money.
What could be better than that?
Gordon is a Cat 1 racer, a Level 2 USAC cycling coach, a practicing attorney, and a father of three in Cottage Grove, Wisconsin. He has extensive road racing experience and has set numerous course records in Wisconsin and Minnesota, many of which have now been eclipsed by athletes he has coached. Gordon can be contacted through: