Cyclocross competitors ramp up the excitement in Boulder

From the Daily Camera

Tyler Clark, left, Calder Wood, and Scott Funston, carry their bikes up the stairs during the Junior Men’s race on Saturday, as the U.S. Open of Cyclocross returned to Valmont Bike Park in Boulder. Events featured both top-level professional and amateur cyclists, including internationally-sanctioned events for Junior Men (17-18) and Under-23 Men. For more photos, go to dailycamera.com. (Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer)

“Focus, get your game face on!” “Fast feet! Quick eyes!” parents yelled as their children faced off at the starting line.

On a windy Saturday morning in north Boulder, children took steep turns on a dusty path, carried bikes up stairs and peddled hard and fast with crowds following their every move.

Competitors of all ages raced in the 2017 US Open of Cyclocross on Saturday at the Valmont Bike Park and will be back out for more on Sunday. Staged by the International Cycling Union, the world’s governing body for cycling, it is the largest cycling event in Colorado to date, according to race director Lance Panigutti.

Cyclocross is a hybrid sport of mountain biking, track racing and running.

“It’s basically Mario Kart on bikes,” Panigutti said.

This description is no less accurate than it is droll. The racetrack features sand pits, stairs and grassy glades that bikers have to dismount and rush through. Hard turns, long uphills and corkscrew downhills are all a part of the 3.5-kilometer — or about 2-mile-long track.

Valmont Park offers ideal terrain for the cyclocross event. The elite bike park is built for diverse styles and riding abilities,and attracts a broad range of cyclists eager to compete against the backdrop of the nearby Flatirons and the looming Rocky Mountains.

“It’s great just to be here. The fresh air feels amazing and everyone’s just having fun,” said Mary Ruehl, one amateur cyclist at the event.

The US Open of Cyclocross was never raced before in Boulder. The city has, however, been a renowned host of many cycling events year after year.

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