September 2017 - BICYCLING & MOUNTAIN BIKING
Jump Into Cyclocross!
By Scott Birdsey
#crossiscoming – As I write this in late August, about every other image in my Instagram feed is currently labeled as such. That strange and beautiful thing called cyclocross is upon us.
‘Cross is labeled a niche sport, and understandably so. The average American, no matter how athletically-inclined, is unlikely to have a reference point. We’re working on it. For a convert like myself, there’s no shortage of imagery I can share: bright lycra skinsuits dulled by spatterings of mud, the snaking geometry of course tape through a park, the mad ravings of course announcers calling the action, all saturated in that romantically crisp bliss of Northeast autumn air. And the adrenaline of the race. Oh man, the adrenaline.
Let’s all get on the same page: ‘cross happens in a park, where a course has been constructed out of staked race tape, creating a three-mile loop about the width of a lane of road. Grass, dirt, sand, ruts, off-camber, hairpin turns, and if it rains there’s mud. Later there’s snow. I won’t soon forget the experience of racing a bike in lycra in 25-degree weather at CX Nationals in Hartford, Conn., last year. It all happens with your heart pumping at an unreasonable speed, and a crowd of spectators urging you to go faster, and catch the wheel ahead of you. It’s weird, it’s fun, it’s communal and it’s addictive. The whole race day is a big party, where you can relax and enjoy food and beverages with friends after your race. You need to see it for yourself – good thing there’s YouTube! I highly recommend looking up the 2017 Elite Women’s World Championship in Bieles, Luxembourg.
You know what’s awesome? In upstate New York, we’re in a hotbed of American cross, and 2017 is going to be bigger than ever, with races of every size happening almost every weekend. Get on bikereg.com and see for yourself! If you’re new to the sport and wanting to dip a toe in, most local cycling clubs will have a connection to a local practice or clinic going on.
Grassroots races are the lifeblood of cyclocross, and happen all over our region. Expect most of the fields to peak at about 20 to 30 racers, but expect no shortness of quality or passion in the experience. In the Capital Region and surrounding area, we run the NYCROSS Race Series that’s in its 12th year. The series stretches over the course of the fall: Kirkland Cyclocross on September 9 in Clinton (near Utica); Uncle Sam Cyclocross GP on October 7-8 in Troy; Wicked Creepy Cross on October 29 in Bennington, Vt.; and Bethlehem Cup on November 19 in Delmar. For details, visit nycross.com.
With the western New York scene on one side and the masses of New England racers on the other, the NYCROSS races tend to get a nice mash-up of different regional crowds. Each of our courses are like a fine wine, having been aged and perfected over the years, and we couldn’t be prouder of them!
But those central and western New Yorkers are doing big things too, and you’ll find no shortage of races from Syracuse to Buffalo. In fact, Rochester is the site of the very first American UCI race on September 9-10 at Genesee Valley Park, and will feature several of the biggest domestic names at the pro level. There’s nothing like watching the pros race on the very same course that you raced on earlier in the day. Go to rochestercyclocross.com.
Cider Cross, which is held outside Syracuse on an apple orchard – what’s more bucolic than that! – will host New York’s annual Cyclocross Championship on November 5 at the Beak & Skiff Apple Orchard, where the coveted NYS Champion jerseys will be awarded for various racing categories by the New York Bicycle Racing Association (nysbra.com). Check out cidercross.com.
Which brings us to New England. I personally will be driving over the Berkshires several times this season to get my legs ripped off by the unbridled talent that comprises New England bike racing culture. Arguably the cradle of American CX, Massachusetts and Connecticut have some major events happening this year that are helping to take the American movement to even greater heights.
First up is the KMC Cross Fest on the September 28 to October 1 weekend at the Thompson Speedway in Thompson, Conn. It’s a four-day festival that features Gran Fondo New England, races for everyone, and big vendor presence, KMC is now one of four races selected to be part of a brand new US Cyclocross Cup supported by USA Cycling. This series offers major cash and prestige, so expect pro races for men and women at KMC to be lit! Remember – this isn’t a road race – because it’s on a closed course, spectating a cross race is honestly almost as exhilarating as racing yourself. It hurts a whole lot less, but don’t expect to have much of a speaking voice leftover if it’s a tight race. See kmccrossfest.com.
The real gran-daddy of them all is Adam Myerson’s Vittoria Northeast Cyclocross Series, a four-event series that takes athletes to Gloucester, Mass. on October 14-15; Northampton, Mass. on November 11-12; Suffern, NY on November 18-19; and Warwick, RI on December 2-3. The series has been one of the standard-bearers stateside for years. Learn more at necyclocross.com. With major sponsors onboard, these races will feel like scaled-up versions of their grassroots brethren – the same communal passion, but more of everything – race fields swell to over 100 in a field, courses are more varied, and everyone brings their best legs. Visit necyclocross.com.
Cyclocross is unparalleled in localism and inclusiveness, qualities that are indispensable in this brave new world of fake news and fidget spinners! It’s happening near you in a public park, where you can watch the race unfold all around you. Bring your dogs, bring your kids, and bring some cash for a tasty post-race treat from the local food truck.
There are hopeful amateurs that treat each race with the seriousness of a moon launch (guilty), and there are characters donning costumes to heckle friends so bring on the LOLs. And hey, riding around on grass means slower speeds than races of the road variety, which means that it’s for all ages, and all levels of sanity. Crashing out in a race hurts substantially less on grass at 10 mph than on pavement at 25 mph – ask me how I know!
Scott Birdsey (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an Albany bike racer and web designer. He holds 2017 NYS Champion titles in gravel and criterium racing, and is the race director for the 2017 Uncle Sam Grand Prix, part of the NYCROSS Series. Visit his website at scottbirdsey.com.