Before I started this job, I thought competitive cycling was just, well, riding a bike a certain distance, and whoever is the fastest is the winner. Clearly I was very ignorant.
In July, I got into the Tour de France, and was introduced to a more technical side of the sport; I read many articles on why some were faster than others, and the different strategies that make a smart cyclist. Then in August, I spectated my first triathlon, which taught me more about the art of transition and importance of equipment. So when I heard there was going to be a cyclocross race right in my hometown, I thought it’d be a fun and easy event to cover.
I thought the name “cyclocross” itself was an obvious implication of what the sport is; like cross country, it’s riding a bike in the grass. While that is correct, I learned there is much more to it on Sunday at the ABD Sunrise Park Race.
Before attending, I actually did a lot of research – I knew the schedule, understood what each age group and category meant, and reviewed the course. That’s usually more investigation than I do when I cover a road race, so I was really confident I’d be a pro when I got there. Thank goodness I had my friend come with me though, so I didn’t look like a lost puppy on my own.
We walked in from the back end of the race – it was actually at the same place our high school cross country course was, so we knew where to go initially, but when we walked up and saw people of all ages riding on the course, we looked at each other with slight desperation in our eyes – the race didn’t seem to have any rhyme or reason.
My coworker told me to stand at the top of the hill, so knowing where that was, we headed there immediately. I whipped out my camera, but I didn’t want to take pictures of something and not know what it was; a majority of the riders on the course looked like kids, which fit the schedule I had on my phone, as it said the Junior 9-14 race should be happening. But we also saw athletes with and without bibs, some looking really intense and others looking like that were out for a joy ride. What was going on?
Our next step was to find someone who looked even slightly more aware of the happenings than us. We went by the announcer, and he clarified that the next race was Men’s Category Three, after a course inspection. Again, it followed the schedule, but we still wondered why the course didn’t seem to be cleared for the racers.
Then, our questions were answered, when we saw a group of men heading towards the start line all together, and the rest of the course was finally empty. I later learned that if you want to practice the course before your race, you have to time it perfectly, and my friend and I must have just walked in when that timing was perfect.
Finally, we had a plan. We’d head up to the hill for the first lap, down near the woods for the second, and head to the finish until the end. We did that for both the male and female races, and it actually worked out really well because we were able to see the riders in three different settings on the course.
My coworker was right, the hill was the coolest part to watch; even seeing kids jump over the barrier at the top of the hill holding their bikes was impressive. Then, when the men’s race started, a guy actually cleared the barrier while still on his bike. He was the only one we saw do that on Sunday, but even the rest of the competitors got over it so fluidly, I realized cyclocross is more than just a ride in the park.
Admittedly, I underestimated cyclocross. I had no idea the extent of intensity that could come with it, and I can only imagine the kind of training the athletes endure for these events. However, I did know going in that most of the cyclocross season is in the late fall and winter, and athletes often encounter snow and bad weather; after understanding the race process and learning the different techniques, I give these athletes so much credit – I’d definitely die trying to hurdle a bike over a barrier with slippery snow on the ground.
Along with the immediate rules of the sport, I also learned that cyclocross is being considered for the 2018 Winter Olympics. Hopefully by then, I can explain the sport to newbies watching it for the first time.
So far, every new event I’ve attended at this job has left me impressed; no matter what sport, athletes are amazing, and seeing people younger than me performing something much more difficult than I’d ever try, inspires me to push myself even more. Maybe I’ll try cyclocross one day, but I think I need to get a bike first.