Monday, November 27, 2006
"Cyclo-cross. You heard of cyclo-cross, sport of the future? Ryan Trebon, one of the champions of the sport? I can
see by your face, no."
I participated in my first-ever cyclo-cross race this weekend. The sport is very similar to Super Mario Kart, only instead of animals and plumbers and princesses made of pixels riding go-carts the sport features humans made of cells riding bikes. The course, located on the grass playing fields of a middle school, had a 50-foot mud hill that required riders to shoulder their bike and run, a section of small man-made knee-high wooden walls to climb over, and numerous muddy switchbacks. One loop took about ten minutes, and the race was 40 minutes long. I was in the "C" race--the slow race. There were almost a dozen total races on the day, with nearly 1,000 riders participating.
Seventy riders were in my race. At the start line, bikers nervously clipped in and out of their pedals. I was surrounded on all sides by men on bikes. It was at this moment that I began to wonder if I had made a mistake. Sure, I had done my research. I had looked up "cyclo-cross" on Wikipedia. I had gone to a grass field and practiced jumping on and off my bike. I had lubed my undercarriage to prevent chaffing. Still, crashing twice during my warm-up lap didn't help my confidence. The race started when a woman with a clipboard shouted "go." How old school, I thought.
I started in too low a gear and struggled to get my shoes clipped into my pedals. Riders went around me like a stream flows around a rock. When I was good and clipped in, I took a glance over my shoulder and saw only one rider behind me. That left sixty-eight riders in front of me.
I crashed three times during the first lap, the worst one being when I rode down a long muddy hill on my top tube, my feet splayed out to each side. The crashed caused my handlebars to slide out of alignment with my front wheel. After squeezing my front wheel with my thighs, I was able to twist my handlebars back into place and continue.
During the second lap, I began to move up through the field. I especially made up ground on the flat section of the course that circumnavigated a cinder track--the only section where technical riding didn't enter the equation. When the race finished, I was in 39th place. I had specks of mud on every inch of my body, including my teeth.
In what was probably a coincidence but might have been celestially motivated, the same day I raced my first-ever cyclo-cross race, the NYTimes published an article about the sport, which can be read by clicking here.
There is nothing stopping cyclo-cross racing from becoming the sport of the future, except maybe a latent American distrust of non-football-playing men in padded tights (although Lance Armstrong has begun to make the tights practice more acceptable, if those yellow rubber bracelets are any indication). The course is perfect for spectators, as the entire course can be seen from any one spot. Crashes are frequent, even among elite riders. Cowbells are the noisemaker of choice. Concession stands sell hot chocolate, hot dogs, and fries. And beer. Mud is involved.
And plus, the sport has an element of freak to it: In my race, a 9 year-old boy and a 51 year-old woman bested me.