Cyclocross: why?

We caught up with Maria Larkin, category 1 cyclocross racer for The Chicago Cuttin Crew, to ask a few questions about her upcoming season that starts this Sunday in LaBagh Woods

Photo by  Santa Fabio

Photo by Santa Fabio

What is one thing you pack in your race bag that you couldn't do without?

My pressure gauge. One of the most important things in cross is consistency, and if you don’t constantly use the same pump you can get widely different results for your tires despite thinking you’re putting in the same amount of air. The worst feeling in a race is realizing that the 23psi in your tires is more like 16psi as soon as you start or worse 35psi. Instead of lugging around the same pump everywhere, or buying one of those handheld inflation guns which can be expensive, I spent around $10 on a pocket sized gauge from Accu-Gage. That way I know 23psi is 23psi no matter what pump I use. It fits in my jersey pocket and I can quickly adjust my tires on the fly, even during a pre lap. 


How did you get so good at getting that hole shot? What advice can you give to perfecting a cyclocross start?

Practice! I always do a few practice starts no matter what else I’m working on during a skills session. The more you practice the less likely you are to miss your pedal, or panic when you do miss your pedal. I also like to reach down and make sure my opposite pedal is level before each start (A JPOW trick). It’s a little mental check that I do so when I start the race that pedal will be level when I smash my foot on top of it to clip in. 
For the most part the sprint comes at the start of a cyclocross race rather than the end in a road race or a crit, so I try to think of it as being my final sprint. I think that allows me to go deeper into the pain cave off the start line. Don’t go too deep though, or you’ll be paying for it after about a half a lap. 


What does your cyclocross schedule look like this year? 

This year I’m going to go to more regional UCI races. With the changes in the UCI calendar there are a couple more big races within driving distance of Chicago, including the World Cup at JingleCross. I want to gain as much experience at the top level of the sport as I can, I want to get comfortable in those fields with the best women in the US. The courses tend to be more challenging too, so that will help build my skill and experience level. 
I’m also going to try to manage my fitness a little better. I’m working with Jen Sharp from ALP Cycles Coaching this year, and she’s helping me to plan out my season with Nationals in mind, and try to build fitness over the season rather than racing myself into the ground (by choice) and eventually loosing speed and power. That may mean less local racing and a midseason break, then a build towards Irish Nationals in January.  


You raced with Chicago Women's Elite Cycling at Intelligentsia Cup this year—do you think this experience will benefit your upcoming season?

Photo by SnowyMountain Photography

Photo by SnowyMountain Photography

One of the best parts of racing with CWEC was falling into a consistent pre-race routine. The team took care of everything before the race, trainers were set up, nutrition and ice socks, etc, etc. It made it so easy to completely focus on warming up and then racing. That’s an especially great help when you’re racing with the top women in the country.
That mentality of preparedness and professionalism is something I will take with me into the cross season. While I won’t have the CWEC staff at my disposal, I can definitely do more myself to prepare before race day. I have a tendency to do things last minute and that can add a lot of undue stress to my day, which obviously will affect my performance.  


What is the race you are most looking forward to, and why?

It's hard to pin down a single race I’d be looking forward to. My favorite race last year was at ABD Sunrise Park, which some say is not that interesting of a course, but I had the single greatest battle I have ever taken part in against Amanda Schapp and Allijah Beatty. We were pretty evenly matched and knocked chucks out each other for the entire race. The race went long for some reason and by the end of 50+ minutes I managed to come out top in our group of three. All three of us basically collapsed at the end, but we all felt the same way, thrilled it had been an exciting battle and to have pushed ourselves to the limit. I look forward to any race where I’d get to do that again. 
SnowyMountain Photography

SnowyMountain Photography


What advice can you give to those looking to improve their cyclocross skills?

Practice! There’s definitely a lot of muscle memory involved in cyclocross, practicing the skills you’ll need to use is the best way to improve your chances and results. 
I like to watch a lot of videos about the individual skills, mounting, remounting, cornering etc. GCN has a ton of great videos on Youtube, as well as the Svenness and LikeAVos series from CxHairs. Often times they’ll advise you to break down each skill into its individual parts, I find that helpful for examining where I’m losing seconds every lap. If I can make my remount 1 second quicker or corner 1 second faster it’s totally worth it, if there are 20 corners in a lap, that’s like a free 20 seconds every single lap, without improving any of my power.  


Any advice for LaBagh Woods this weekend? Tell us your thoughts on the course.

I’m actually not sure what they’re going to do with the course this time around. Last year it was moved at last minute due to flooding, so I imagine they’ll have a lot more time to perfect it, hopefully adding some more of those trails and single track that’s available there. My one piece of advice would be to make sure your bike is in good working order. It’s probably too late to get a full overhaul by Sunday but do a simple check of your tires, tighten your saddle down, etc. Often times the first race of the season will be the first time you’ve raced your bike that hard in 10 months or more so stuff is bound to be out of whack. You don’t want to have a great start only to drop your chain a few minutes later, or roll your tubular off or something. 


Your favorite YouTube cyclocross video:

For serious videos I would go back to the beginning of the Svenness series, I would seriously recommend watching all of that first couple of seasons when the videos are shorter and focus on an individual skill and break it down. 
For example, the start of a race:


For funnys I’d watch the Cat 4 men start at Louisville, the commentary is on point:

Your favorite cyclocross meme:

I have a few favorites. Wout from the Louisville U23 race is pretty good, pretty much sums up cyclocross in one image:
Is he really OK?


Your favorite cyclocross heckle:

I heard Rob Bigelow-Rubin from Cut Cats/Comrade Cycles Racine heckle the three leaders of the single speed race last year (or maybe two years ago), it’s hard to describe why it was so good, but it was at a 180 degree turn where they slowed down a little, everyone was quiet and Rob just posed the question; ‘What if God was one of us’ as they rounded the corner. All three of them cracked a smile, and all of us cracked up. So simple, not an insult or anything, just broke the race face of three guys going all out with a simple clever quip. That’s really the essence of a good heckle.


You've been known to put people to sleep talking about tire treads, widths, pressure.... About how many hours could you talk about cyclocross tires?

HA! Many hours, it’s important to be informed about your equipment! 
Kent Baumgardt Photo - Derby City Cup

Kent Baumgardt Photo - Derby City Cup