Evie Richards: lessons from a season of cyclo-cross

In 2016 Evie Richards became the first ever winner of the U23 women’s category at the cyclo-cross world championships in Zolder. It was her first ‘cross race outside her home country of the UK. 

 

The 19-year-old current world bronze medalist – who also races on the road and on the mountain bike trail – reflects on the ins and outs of the wonderful world of cyclo-cross after a full winter season spent in the mud. 

 

 

Rouleur: Evie, cyclo-cross is one of those things. You either get it and love it, or you don’t and you can’t understand what all the fuss is about. So, what’s all the fuss about?

 

Evie Richards: I’m never one to watch many bike races but over this winter I’ve watched some of the men’s races three or four times, I can’t get enough of watching them.

 

It’s such a fast sport, and there’s no let off at all in it. It’s so close and so competitive throughout, and that’s why I find it so exciting.

 

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R: And with a women’s U23 category in the worlds, it seems like ‘cross is trying to lead by example when it comes to equality. The road worlds don’t have that yet… 

 

ER: Yeah, and it’s amazing how many supporters we have; you’d think that they’d just turn up for the men’s races but there are a lot of supporters who come for the U23 races, and it does feel good.

 

R: Have you been recognised in a Belgian supermarket yet? We hear that’s a bit of a rite of passage for ‘cross stars.

 

ER: Not yet, but I have a couple of superfans who follow me around the races! Cross in Belgium is like football in the UK, so athlete cards and signed tops are always such a big thing over there. I’m still getting to grips with that. I actually got some athlete cards made for the world champs.

R: How do you go about getting athlete cards? That’s not something you learn in training…

 

ER: There’s a person my mum works with and he actually managed to make me some, just as a favour. I think some people have links to make them professionally; my mum managed to pull some together even though she didn’t really know what she was supposed to be making. I think we ordered about 100.

 

People are always popping up on Facebook and asking for them to be sent over. And when you’re at a race as soon as one person comes over and asks for one, that’s it for the day, there can be queues. [British junior world champion] Tom Pidcock always gets his asked for.

 

It doesn’t take a whole day and you can still get back to your roast dinner.

 

R: Would you ever go and ask other riders for theirs?

 

ER: That’s something I would probably do and get teased for doing. But I’d do it, I’m still in awe of a lot of the women I race against.

R: Why do you think amateur cyclo-cross has taken off in such a big way, especially among the veteran categories?

 

ER: Hah, it’s great racing the vets, they always give you such a good battle. There are a few women I race against and they race, their kids race and then their husbands race. I think it’s just right for the whole family, it’s only 45 minutes per race, you don’t have to travel far, it doesn’t take a whole day and you can still get back to your roast dinner.

 

R: Mind you, it’s a whole other world when it comes to ‘cross equipment, isn’t it?

 

ER: I’m still learning about all those little things in cross. Last year when I raced the Worlds I had two completely different bikes: one was SRAM, one was Shimano, one was disc, one wasn’t, and they were different sized frames. This year I’ve got a couple of matching bikes which makes ‘cross so much easier.

R: We’ve heard rave things about these zipped leggings too…

 

ER: Zipped tights do make it a lot better after your warm up. You need to stay warm right up until a couple of minutes before the start, you quickly take them off and then put them straight back on after a race. If you’re racing Saturday and Sunday your recovery starts straight away so you want to get warm straight away.

 

R: So you have a whole flock of tights flying through the air just before the start?

 

ER: Yeah that’s it. You get a bit of a warning; you go to the pens, get your tyre width checked, get your gridding, get your numbers, get your bikes scanned. Three minutes before everyone will take their tights off, and I’ll take off my headphones and a big coat. Once I’ve taken my tights off, I know that I’m focussed and ready to race.

Credit: Andy Whitehouse

That there is so much to give in these tyres. There are punctures, but you can make up a lot of time

 

R: Have you got the obligatory ‘cross campervan yet?

 

ER: My Dad has just got an old campervan that he’s doing up with the idea to help out with ‘cross; you really need the jet wash and all that. It just makes everything else easier.

 

R: Is there any peering around the paddock before races to see what little tricks and ideas you can pinch from other riders?

 

ER: Definitely. My Dad and I keep a list of that stuff and every so often we’ll tick something off. I’m slowly getting there. This year a contact at Trek sent me some ice studs for my shoes at the Worlds; I wouldn’t have even thought ice studs existed.

R: Well nor would we, if that’s any consolation. Does ‘cross give you a better appreciation for your equipment on the road?

 

ER: I think so. Tom Pidcock was running 14 or 15 PSI for course practice at the worlds, and I would never have thought of dropping it that low because I would have been scared of puncturing. There is so much to give in these tyres. There are punctures, but you can make up a lot of time. I’m slowly learning.

 

R: Is there a bit of an obsessive side to ‘cross racers?

 

ER: There are people that will be into that more than others. I’m quite happy with cracking on with it, because when I started racing I never had the best kit or anything. I just rode what I was given. Sometimes that’s not the best mentality; I think sometimes it’s better to be a bit more professional and have the right gear at the right time. When you nail it you’re at a big advantage.

Credit: Andy Whitehouse

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