Feature Chat: Cross Legend Paul Oldham

We chat with multiple National Trophy winner and a former British CX champion who’s done pretty dam good in mountain biking; Paul Oldham

RST Cycle Clothing & Trigon Bikes

Feature Chat: Cross Legend Paul Oldham

The Hope Factory Racing rider Paul Oldham, on Saturday, did his first ever vets race in cyclo-cross and won it. Afterwards, he popped by the VeloUK motorhome for a chat. He started by explaining that he’d done the same in mountain biking this season, riding the vets races there too.

“I did in it mountain biking so I could ride the masters worlds” he explained. “It was a little project that didn’t go to plan but, if I wanted to do the world masters, I couldn’t ride any elite races because of the rules so I had to move up.”

Paul’s approach to the cyclo-cross season that followed was a slow one as he explained. “I had a really busy back end to the mountain bike season where I rode the Swiss Epic in September and then was straight into the Three Peaks.”

The Derby National Trophy was next for Paul before a league race in Abergavenny and then the National Trophy there. “I felt tired post mountain bike season. It was all long stuff, like nine marathon races in September. I could race every day if there wasn’t all the other things that go with racing and that is what wears you down over the season, not the actual racing. That’s the easy bit.”

Despite that fatigue from the MTB season, Paul started his Trophy season with sixth in Derby and then 5th in Abergavenny. The next race was a win in the Vets race at Shrewsbury. He explained that unlike MTB, in cross he can still compete in the Elite category so it’s not a move to the vets completely.

“With cross, I was third at the nationals last year so I am still competitive as an elite. But I do want to have a go at the (vets) nationals because you can’t pass up the opportunity to win the national jersey what ever the category so I want to ride that in January. So I thought if I can do this, it might help me be another row higher on the grid!”

Paul however knew it was not going to be easy with what he admits are really good riders in the category like Nick Craig who he describes as incredible as well as Ian Taylor, 45 to 50 world champion along with others such as Jim Bryan and Kris Lapere. “I was so nervous going into the race as you can’t take the win for granted.”

Asked, does he see a big element of mountain bikers doing cyclocross, he replied, “it used to be riders crossing over from the road but most now race MTB to some degree during the summer.”

Winner last Saturday but lady lady luck was not on his side on Sunday

Different riders like different courses – Nick Craig enjoys a bit of mud for example – so I asked Paul, what type of course does he like. “I don’t like deep mud where you are running. I like courses like Bradford and Hetton with elevation changes which suit me.”

Paul, riding in Hope colours, races bikes with a lot of his sponsors products so we asked what on the bike is from the Hope factory in Lancashire. The reply was wheels, brakes, seat post, headset and bottom bracket … “The different pieces of kit we make has gradually grown in number and in mountain biking we make pretty much all the bike bar a few items but we don’t do as much road or cross stuff”.

One of the well known Hope products is the disc brake which is becoming part and parcel of every type of bike these days, on road and off it where it made its mark first. “We moved to disc brakes in 2011 when I was national champ” Paul explained.

“It was the first year on discs and no one really did an hydraulic lever so we made a cable to hydraulic converter which was a kind of a stop gap until everyone caught up and hydraulic levers and shifters became the norm. Now we sell the callipers that will work with SRAM or Shimano levers”.

The days LoL when Nick Craig was looking up to champion Paul Oldham ;-) 

I then asked Paul about bike changes in ‘cross. Its part and parcel of the sport and I asked whether it was an automatic thing each lap to change bikes or did it depend on how the bike felt under him on the course that day?

“On a course like today (Sat, Shrewsbury) it was picking up quite badly and a lot of leaves and I wanted all my mechs on for tomorrow so I was doing half lap or full lap changes. We also worked out it uses less water if you change more often.”

“Today, the way the pits were laid out, you lost time changing a bike, quite a bit of time, but it was still a worth it, a safety thing and quicker for the pit crew to wash it more often. If you wait four laps to give them a bike, it will take two laps to clean it!”

With all that jet washing though, surely that must mean a lot of work on the bikes between races? “It is not too bad really. I have three bikes and if you split it down, they don’t get used that much over a winter.”

Muddy and running … Durham a few years ago on a day when the pits were very busy indeed

“I maybe do a chain mid-season depending on how grim the weather has been. You need to keep on top of chain rings, with these narrow/wide chain rings, if they get worn, you start dropping chains.” (Note … Narrow-wide chain rings have alternating narrow and wide teeth). “As a rule, bearings will last a few seasons as our stuff is pretty jet wash proof.”

Speaking of chain rings, one of the first to run a single chain ring, certainly in this generation of domestic cross riders was Paul Oldham. “I have been single chain ring for probably eight or nine years now” he admitted.

“We were trying it before there were clutch rear mechs and narrow-wide chain rings. I push quite a big gear and found I was never using the little ring so thought why am I carrying a front mech and double chain set when I hardly ever use it so now I run a 44 tooth chain on the front pretty much everywhere. I may go to a 42 at Bradford.”

Another of the things that is synonymous with cyclocross is getting on and off and slipping that cleat into the pedal quickly so no time is lost getting off the line or anywhere else. Paul told us he uses Shimano pedals. “I just use Shimano pedals all the time and think they are brilliant. I stick to what I know even though they may not be the best in muddy conditions and now I don’t race on the road, I use them pedals and shoes all year.”

