Cy­clocross Rac­ing Is On Fire!

Once a fringe as­pect of cy­cling, Cy­clocross is be­com­ing an in­creas­ingly popular sport across the globe.

Mountain Bike for Her - - Contents - Words by Michelle Lam­bert

Once a fringe as­pect of cy­cling, Cy­clocross is be­com­ing an in­creas­ingly popular sport across the globe.

What is Cy­clocross?

Cy­clocross is a form of bi­cy­cle rac­ing in which rac­ers com­pete in a timed event on a fairly short loop course - usu­ally a 2.5 kilo­me­tre lap - which makes them easy to hold in ur­ban ar­eas. The course is a mix of dirt, pave­ment, grass, and trails. It forces the rider to dis­mount at speed and run with their bi­cy­cle over a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent ob­sta­cles; the rider re­mounts as quickly as pos­si­ble and rides un­til con­fronted by the next ob­sta­cle. Th­ese ob­sta­cles can be made up of wooden planks, steep hills, deep mud or sand, wa­ter cross­ings, and more. The rid­ers com­pete for a cer­tain amount of min­utes plus one lap, at the end of which the win­ner crosses the line.

The Ori­gins of Cy­clocross

Cy­clocross was thought to have be­gun as a way for Euro­pean road cy­clists to stay fit dur­ing the win­ter months. The first cy­clocross com­pe­ti­tions were more what we would con­sider a point-to­point race to­day. The rac­ers would tra­verse through dirt trails, fields, and rivers, thus per­fect­ing their skills and main­tain­ing their rac­ing fit­ness for the up­com­ing road sea­son. It wasn't un­til French­man Oc­tave Lapize won the 1910 Tour de France - and at­trib­uted his suc­cess to his win­ter cy­clocross train­ing pro­gram - that other rac­ers re­ally started to take it se­ri­ously. Cy­clocross be­gan tak­ing off as an of­fi­cial bike rac­ing dis­ci­pline. The first Na­tional Cham­pi­onships were held in France in 1902, and Bel­gium had their first Cham­pi­onships in 1910. In the 1970s, cy­clocross started gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity in the United States, and it re­ally started catch­ing on in the late 1990s. Early course de­sign­ers used many of the nat­u­ral fea­tures found along the trails to cre­ate bar­ri­ers, jumps, and run-ups. Th­ese in­cluded creeks, logs, sand pits, muddy fields and fences; earn­ing the nick­name “Jun­gle Cross” which was a term that was coined to de­scribe some of the tech­ni­cal, nat­u­ral, and rooty cour­ses in the Santa Cruz area. At first there were few women par­tic­i­pat­ing, but there has been a steady in­crease in fe­male par­tic­i­pa­tion with higher num­bers seen in the last few years at the pro and am­a­teur level. Women have had their own UCI Cham­pi­onship

since the year 2000 and are re­ally mak­ing a name for them­selves. With the in­creased pop­u­lar­ity of cy­clocross in­ter­na­tion­ally, the com­pe­ti­tion is get­ting tougher and tougher each year. Many rac­ers are be­com­ing “spe­cial­ists” at cy­clocross rac­ing; tak­ing it on as their main dis­ci­pline rather than as a way to stay fit in the off-sea­son.

The Nor­Cal Race Scene

North­ern Cal­i­for­nia has had a strong cy­clocross pres­ence since 1975, with the first U.S. Na­tional Cham­pi­onships held that year in Berke­ley, Cal­i­for­nia. In the 1980s, cy­clocross re­ally took off with help from the leg­endary Surf City Cy­clocross Se­ries, the old­est cy­clocross se­ries in the U.S. In De­cem­ber 1984, the Na­tional Cy­clocross Cham­pi­onships were held at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia Santa Cruz cam­pus. On De­cem­ber 23rd, 1984 at the Nor­Cal Dis­trict Cham­pi­onships, Jac­quie Phelan won the women's cat­e­gory, where she raced along­side the pro men (men and women raced to­gether) and fin­ished 24th over­all and first in the women's cat­e­gory. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, other se­ries started pop­ping up - such as the Bay Area Su­per Pres­tige and CCCX - through­out North­ern Cal­i­for­nia. Th­ese races have helped change cy­clocross with des­ig­nated women’s cat­e­gories and a gen­er­ally more party-like at­mos­phere. The ba­sic tra­di­tion of Nor­Cal cy­clocross rac­ing con­tin­ues to be a part of many Bay Area cy­clist’s fall and win­ter sched­ules.

