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Published: Monday, November 15, 2010, 4:04 p.m.

Cyclocross: Sport of pain, suffering, misery, mud and sometimes even fun

  • Randy Bott, a Category 1 Cyclocross racer from Everett, competes in the MFG Cyclocross held in Lower Woodland Park in Seattle Sunday.

    Michael O'Leary / The Herald

    Randy Bott, a Category 1 Cyclocross racer from Everett, competes in the MFG Cyclocross held in Lower Woodland Park in Seattle Sunday.

  • A group of riders hurdle one of the obstructions on the MFG Cyclocross Course in Lower Woodland Park Sunday in Seattle.

    Michael O'Leary / The Herald

    A group of riders hurdle one of the obstructions on the MFG Cyclocross Course in Lower Woodland Park Sunday in Seattle.

  • Riders in the MFG Cyclecross negotiate part of the MFG Cyclecross course where several riders crash during the race in Lower Woodland Park Sunday in S...

    Michael O'Leary / The Herald

    Riders in the MFG Cyclecross negotiate part of the MFG Cyclecross course where several riders crash during the race in Lower Woodland Park Sunday in Seattle.

  • Claire Kline of Bothell carries her bike over one the course obstructions during her race in the MFG Cyclocross in Lower Woodland Park in Seattle Sund...

    Michael O'Leary / The Herald

    Claire Kline of Bothell carries her bike over one the course obstructions during her race in the MFG Cyclocross in Lower Woodland Park in Seattle Sunday.

  • Riders hurdle one of the obstructions that are part of a cyclocross course Sunday in race in Lower Woodland Park.

    Michael O'Leary / The Herald

    Riders hurdle one of the obstructions that are part of a cyclocross course Sunday in race in Lower Woodland Park.

  • Edward Roberts of Seattle keeps to the edge of the course to stay out of the mud during his race in the MFG Cyclocross in Lower Woodland Park Sunday.

    Michael O'Leary / The Herald

    Edward Roberts of Seattle keeps to the edge of the course to stay out of the mud during his race in the MFG Cyclocross in Lower Woodland Park Sunday.

  • Mud catches and clogs the area between the frame and tire at the MFG Cyclocross in Lower Woodland Park Sunday in Seattle.

    Michael O'Leary / The Herald

    Mud catches and clogs the area between the frame and tire at the MFG Cyclocross in Lower Woodland Park Sunday in Seattle.

  • JC Ramirez of Seattle finished the MFG Cyclocross with a muddy jearsey and helmet.
photo shot Sunday November 14, 2010

    Michael O'Leary/The Herald

    JC Ramirez of Seattle finished the MFG Cyclocross with a muddy jearsey and helmet. photo shot Sunday November 14, 2010

There are a lot of reasons not to like cyclocross. For starters, it's a fall sport so the weather is typically cold and wet. The rain usually means a muddy and sometimes treacherous race course. And the sport itself is fatiguing at best and at times flat-out exhausting.
So what's to like about cyclocross? Well, that list is shorter.
Listen to 35-year-old Randy Bott of Everett, who is in his sixth season of cyclocross.
“You hate it the whole time you're doing it,” he said, smiling wryly. “It's going as hard as you can go for the time you're racing, with brief stints of extra hard. And there's mud flying everywhere. Greasy, thick mud.”
The sport, Bott went on, “is pain, suffering, misery and mud, and yet we call it fun. We show up every weekend, but no one knows why we keep coming back.”
Cyclocross is essentially a cross country race on a modified mountain bike, though at times the competitors have to hop off and climb over a barrier or run up a hill while carrying their bikes. Then they hop back on and ride some more. Races generally last from 30 to 60 minutes and cover 10 to 15 miles, which is enough time to get thoroughly coated with mud whether a rider falls or not, though most do.
The good news? When riders tumble, “the soft mud kind of breaks your fall,” Bott said with a chuckle.
Cyclocross evolved as an offseason alternative to road racing (think Tour de France), which is a spring and summer sport. Many cyclocross competitors are also road racers, but others simply enjoy doing something that is different, to say the least.
And these athletes — mostly men, but some women and kids — are hardly a bunch of screwballs. Bott works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Seattle. Another competitor, 41-year-old Mark Papenhausen of Mukilteo, is a vascular surgeon at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett.
“It's a great escape on the weekend,” said Papenhausen, who is in his third season of cyclocross. “And it's a challenge. It's probably the hardest kind of racing you can do. If you're not riding, you're off your bike and running up a hill, so it's really a full-body intense workout. It hurts when you're doing it, but still I probably have a smile on my face three-quarters of the time.
“What other excuse do you have to get wet, cold and muddy?” he asked. “That's part of the fun. And the muddier, the better.”
Papenhausen's 8-year-old son also competes, “and he loves it. It's a good excuse for him to get dirty and not get in trouble.”
Dan Thorson of Mukilteo was once a distance runner who later took up triathlons and bicycle racing. He started cyclocross about seven years ago and keeps coming back, he said, “for the sheer fun of it.”
“There's so much to it,” added the 40-year-old Thorson, a stay-at-home dad and substitute teacher. “It takes so much effort, so much concentration, and the whole world just falls away for that hour that you're racing. It's just a great feeling. ... You fall, you're bloody, and physically it just hurts, but then you get off the bike and you're asking, ‘When's the next race?'”
One of the great things about cyclocross, Thorson said, is the spectrum of participants. Some compete very seriously, but others are out merely for recreation and maybe a few laughs, including the folks who show up in costumes.
“There are all sorts of people that come out and race,” he said. “People in all shapes and sizes. There are people who just want to come out and ride, and there are people that finish consistently in the back. So it's accessible to everybody, and I think that's what makes it kind of fun.”
There are probably 500-600 cyclocross riders in the Puget Sound area, according to Bott, and there are races almost every weekend — more than one race some weekends — from the first of September to the end of November. Racers compete by age group and ability, and there are even divisions for small kids and seniors.
Ask most cyclocross riders about their sport “and they'll tell you how painful it is,” Thorson said. “But they still come back. You just can't get enough of doing it.”
“I've never met anybody that's tried it and didn't like it,” Bott agreed. “Because somehow they get hooked.”
Papenhausen has pictures of himself in action, often caked in soggy mud, and when he shows the pictures to friends “they sort of shake their heads,” he said. “But when they come out and see the race and see all the enthusiasm, then they get it.”
On the Web
For information about cyclocross in the Puget Sound area, visit the following websites — www.seattlecyclocross.com and www.mfgcyclocross.com.






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