This relatively new form of bicycle racing, with its obstacles, tight turns, various racing surfaces and, hopefully, a touch of inclement weather, is possibly the world’s fastest-growing cycling spectator sport.
This year, thanks to the Cascade Bicycles cyclocross team, the sport is gaining a fan base in Montrose.
Developed in Europe to keep road racers competitive through the fall and winter months, cyclocross takes place on a small racecourse – generally one to two miles long – with everything from grass to sandpits, pavement, wooded trails, steep hills, sharp turns, and obstacles. When cyclists can’t ride their bikes over an obstacle, they dismount, carry the bikes over, and quickly remount.
“They often put in barriers six to eight inches high,” says Cascade bike mechanic Hollis Brake, a member of the shop’s cyclocross team. “Basically, you race on an obstacle course.” For skilled riders, the obstacles aren’t a problem. “They can hop them,” says Brake.
Most cyclocross races in the region offer categories for all ages and levels of riders. In each class, racers complete as many laps as possible in a given time.
“The whole thing is about having fun in a good, competitive spirit,” Brake says. “The racing itself, if you are being competitive, is intense.
“It’s a competitive sport, but you have to bring a sense of humor to it. Sometimes, it’s a better spectator sport, where people are ringing cowbells, hollering and heckling at you.” Then, too, “There is often a lot of beer on hand. It’s definitely a party atmosphere,” Brake says, except for the racers, who “are working really hard.”
From a distance, cyclocross bicycles – with their drop handlebars – seem no different from road bikes. A closer look, however, reveals the bikes are modified to handle the cyclocross course’s widely varying conditions; the tires are fatter, with better traction treads than a typical road bike, and the tube on the top frame is curved, making it easier to carry it on your shoulder.
“The bike that you use for this is really cool,” Brake says. An added advantage, he says, is that “a cyclocross bike can get you into some adventurous off-road biking.”
For Brake, cyclocross not only bridges the gap between the summer road bicycling season and the winter fat tire bicycling season but also keeps him in a competitive mode in races that offer stiff competition and a lot of fun.
While a few Montrose enthusiasts have competed in cyclocross events over the last few years, Brake says the fall of 2013 marked the first time a team of riders got together to compete regularly in organized races throughout the state.
Before the 2013 season got underway, Brake helped Cascade Bicycles owner Donnie Watson put together a team that, thanks to networking with a handful of Montrose businesses, garnered some much-needed sponsorships. Word spread that a cyclocross team was being formed, and soon, nine people signed on to ride. (Half of those riders, Brake says, didn’t even know it was a sport.)
“It’s been really cool to get people interested in something they have never even heard of,” Brake says.
Montrose native Jessica Kastendieck, whose father tried out for the Olympic cycling team, signed on, even though she had never competed in anything like cyclocross before. Always up for a challenge, Kastendieck practiced with the team down in Montrose’s Riverbottom Park, falling off a few times, and learning to dismount and carry her bike. In Grand Junction, at her first competition, she raced in the C Class, which is for beginners, taking second place in the women’s division.
“The thing I like about it the most is probably the relaxed and fun atmosphere,” Kastendieck says. “You are in a race against other people, but you feel like you are out there to have fun. It’s not a serious road race, triathlon or marathon. It doesn’t feel serious like that. Everyone’s out there having a good time.”
At the same time, she says, “People are trying to cut you off, tires are rubbing and you have that element of getting down and dirty and going for it.”
For Shawn Lund, now in his third season of competing in cyclocross, the sport’s competitiveness and scrappy atmosphere gives it an eclectic energy all its own.
“If you are in a road cycling race and you can’t quite keep up, you get left in the dust, and you ride it by yourself,” Lund says. “In cyclocross, you are always racing somebody. You might not be at the front, but there is always somebody around you, rubbing elbows or chasing you. It’s really physical, but the courses are entertaining enough that you forget how hard it hurts sometimes. It has a really neat vibe to it.”
Lund is psyched to have Montrose cyclocross teammates to train with.
“One of the really cool things about our team is that there is a broad spectrum of ages, skills and fitness levels,” Lund says. “Everyone is out there trying to get better, working hard, having a lot of success and a lot of fun. I really can’t tell you how much we appreciate Donnie and the businesses that stepped up to help make this happen.”
With a fledgling team of dedicated cyclocross racers ready to compete statewide, some riders are thinking big.
“Our dream is to bring cyclocross races to Montrose and hold our own races,” says Kastendieck. “Maybe have a circuit that we do, maybe up on the [Uncompahgre] Plateau or on Cerro Summit.”
“It’s the fastest-growing cycling sport in the world,” Lund adds. “It is really exciting to have it hit Montrose.”
Anyone interested in cyclocross is encouraged to stop in at Cascade Bicycles, located at 21 N. Cascade Ave. in Montrose.