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What makes a good cross course? (debate)(14 posts)

What makes a good cross course? (debate)richpierce
Sep 2, 2003 10:32 AM
I have raced about a dozen cyclocross races and have almost always enjoyed them unless they were too wide open and flat. Don't like them to be criteriums.

I have put on a lot of MTB races and a couple good road races but now want to put on a cyclocross race or two. I can handle all the other aspects well but want advice on what makes a good course, as the course and the competition determine the much of the quality of any race.

Questions:
1) How long should a race course be (time or distance)? 3K?

2) runups- who thinks these are key?

3) natural barriers or man-made? doubles? six-packs? what do you like? Bunny hoppable (spacing and rules) or not?

4) Snaky sections to emphasize handling and let you see the competition? or should these only be used to lengthen a course when space is limited?

5) Hills? Should there be a stiff climb on the lap?

6) Off-camber descents curving down a hill? Like those babies?

7) Do you fear/loathe the woods if the trails are wide enough for passing (no singletrack)?

8) How much could/should be grass or field as opposed to gravel or dirt road and paved?

Other ideas about courses- like minimum/maximal distance w/o a barrier or technical feature?
re: What makes a good cross course? (debate)Farmpunker
Sep 2, 2003 11:27 AM
To answer:
1)Time not distance. One hour for the top classes, gradually less for the lower divisions. I was a total beginner last year and I had to go an hour with the cross hardies. This is a numbers issue where I race - not enough bodies for separate classes. Have a first timer, or first years race group, a middle group and an A group if possible.
2)Run-ups are key in my mind. Must have at least one.
3)Barriers, natural or constructed, doesn't matter. Make one or two that can be hopped for racer fun and spectator viewing.
4)Snaky = fun.
5)No climbing. Make climbs into hard run-ups, or place a barrier just in front of a climb, leaving the tactical decision up to the rider whether to remount and grind or carry and run.
6)Yes and yes.
7)Don't like singletrack as part of the course.
8)The mix should include everything but gravel.
A few thoughtsAlex-in-Evanston
Sep 2, 2003 11:51 AM
As a cross promoter, you're not going to have your pick of the nicest piece of real estate in your area to run the course. You'll get what you can get. That being said, here are some ingredients that I have really liked and that can be instituted basically anywhere with moderately rollng terrain.

I like courses where you spend zero time in the big ring. If there's a flat section, run it through tall grass. If there's a long gradual descent (which I generally do not approve of), put a grouping of three barriers on it and let the crowd enjoy 25mph dismounts and 20mph remounts.

Whenever possible, position the descents on the steepest grade available. If you can descend 25 feet in a quarter mile or 75 feet, choose 75 feet. Place a barrier at the base of this descent. The idea here is that throughout the race competitors are pedalling up the course, coasting down. No downhill hammering in the 53.

Direct riders to run right back up grade they just came down, parallel to the riders descending.

Runups are key. Nothing seems to break things up like a runup. Without runups, dorky butt-shaving roadies would win everything.

Lots of grass.

Use whatever natural barriers that are available. My favorite barrier ever was a washed out drainage ditch. For the first 3 laps everybody was shouldering and broad jumping the whole span. On the last 3 laps, everyone was shouldering and climbing down into it and then back out again.

Snaky sections are a bore. One course had a big open field portion of the race and they set it up like the cue line at the airport. You could see the competition but it was boring.

If there is a place that has bad traction, like soft dirt or sand (not gravel, that's too painful), see if you can place a fast turn on it.

Just some thoughts. I'm sure others will have good ideas as well.

I love cross,

Alex
A few thoughtsp lo
Sep 2, 2003 12:25 PM
i am not sure i am "right" here but i like a fast course with many turns (often 180 back on themselves) and technical sections. i think the races where you end up in small groups are the most fun to both participate in and also the most fun to watch

1) How long should a race course be (time or distance)? 3K?
1 hour for the elites and 45 minutes for everyone else. usually 6 to 8 minute laps.

2) runups- who thinks these are key?
having one a lap is a nice feature if the course permits

3) natural barriers or man-made? doubles? six-packs? what do you like? Bunny hoppable (spacing and rules) or not?
man made barries that hare spaced to make bunny hopping possible by only the very skilled.

