Here in the United States, bike racing isn’t the biggest scene. There are few large races that attract spectators, major sponsors, and popular media coverage. Sure, there are some – a couple stage races held out in the wilderness a couple thousand miles away, or a big ninety-minute crit held in a city half the continent away, but for the most part, road racing a niche sport with a slim Pro scene spread thinly throughout a huge country.
The opportunities to be entertained by cycling are those that one makes for one’s self.
Enter cyclocross. In the United States, cyclocross brings bike racing to the people – in so many ways. It’s the discipline at which the barrier between Professionals and amateurs dissolves a little bit. There’s a healthy and growing pack of UCI races filling the calendar; there’s even a professional series in New England. All this is enough to attract people like Bart Wellens, Francis Mourey, and many more to start their seasons here.
And as cyclocross brings Professional racing into our local parks, it also builds relationships with new riders. It’s undeniably a major avenue for growth of the sport. As the top tier of bike racing is riddled with real politik, strange scandals, backdoor deals, teams collapsing, corporate intrigue, curious economics, and other highfallutin nonsense, here in the United States, cyclocross is the sport of the people. Races can be less intensive to organize than crits or road races, can be held on private property circumventing the need for town permits, and so can be cheaper, smaller, and more ubiquitous. And perhaps most importantly, it’s a beginner-friendly sport. What better way to remove the fear of crashing by making it slow, soft, and in a park? Beginners can get dropped in road races and plod around the route, alone and miserable, never to return to a starting line. In cyclocross, I’d happily wager that it’s as easy to have fun at the back of the race as it is as the front. Quite possibly more. In a country that’s spend a hundred years making people forget about their bicycles by dangling shiny cars in front of their faces and building freeways outside their homes, we have to develop cycling and bike racing from the ground, up. Cyclocross does that.
As Lindsey points out in his piece, cyclocross has a lot a lot going for it. It’s dense, all-out racing that is spectator-friendly. We find cyclocross easy to love – around in the dirt on long autumn days, riding over challenging terrain, hanging out in a park with your friends. But we also find it very easy to be cyclocross fans. There’s a chaos to cyclocross that makes it entertaining. It rides like the last hour of a classic race – dense, full-throttle racing, demanding perfection deep into the red. Tangle in a corner, put a foot down in the mud, or bobble in a corner and watch as your favorite rider’s race is nearly over.
The beauty of the racing, therefore, is that it demands perfection in a way that road cycling can’t match. To watch the top tier of the sport, it’s immediately visible in the combination of fluidity and grace, power, perseverance, pain, and anaerobic awe. We can watch a race take place on the other side of the world, watch the smoothness with which somebody takes barriers or lets their bike float over miserably rutted terrain, and realize that we too can get better. We can take those lessons home – we can go to the park or to the local singletrack. We may not be genetic freaks with huge engines, but if we practice the barriers a thousand times we can go over as smooth as any Belgian pro. We might not do it as fast as they would but if we ride this stretch of trail a few more times we’ll get that corner carved perfectly, with barely a touch of the brakes.
We are inspired.