A skill in cycling in general is knowing what tyre pressure to use for specific courses and conditions. It’s not obvious to outsiders but whether it’s on the road or in ‘cross, tyre pressures are a key thing for a rider to learn about and make the most of to get the best grip and hopefully, avoid falling off.

Dave Mellor told me a story for example about a youngster getting a change of bike in the pits when the rain started to fall and he promptly fell off as the tyres were too hard. He came in, yelled tyres, and the person in the pits, pumped them UP…when he wanted less pressure! He fell again!”

So how does Paul deal with tyre pressures? You roughly know what you are going to put in and if it’s dry, you will put a little extra in or if it’s wet, a little less and then you’ll go out and practice and you might decide to let some more out and then make the rest the same. It’s more on feel really.”
… continued after advert


Skills of Cross
When you watch a cross race and Paul racing, as an outsider, if he lacks any skills, it’s not easy to see as he races with the best in the business from the starts, over the hurdles and ploughing through the mud. Talking to Paul he doesn’t come across as some one confident of his cross skills but he certainly does okay!

“I started doing cross in 1997 and in them days, I was training with Chris Young and there was a right good group like. We’d go to parks and we’d do all the skill sessions; practice the jumping on and off, starts, everything and we’d always go to Morely sessions on Wednesday night.”

That was twenty years ago and nowadays, as he admits, life gets busy and something has to give and that is skills work. “I used do a lot of skills sessions but it is something I neglect now because life is pretty busy with youngsters and their activities as well as my own training and racing”.

Because Paul concentrates now more on the fitness side of things when he can, he does find it takes a little while to get back into the groove again skills wise in cross and they improve as the season goes by.

Seven years ago and Paul was still battling with Ian Field at the front of cross races

Of the skills in cross, the start he says is a critical one to get right. “You may not win the race but you can make it very hard for yourself with a bad one. Like today (Vets, Saturday, Shrewsbury), I got a reasonable start – I was on the fifth row of the grid and I was top five by the first corner.”

“Since I have got older, I have struggled with the start a little bit. It’s ‘orrible the start but once it settles down, I bounce back a bit. These kids though are so quick!”…

On the subject of skills, Paul explained he learnt from national champions (like Chris Young) and recently went to Scotland to show today’s youngsters a few skills. “I learnt from guys who’d been national champions and that sticks with you” he explained.

“We did a coaching thing the other week in Scotland and they would ask ‘what is the right way’ and there isn’t a right way; it is whatever you can do that works best for you.”

“Some people get off on the right, some on the left, some hold the top tube and so on … there are a million ways of doing it but there isn’t a right or wrong way as long as you get over them (hurdles) as quick as you can. I’m stuck in my ways and done it the same way for 20 years.”

I then asked about bunny hoping the planks? “You don’t gain a great deal” he replied, “sometimes half a length or a length but it is a big risk. I used do that when I was young” he added…

Four times a winner of the National Trophy

And does Paul like to sit in the wheels before making a big push on or lead a race on his own which we have seen him do so many times including the vets race at Shrewsbury. “I don’t like riding with people – no mates me! If I could be 30 seconds in front of every race, that would suit me down to the ground. When I am in a group, I like to be on the front of it. I don’t have much change of speed so I like to choose my own line and don’t like hanging on a wheel”.

Other skills like the mini bergs (riding up a bank) are about technique he says and that is something he has always been good at whilst riding in mud takes time to learn. “Finding the right line choice in mud comes with experience; you learn to get a feel for it and you can’t teach it. You may find in practise, there will be a line round the course done by people riding a lot slower than race pace and then people will try and race on it. You need to be ‘inventive’ though in choosing the line”.

… continued after advert


Finally, where is Paul’s head when it comes to competing at the highest level in cyclo-cross? Four times a winner of the series; 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2013 and in 2011 was British champion. So is being an elite rider in cyclocross something he wants to hold on to?

“Yes. I found this in mountain biking … winning a vet race is not the same. I’m not sure if that is because of the success I’ve had as an elite but I don’t get the same thrill winning a vets race as I would winning an elite one – I would happier with 5th in the elite race than winning a vets one”.

So is age just a number in the head? “I have to do things different now” Paul admits. “Like earlier this year before the MTB worlds, I looked back at my training diary from four years ago when I was probably the best I have ever been and thought I can’t do that”.

“I can do the work but I can’t recover from it. As far as actual ability, I haven’t changed much. I’m not at the front but I am in the mix for fourth to 15th. If you are a little off the pace, then you’re 15th on a bad day but on a good day, you can trouble podium and it’s a fine line from there.”

A fine line indeed and as well as a good day, riders need luck and he certainly didn’t have that on the Sunday when he was 19th after a fifth and sixth in this years series (Elite races). Paul showed in beating a legend like Nick Craig on Saturday who was 4th on Sunday, that there is plenty left in his tank and we look forward to his race at Kent on a course which may well suit him…

Thank you Paul for the chat!



Send your results as well as club, team & event news here


Other Results on VeloUK (including reports containing results)

Other News on VeloUK

Tags: , ,