The Pro Women

In the last few years, some re­mark­able fe­male rac­ers have been emerg­ing onto the in­ter­na­tional cross rac­ing scene: Katie Comp­ton, Ka­te­rina Nash, Mered­ith Miller, Mar­i­anne Vos, and Mi­cal Dyck just to name a few. Katie Comp­ton is the first Amer­i­can woman to podium at the Cy­clocross World Cham­pi­onships in Bel­gium, and she has won the USA Cy­cling Cy­clocross Cham­pi­onships ti­tle each year from 2004 to 2010 and again in 2012, 2013. She has 16 World Cup wins and 75 UCI wins, mak­ing her the most suc­cess­ful US cy­clocross ath­lete (male or fe­male) in the sport! She ended the 2012 cy­clocross sea­son by be­com­ing the first Amer­i­can ever to win the UCI Cy­clocross World Cup over­all. Her World Cup per­for­mances were amaz­ing, never plac­ing lower than sec­ond in seven races, which marks a ma­jor achieve­ment for Amer­i­can women in in­ter­na­tional cy­clocross. In Jan­uary 2010, Ka­te­rina Nash won the UCI world cup race in Roubaix and fin­ished 3rd in the 2011 UCI World Cham­pi­onships. Re­cently, Mered­ith Miller won the 2014 CrossVe­gas race, with only 100 me­ters left of the race she sprinted past Katie Comp­ton for the victory! Mar­i­anne Vos won the 2012 Velo In­ter­na­tional Cy­clocross Women’s award. In ad­di­tion, she won a bronze medal at the 2006 UCI Cy­clocross Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships. In 2013, Vos started her year off with a bang at the Cy­clocross World Cham­pi­onships, win­ning her fifth World Cham­pi­onship in a row which brought her to six cham­pi­onships over­all. Mi­cal Dyck was crowned Canadian Na­tional Cy­clocross Cham­pion, beat­ing out Olympians and for­mer cham­pi­ons to claim the ti­tle. Th­ese women have a ded­i­ca­tion and pas­sion for cy­clocross and spend ev­ery week­end from Septem­ber to Fe­bru­ary rac­ing, trav­el­ling from one venue to the next, and criss-cross­ing the world to race their butts off; and have the re­sults to prove it. It’s th­ese fe­male rac­ers that in­spired me to try my first cy­clocross race a few years ago and I have loved cy­clocross ever since.

The Cy­clocross Ex­pe­ri­ence

Cy­clocross rac­ing is a painful, anaer­o­bic, puke­fest of a sport, but so much fun! You are rid­ing as hard as you can, jump­ing off your bike and run­ning over bar­ri­ers, through sand or up short steep hills, with no chance for a breather. Along with this crazy tor­ture is a scene con­tain­ing some of the most en­er­getic

and friendli­est bunch of peo­ple you'll ever meet.

The cy­clocross scene is more low-key and re­laxed than many other types of bike races. Mi­cro­brews and fine Bel­gian ales are ev­ery­where and of­ten handed to you dur­ing your race; cos­tume races on Hal­loween, and dollar bill hand-ups have all con­trib­uted to cy­clocross' laid back and re­laxed at­mos­phere. Good-na­tured heck­ling is also a part of the sport so be pre­pared to be goaded on by your friends and fam­ily dur­ing your race, which eases the pain when you are forced to crack a smile.

Each area has its own unique cy­clocross scene, with its own spe­cial tra­di­tions, clas­sic races, and lo­cal race his­tory; all are a part of a larger global com­mu­nity. The rac­ers, pro­mot­ers, and spec­ta­tors you will en­counter in cy­clocross are pas­sion­ate about the sport and love to share sto­ries about their own cross ad­ven­tures.

The ca­ma­raderie at a cy­clocross race is amaz­ing. More women are re­al­iz­ing that cy­clocross rac­ing is an awe­some way to spend a Satur­day or Sun­day; pound­ing it out on a course, then shar­ing race sto­ries on the fin­ish line.

If you haven't checked out a lo­cal cross race you re­ally should, it's an ex­pe­ri­ence to be had! It’s a very spec­ta­tor friendly sport - those watch­ing can see the rac­ers pass by 4 or 5 (or more) times in any given race. Chances are you will show up the next time with your bike to give this bar­rier hop­ping, cow­bell ring­ing, beer hand­out, fun­fest a try! You don't need an ac­tual cy­clocross bike to par­tic­i­pate, a moun­tain bike will work just fine and can ac­tu­ally give an ad­van­tage on a rough tech­ni­cal course.

In its purest form, noth­ing will sharpen your bike-han­dling skills like rid­ing a skinny-tire, drop-bar cy­clocross bike over grass, roots, mud, sand, and what­ever else might be thrown your way. And when you pull across the fin­ish line, some­one might hand you a cold brew and give you a high five.

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