By Bruce Overstreet
I did something that blurred the line between stupidity and ballziness (I know this word doesn’t even exist in the Urban Dictionary, but you get the idea) Saturday. It’s called cyclocross and until a couple of days ago, I really had no clear understanding of the sport.
Sure, I had some vague idea about guys taking mountain bikes and working their way through an obstacle course consisting of hair-pin turns and obstacles that forced you to dismount and carry your bike on your shoulder as you hopped over barriers, but this? This was absolutely intimidating and awesome at the same time.
As the Category 4/5 (worst division) Over 45 Years of Age guys were called to the line on Saturday for the start of the Washington State Bicycle Association’s Cyclocross Championships, many thoughts were flying through my mind, none of which were really comforting. It wasn’t within 10 seconds into the start of the race that my thoughts were confirmed and I knew I was in for a long, difficult, humbling 30 minutes of cyclocrossing.
Welcome to the world of cyclocross. Within those 10 seconds the field of 30+ guys in my category had already opened up a sizable gap on me. And so I rode. I rode as hard as I knew how. And I became just a little better at this intense sport that is larger than the action in mountain biking, road racing, or on the velodrome. Cyclocross is like the confluence of three rivers colliding and providing a force that can’t help but sweep you away.
I’m not certain what is most appealing about this relatively new sport taking the national scene by storm — locally, it has been around much longer, which may explain why the Seattle area is one of just a handful of hotbeds for cyclocross talent.
In fact, at this event, according to David James, the WSBA Championship coordinator, two of the nation’s best riders were first to cross the finish line in the Cat 1/2 Open race. James is the person who sent me an email Wednesday evening reassuring me that even if I was a neophyte in the cyclocross world, I “shouldn’t be intimidated by the ‘Championship’ title; you’ll do fine.”
I guess I should have inquired as to what “do(ing) fine” means. For me it meant not doing a face plant on the 45-degree decline with exposed roots thrown in for good measure that nearly put me over my handlebars and into a tree stump during the race. For me it meant that I didn’t get lapped by the entire field during the four-lap course. For me, doing fine also meant that on the sharp corner of deceptively unstable grass that was quickly thawing and was causing experienced riders to slip and crash, I negotiated through without incident. And for me, doing fine meant that when I finished, I immediately started thinking about when I’m going to do my next cyclocross race.
As I talked with Kristi Berg, owner and manager of the new Cycle University North store and training facility located in Arlington, after the race, she stressed that the cyclocross community in the greater Seattle area is really an extended family, where men and women compete hard, cheer just as enthusiastically, and then party together afterwards. She talked of the 20-plus-year love affair she has had with the sport and how her biggest fan, her mom, rarely misses one of her races.
The conversation eventually got around to the big annual cyclocross race that takes place in Bend, Oregon every December. My mind wandered into “If I could train for this…” mode and I realized that perhaps I needed to sign up for the Indoor Cycling Elite classes offered at Cycle University so that I can at least grab the wheel of the last guy in Cat 4/5 Over 45.
Kristi has room in her classes now, but will she when word gets out about how fun, demanding, and rewarding this sport is? Could she be the key to my going from worst to first? How about from zero to hero? OK, how about so that I’m at least in the picture of the group after the first 10 seconds?