4) Snaky sections to emphasize handling and let you see the competition? or should these only be used to lengthen a course when space is limited?
i love snaky sections that double back on themselves with various turns and off camber sections.

5) Hills? Should there be a stiff climb on the lap?
i don't think it is needed but if you can put one in it doesn't hurt (well, it will actually really hurt if you are a racer)

6) Off-camber descents curving down a hill? Like those babies?
i love these and it seperates the bike handlers.....

7) Do you fear/loathe the woods if the trails are wide enough for passing (no singletrack)? woods are fine as long as the course stays wide enough for side by side riding.

8) How much could/should be grass or field as opposed to gravel or dirt road and paved? can vary depending on what you have to work with....

Other ideas about courses- like minimum/maximal distance w/o a barrier or technical feature?
A few thoughts/suggestionsjhr
Sep 2, 2003 12:28 PM
Last year I had the good fortune to design a course and then race on it. A point that has already been made is that you will get what you get terrain/trail/road wise.

The first thing I did after getting a location was to go out to the area and ride around. Our races were in January so we had to use our imaginiation as to what the course would look like 5 months in the future. (Our second event we had snow on the ground, and had to make some adjustments, but it made for two very different races on a very simillar course).

I think the most important thing is to ensure you will get lap times of between 6 and 8 minutes. Less than 6 minutes and the officials will have to contend with too many lapped riders and scoring gets more difficult. Too long a lap time and your lower catagories will not get to do very many laps and specators will get bored because they don't see enough action.

The second most important thing is setting the course up for spectators. Ask yourself where most people will park, where will they go, where will they gravitate on the course.

Next ask yourself where will the start/finish line go, and where should I put my pit (its great if you can pinch the course so a single pit can service two different approximately equidistant parts of the course).

If you have done all this, you now most likely have a generalized shape and route for your course, it has a start/finish and a pit. Now ask yourself, how can I use existing things to make the job of the people who will lay out the course the cold morning of the race?Can you use a chain fence or ditch as one side of the course for a distance so tape only needs to be used on one side there?(note we used about 2.5 or 3 times the amount of tape I originally estimated, good thing we bought for both races initially). What natural obstructions can you use?

Ride the course again. I put the barriers in last to break up otherwise fast sections and to force a run up. We also used a single barrier to minimize environmental impact to a ditch/stream (people ran and jumped the ditch because they couldn't ride through). (another note, its not so tough driving steel stakes into partially frozen ground, but its darn tough getting them out!).

My goal was to create a Euro style course, that was fairly fast and favored cross bikes over mountain bikes (not so easy if it snows). We used a triple barrier going up a hill that forced everyone to dismount and carry, and another triple that was designed to encourage/reward those who could bunny hop at reasonable speed (20-25 kph). Our terrain was flat so we used some natural obstructions (down tree, telephone pole curbs, etc.) to force dismounts/remounts or bunny hops to slow things down. Had it been exceedingly muddy we were prepared to bypass one or two of these things to speed up the pace. (If I recall correctly we had average speed of between 20 and 26 kph depending on the day and class involved).

When it snowed for the second race we had to make some accomodations for ice on a road section.

Finally, I will say design a course you enjoy. Most people will be thankful you put on the race and give you complements, but there will always be somebody who complains. Ignore them.

Have fun.

