Masters World Championships 2013

Cyclocross World Championships held in the USA for the first time in 2013

After a nice visit to my extended family in S. Cal last week, I realized two things needed doing. First, I had to do my best to explain why an otherwise sane person wouldchoose to fly across the country to race his bike in sub-freezing rain, mud, or even snow, and be forced to carry his bicycle over obstacles that were purposely placed in front of me. And secondly, how could I put the sport into terms that non-cyclists would understand. My family is super-excited and learning lots about cross, but Wikipedia’s Cross Page hardly does the sport justice.

What exactly is a cyclocross race, and how it is different from other cycling disciplines? In simple terms, a cross race involves racing your bike on a ~3k long course that can be located just about anywhere there is pavement, grass, dirt, mud and/or sand. Often times fields and surrounding obstacles such as stadium steps, livestock stables, or any other “features” are used. Bikes are modified road bikes that have slightly wider tires with off-road tread and brakes from touring bikes that will allow for running the wider tires. Its elegance is its simplicity. Racers start together in a mass sprint where they fight for the “hole-shot”–the first person into the corner. Position really matters as courses are narrow and often very hard to pass other riders on without taking significant risks. Races typically last about an hour, where riders neither eat or drink and simply pedal their absolute hardest until they either explode or finish the race. In the best of all worlds, the explosion happens just *after* you cross the line, and not before. And that’s cross, in a nutshell.

While other cycling disciplines can make legitimate claims as being exciting to spectate, cyclocross offers fans a unique atmosphere in the US to really enjoy cycling in a whole new way. Besides the ubiquitous riot of cowbells, mud and beverages, cyclocross allows fans to cheer (or jeer) their favorite riders multiple times per race. The difficulty of the elements spreads racers out into small groups, making it action-packed with very little waiting to see action. There’s of course the thrills, spills, heroes and underdogs, but fundamentally cross pushes the rider to the very limits of their abilities as they push their oxygen-deprived bodies through a technical time-trial for an hour. It really is an hour of truth where the strongest, most proficient (and a little lucky) rider often prevails. Its a story of triumph where you never know what the conditions or your competitors will throw at you, what parts may fail, and where it requires your mind to be as sharp as your body. There is no tuning out in a cross race–you have to constantly be aware of where you are placing your front tire, what the riders around you are doing, all the while your vision is blurring, your mouth tastes of mud (or is that horse shit?), and you realize the scary truth–there is nothing else you’d rather be doing than being right here, right now, on your bike.

So for my non-cycling friends, here’s my attempt to explain the inexplicable. Where else in racing can you push yourself to the limits, but grab a dollar from a bottle on the side of the course, or even get a hi-carbohydrate beverage while in the race? Cross has something for everyone, including the spectators. I love this sport, I love the people, the community, the fun that everyone has from kids to adults.

I personally find cross so rewarding because it pushes my limits physically and mentally in ways I can’t do in other disciplines of cycling. You have to be strong to ride fast, but that’s only the beginning. You need skills, finesse, fortitude and a fair bit of luck. Its you vs. the course and other riders, a challenge that I find all-encompassing. While it may not be for everyone, once you are bitten by the bug, you’ll never be the same.

Here’s a little montage that might help explain the inexplicable.

Whatever floats your boat

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