Friday Group Ride #99


Well, it’s Cross Nationals week. All day we’re getting text updates on the new age-bracket national champs, and here in the States the elite race is coming Sunday in Madison, Wisconsin.

It is more or less accepted, I think, that cyclocross has arrived with the masses this season. A ramping popularity seems finally to have reached critical mass.

Historically a way for road racers to keep fit in the off-season, cyclocross has long since become a discipline and focus unto itself, and, at least in this country, it has a unique culture that thumbs its nose at the more, shall we say, rigid culture of road racing.

Cross is inclusive. It’s fun. It has cow bells and heckling. It has beer and dollar primes and donut hand ups. There is a sense, among most racers, that they’re in it together, slogging through the mud, sliding out in off-camber turns, tromping through the sand or dancing through the barriers. Cross invites you to race for survival, if not the podium.

Stars like Katie Compton, Jeremy Powers, Ryan Trebon, Tim Johnson, Jonathan Page, and Kaitlin Antoneau have shown cross’s more charming side, and the more down-to-earth atmosphere at events brings fans closer to the stars. Not that you always want to get closer to someone covered in mud and gasping for breath.

This week’s Group Ride asks the question: Are you watching cyclocross? Are you following it some other way? Does this thing have legs? Or is this just another bandwagon for cycling nuts to jump on?


Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

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  1. todd k

    I participate in cyclocross more than I watch the activity. I do follow the cross pros, but not quite to the degree I follow the road pros.

    Cyclocross has legs in the US. It has the same raw element of suffering that is found out on in road racing, but it appears to be a lot more accessible. The races are contained to under an hour. That is just short enough for you to attempt to fake your way into into fitness with a handful of hours each week. But it is also just long enough that it is not over so quickly that you come away from it feeling you missed something for that investment of your time. Even if you finish DFL you feel you just did something worthwhile.

    The cost to entry is pretty reasonable as far as racing a bike goes.

    Many regions now have enough races to make seasonal engagement worthwhile so you can do something participative for an extended period of time. Folks seem to like that aspect.

    It occurs during a time of year when many need some motivation to continue to stay active, but are also more likely to have some time available.

    The closed course makes it specatator friendly for the family and friends as well as yourself after your race.

    It has the appearance that it is less painful when you crash. Generally it is less painful to crash. And it is also ok to crash. Heck, you expect to crash on occaision. And you come to expect that you will get right back up and finish your race and will generally have no more than a couple of bruises and maybe a bit of blood. Most of the time anways.

    Many of the promoters and officials let folks continue racing on the course even if they are lapped or fall well off the back. If you are off the back, there are often so many other folks off the back with you that you still feel like you are in a race.

    And who doesn’t love a good excuse to get dirty?

    The activity at the grass roots is geared towards inclusion. Fit,unfit, young, old, pro, weekend warrior, short, tall, narrow, wide, etc, etc, etc….

    There is a lot to like about the activity.

  2. Ransom

    I dig it. While I was interested in bikes from an early age, when I started being most involved was in high school in the late ’80s, when mountain biking still had a serious silly streak, so to speak. Cyclocross seems to share that sense of being able to take it as seriously as you want to, but being substantially about a good time even up close to the front, and is worth doing even at the back (and I should know, at least about the latter).

  3. Jim

    I race it and promote a race. Watch the pros on a grainy internet feed when the course is interesting – Nacht van Woerden or Zondhofen for instance. Enjoy hanging out and watching friends race, will stick to watch the pros at regional elite events (Granogue, etc). Good scene, good racing, always some fun feature on the course that’s enjoyable to watch people try to ride through; the spectating is really fabulous and I pride myself on heckles that are funny enough to periodically force a pro off their bike in laughter. Been at it several years, it totally stole me away from roadracing and may have been my gateway drug into MTB riding / racing. I’m not good at it but I love me some cross.

  4. Hautacam

    CX right now reminds me of the local MTB racing boom in late 80s and early 90s. Growing very fast, probably peaking soon. And like local MTB racing, it has lots of good things going for it (see todd k’s post). Unlike local MTB racing, I hope that CX persists even after the growth levels off, so that every town or city has a reliable set of CX races, just like most places have seasonal 10K runs, 5K runs, a marathon or two, and a couple of triathalons. And I hope there is always a place for the “laughing group” on patched-together bikes, there for the beer handups and the sheer silliness and fun of sliding around in the mud. I am happy that some people can earn a living doing it but I am not particularly interested in them as “stars,” though I’d chat with any of them and buy them a beer for their trouble.

  5. Dan O

    Cyclocross flat out rocks. Spectating and participating. Very cool scene indeed, especially here in the Seattle area. I barely qualify as a racer and dabbled with a few ‘cross races, receiving a royal ass kicking and having a great time. My 12 year old son is currently the real racer of the family. This season he competed in the local MFG and Seattle series. Great stuff.

    Cyclocross is a mixture of roadies, mountain bikers, recreational types, single speed crazies, and assorted hangers on. The courses are short and spectator friendly. Maybe technical for roadies, maybe not so for mountain bikers. Perfect for kids and adults to dip their toes into the racing water. No peloton to be dropped from, no super technical mountain bike terrain. It works for one and all. Plus, what’s cooler looking then a well set up ‘cross bike?

    This is one cycling bandwagon every one should jump on. As witnessed by the growing number of folks getting involved – it’s here to stay.

  6. Touriste-Routier

    As a grass roots participation sport in the US, it has legs for all the reasons stated above, and evidenced by the number of entries at events.

    As a true professional/spectator sport in the US, it has a large uphill battle, due to poor marketing, lack of non-endemic spectators, and few revenue streams.

  7. dvgmacdonald

    I’ll be down at Nats tomorrow most of the day. I don’t race, due mostly to a lack of time, but taking the family to watch CX is an opportunity I refuse to miss. Such a fun, affordable day out. I can’t think of a better opportunity to get close to world class athletes & see what they can do.

  8. Author

    Man, I sure wish I could be in Madison today for CX Nats. I have a whole bucket of heckling and no where to use it. The wife would definitely frown on me heckling the kids while they ride up and down the street, but…

    1. Padraig

      Wait, we’re not supposed to heckle our kids? Wow. I must have misread that parenting manual. I suspect I’m getting other stuff wrong as well. Next thing you know I’m going to find out I’m not supposed to leave a two-year-old unattended while I go out for a four-hour ride.

  9. M M Smith

    I love riding my road bike (or any bike for that matter)in the dirt. But, I don’t know, I already have significant dental issues, and that dismount thing screams faceplant to me.

  10. Chanti

    My husband has raced some CX in the past and we usually stream the World Cup, Superprestige, and GVA series early on weekend mornings before starting our day.

    Last season we both geared up for racing – he did a few and I got one in before finding out I was pregnant (8 weeks at the time of the race) so we’ve been back to watching this year (time gets away from you with a 6 month old). Hope to get back out racing next year and future years for fun (I’m definitely not good, but it really doesn’t matter – still loads of fun). I think it will be a great activity with a young one.

    We have hosted World Cup parties the last 3 years in the wee hours of the morning (to watch live) with waffles and Belgium beers. If all goes well we definitely plan to go watch CX world championships in Louisville 2013!

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