jhr
some other thoughtsatpjunkie
Sep 2, 2003 3:01 PM
though one designer in here had some great points, as a Clydesdale his courses would be built against me. Since there is no Clydesdale class in cx designers note: removing any such 'power sections' either a long stretch or downhill takes away any advantage from bigger riders to the smaller. Last year we had a course where every power section was broken up with a turn or barrier, and there were longish (for cx) climbs (some on grass). Now since at equal wattage you lose about 266 ft per 10 lbs per mile at 10 percent (some courses have a combined climbing distance of so over the 6-8 laps and usually a steeper gradient than 10% {where distance lost goes up logorhytmically}), if a course is weighted as such, larger riders stand no chance as we have no place to make up lost distance. So for all us big boys, just make it fair. If a course is going to benefit roadie types in one place, have a technical section to balance it out. If there is a bunny hop section that will help those riders, have a running section that will benefit those to keep it fairly equal.
I personally like a good mix, barriers, run ups, tight twisty sections with some power zones on mixed terrain. I'll never complain to a promoter, I'm just happy to race.
pitp lo
Sep 2, 2003 6:16 PM
another often overlooked detail is placement of the pit. seems like most races it is placed where it is just easy to get to. having it on a running section is nice and makes changing bikes easier and faster. a double pit is a nice bonus
pit...agreedatpjunkie
Sep 2, 2003 7:22 PM
and access from 2 spots on course. nothing worse than having it at the start finish and flatting a third of the way through a lap.
re: What makes a good cross course? (debate)dlbcx
Sep 2, 2003 9:02 PM
A race length from 2k to 3k seems to work the best. Got to have runups or something to force people to dismount. Trails are cool so long as passing is permitted. I have no preference on the surface but I do hate the sand courses. We use to have one where the runup was beach sand and some of the riding sections were also deep sand. Hated it but that's cross.
To get an idea of what we race here in the Norcal area, check out this site: http://www.hanskellner.com/videos/
This guy rode the course with a helmet cam so it might give you some ideas how to setup a course.

db
NECCS Guidelinestriangleforge
Sep 3, 2003 7:32 AM
A great place to start for both technical and (for want of a better word) philisophical aspects of 'cross course design is the New England Championship Cyclo-Cross Series Technical Guide; you can reach the PDF online via http://www.necyclocross.com/resources/index.html

One idea I really like from that guide -- "Cyclo-Cross is a race of transitions: On and off the bike, out of corners, onto pavement or hard ground from soft ground, or sprinting from a remount. Course design should emphasize these aspects of cyclo-cross." The courses I like best are always changing and making you do something different, often within the span of a single race as fatigue sets in and course conditions change. That said, there should also be sections that allow some recovery.

Cheers!
NECCS Guidelines -- agreedwahleyed
Sep 3, 2003 9:54 AM
the courses I've enjoyed the most had lots of changes. The designer didn't take out fast sections in order to turn the whole race into a mtn bike slog; but instead would alternate fast and slow sections (terrain changes) and alternate flat out riding sections with technical handling sections (rhythm changes). Whether the course is flat or not, if you can have a few of these transitions per lap, you'll keep everyone concentrating and engaged thinking about where to attack and where to defend. I also love/hate snakey courses -- hate them when I'm the chasee and love them when I'm the chaser. ;) I think if you can add that sort of anxiety for the racers -- its much more exciting. If you can do all that and keep the race from blowing up where no groups get formed -- you have a winner in my opinion.
Wow New England has it going on!richpierce
Sep 3, 2003 4:08 PM
wow that NECCS page is a tremendous resource. I hope we someday get to that level in the Midwest. How many years has cross been building in new England? Like, when did you first have racers traveling state to state to attend races, when did you first see 200 racers at an event, etc?

Here (Missouri) cross has been way below the radar compared to big road racing events. Our local road races attract 300 racers. We haven't had more than 100 cross racers ever at an event as far as I know.

Those NECCS race series organizers really have it together.
quick answer - all of the aboveclimbo
Sep 3, 2003 10:35 AM
races should be based on time per lap, 6 - 8 minutes, that way less people get lapped and the number of lasp can be fit well in to all categories, i.e. 30, 45 or 60 minute races. 10 laps at 6 minutes for the A races and then 7 laps for B races to get about 45 minutes of racing and 4 laps for the C race to get 30 minutes of racing.

I don't think that you cannot have any of those things you mentioned, some people like things others don't but really as long as the course has a constant mix of terrain and obstacles, you can't go wrong.

I prefer to have climbs in the race as I like to climb, some prefer grass criteriums but I don't think that's what CX should be. It needs to be more challenging than that. Natural obstacles are great if you can incorporate them, we used a steep, rooty, rocky climb in one race which most people had to dismount, then we had a staircase and a steep dirt run-up - 3 dismounts per lap, all natural.
re: thanks to all- great inforichpierce
Sep 3, 2003 4:10 PM
That was terrific. Especially knowing how long the courses should be, the ideas about transitions, breaking the laps into thirds or quarters with technical and "recovery" sections, using steep hills for both runups and descents, etc. This is going to be fun.