Quick and Dirty – Mike Murphy’s back racing Cyclocross

Yes…I am referring to a Cyclocross-racing double weekend.

(For those who may be unfamiliar with cyclocross: It’s sort of hybrid between road and mountain bike racing. Races are a pre-determined length of time, comprised of multiple of a short track, and filled with anaerobic efforts and suffering)

Friday evening I pulled my CX (cyclocross) bike out of its dusty corner and I threw it on the bike stand. I had pretty much ignored the bike since last December, having parked it in my basement dirty and broken. With a few tweaks, a lot of swearing, and new narrow/wide chainring, I was confident that It could survive a 45+ minute CX race. That confidence was not transferred over to my own chances of survival though. Last weekend I raced a fairly tough mountain running event (Sky Pilot) on tired legs…and dug myself into a pretty good hole. I wasn’t exactly full of confidence leading up to the Foreshore CX race on Saturday. But… I was prepared to suffer at the back and have fun on two wheels again. Plus, I hadn’t officially worn the Steed Cycles team kit in months (not since the Dirty Duo in March), so it was about time I stepped up.

Before sunrise the next morning, a dedicated group of the Steed team met to help the Foreshore CX race organizers set up the course. Thankfully it wasn’t raining, and we had a lot of helping hands. We had the course fully marked by 9:30, right as the bulk of racers started to arrive. With an 11:30 start time for the Masters 1/2 race, I had time to relax a bit and eat my second breakfast before gearing up and warming up. In past years I have always found a 1:00pm (or later) start time really tough; I just seem to have a dip in my circadian rhythm right around then.

I wasn’t expecting much out of myself as I stood near the start line for call-up. And with that in mind, I didn’t at all push my way to the front for seeding. When we were sent off, I was comfortably placed near the back of the group, and not too worried about it. Within about two minutes of racing though, something interesting was happening…I felt really strong!

Hmmm…maybe today isn’t gong to be a suffer-fest. Maybe I should start working my way up!

The course was a good one for me: lots of corners and some rough terrain. I was picking guys off, moving smoothly up the field. When we hit the bell (last) lap, I was in third. I still felt great, so I decided to just fully bury the needle and see how close I could get to second place (who still had a good gap on me). Pretty much cross-eyed, I managed to get within about 5 metres of Matt (2nd place) when we crossed the line.

It felt so good to have some legs and to be competitive. My only complaint was that they cut our race short by a lap. The race was supposed to be finished when the winner crosses the start/finish past 45 minutes. The longer the better for me, so a lap short doesn’t work in my favour. Oh well…what can you do.


Day two of the double header was the Vanier Park race. Vanier is one of the ‘foundation’ races of the lower mainland CX scene, and with the sun shining it had a huge turnout; both racers and spectators. I got there nice and early (what’s new) because I wanted to see James Marshall  before he took the start line for his first ever CX race. We got a lap in together, I gave him my 2 cents worth of advice, and he was ready to give’r. I didn’t see his whole race, but it sounds like he had a blast and raced smart. Another CX rookie (from the running scene) also raced in the morning.  Ryland looked great, raced smart, and killed it out there!

Given how well the previous day had gone, I pretty much mimicked my pre-race sequence…but this time I wanted to seed myself up a bit higher at the start line. And wouldn’t you know it, I got called up first! I’d like to say that the awesome call-up helped my cause, but I really don’t think it did. The first few hundred metres of the Vanier course…well shit, the entire Vanier course…is all about power. If I were to rank my strengths on a bike, power would be far from the top of the list.

So, pretty much as expected, I got worked for the first lap.

I did my best to race smart though. I didn’t go (too far) over my redline, and I stayed off the brakes as much as possible in the corners. I was conserving my effort for the second half of the race, playing to my strengths. Similar to the previous day, I eventually started to slowly work my way up through the field. The long straightaways hurt, but I was really enjoying the struggle.

photo by Solana Klassen


About 30 minutes into the race in was in 5th, with a guy right on my wheel. As I crossed the start finish line, I caught a glimpse of the lap counter…it had a ‘1’ on it.

WTF!!!! This was supposed to be a 45 minute race (or more), not a sub-40 minute race. I kinda didn’t believe what I saw, and told myself that I had two laps left….had to be.

I was chasing hard after my Steed teammate Ian Hoffman, slowly brining him back. I tried so hard to catch him, really hoping that we had the extra lap to go. If I could get on his wheel for the start of the last lap, on the long starting power-straight I might be able to catch my breath. But, as I rounded the last corner and caught site of the start/finish, I saw that we were getting the checkered flag: our race was once again cut short a lap…37 minutes. Again, what can you do…

The tiny bit of running I got to do at Vanier. photo by Solana Klassen


I raced my ass off both days, and really surprised myself. Who would have thought that a huge running base, with very little anaerobic work and almost no bike riding, would translate so well to the anaerobic suffering of CX? I had forgotten how much fun CX racing and being part of a team is. I usually spend so much time alone, running through the mountains. Hopping back in to some bike racing was just what I needed: a break from the usual, and a change of environment. I can hardly wait to race my bike again next weekend…and the weekend after that