CYCLOCROSS: In 10 Muddy, Beer Stained Steps

Written by Craig Randall on Twitter.

Photo Credit: Rob O'Dea

1. Dirt + Speed: It’s no wonder many cyclocross races are given the “gran prix” moniker; these suckers are fast and typically circle a short course. Think of it like a road criterium with less chance for limb-thrashing road rash and a propensity for powerslides.

2. Hand-ups: What makes cyclocross such a different animal is that it’s as much about intensity as it is hijinx. “Hand-ups” come in a few varieties; beer hand-ups are when fans place sudsy beverages in the hands of speeding-by racers. It’s like a road race’s feedzone but with a rock n’ roll twist ‘cause these drinks ain’t for hydration. Another common hand-up is cold hard cash. Want the riders to ‘up the pace and incite some chaos? Extend a $5 bill over the course tape and watch these workingmen earn their keep.

3. The hole shot: because they’re short, cyclocross races typically start in a fury with riders sprinting from a wider start line to narrower single track in an effort to snag the coveted hole. Making the hole shot ever more important is that the bulk of a cyclocross race occurs on a narrow course, impacting your ability to pass. Bury yourself to get the hole shot – it’ll hurt but you’ll have great position and, besides, pain is what beer hand-ups are for (see # 2).

4. Call-ups: Cyclocross racing’s most contested race happens before the start gun even fires. The announcer’s “call-up” effectively determines your start line position. If you’re outside of a 1st-through-3rd row call-up you’ll spend your race yo-yo’ing off the back and fighting for thirtieth place. Secured an early row start? Your race will include a fight for the hole shot and a good chance at stealing the ‘w.’ Call-up position is generally determined by your previous racing success (points) or if you’re just a memorable character. Being weird, or being a local, or being well known because of previous race heroics will definitely help your chances of a stellar call-up. But sometimes announcers are just biased. Deal with it. Or just get faster.

5. Intimacy: Cyclocross is an incredibly intimate kind of racing, but if you’re spectating and get a little too close to the action or heckle a little too aggressively, you might get karate kicked at 20 mph. See Belgian pro Bart Wellens, who, after repeated taunts from a fan at a World Cup race lets forth one of the most aggressive (and awesome!) hiii-ya’s! the UCI has ever seen (kick occurs around minute 1:05 in this clip:)

6. Length: generally run between 45-60 minutes, a cyclocross race is an all-out effort that doesn’t require the better part of your day. Race and be home in time for brunch. It’s no cakewalk though; expect your heart rate to be pinned and a hack to linger in your lungs long after the race is over.

7. Juniors: no parent wants to let their kid navigate the open roads these days but in order to nurture the next Sven Nys, you need to start ‘em young. Thankfully there’s cyclocross, where kids can roost around an off-road track, eliminating the danger of cars and increasing the “go play in the dirt” quotient so important in their youth. Plus, a
cyclocross movement is happening with more organization and opportunities for kids to get involved than ever before. Cruise to your local bike shop and ask where the lads are getting muddy. They’ll show you the way.

8. Barriers: Cyclocross is unique in that courses include a number of obstacles intended to showcase a rider’s versatility – porting the bike up a too-steep-to-ride climb, hopping over hay bales, (or if skilled enough, bunnyhopping the barriers: and plenty of bike-handling skills’ tests like off-camber terrain and 180-degree turns. This makes cyclocross an intricate blend of speed, coordination, and maneuvering. Barriers and other obstacles like sand and mud pits amount to a real test of speed and skill.

9. The Elements: Cyclocross is a fall-winter sport, when nature spits insults across the landscape. A ‘crosser’s masochism is only heightened by the foul weather; it’s not uncommon for races to run on iced-out, snowy courses or during pounding rainstorms and bogs of mud. The gnarlier the weather, the gnarlier the racing…and the bigger the post-race smile.

10. Beer gardens: You might have noticed a theme emerging in this list. Yes, it’s beer. Races are generally held on a closed course loop making it more conducive for spectators than any other type of bike race. Plus, given the nasty weather that usually accompanies it, fans need something to quaff to deal with the cold and help bring out their inner super fan (shirtless dudes with painted chests aren’t just at home in football stadiums anymore). And because it’s the stepchild of more serious cycling disciplines like road racing and cross county mountain biking, even the racers will mingle with the huddled masses for a pint or two of post-race revelry.

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