By Kelly McPherson — At the end of the cycling season, here in Utah and throughout the west, there is something glorious called cyclocross. I believe that this race was invented for cyclists who are tired from a long summer season of road and mountain racing, but who are not quite ready to hang up their bike and hop onto a trainer or spin bike. Cyclocross or CX is often seen as much-deserved playtime.
Cyclocross is a unique race where cyclists ride an off-road looped course taped off by the director. The course will take them around turns, up and down small hills, through mud pits and has at least a few obstacles that force cyclists to get off and carry their bikes over logs or even up stairs. The participants all start together, though some may start in front based on points in the series or rankings. These are called “call ups.” This puts the faster racers in front where they don’t have to struggle so much to get around slower racers. The participants will ride for a set number of minutes and complete as many laps as they can during that time. If a racer gets lapped by the lead riders, then that racer may not do as a many laps as the others. The winner rides the furthest that fastest.
I decided to give the Utah Cyclocross Series a try this year. It looked like fun, but I was really nervous because I don’t have a cross bike. I just have a mountain bike, and not a super nice one at that. I reached out to the race director and was assured that I would be just fine on whatever I rode.
The first race in the series that I was able to get to was held at the Weber County Fairgrounds in Ogden, Utah on a cold, wet day, making the course super muddy. I don’t think I have seen a happier bunch of cyclists. Apparently as far as cyclocross races go, the sloppier the course, the happier the CX racer.
I lined up with the other girls. There were three of us in the newbie group. We were all new. This was the first race for each of us and we were all at least a little nervous. Before they started us, the kiddie-cross participants finished their race. This is the cutest race ever where the young children of the racers pedal or balance bike their way around a part of the course. My mother’s heart was grinning from ear to ear!
Finally, we got to start and it was so much fun! I rolled off across the grass towards our first set of obstacles, a set of low wooden barriers. If a racer is really good, they can bunny hop over these. An experienced racer will swing one leg over their bike, take a step or two as they deftly lift their bike over the barrier and then a step or two and they will be back on their bike without hardly even slowing down. I am not a really good or experienced racer, so my technique over those was somewhat less than effective. I still need to practice this one.
The race director had nicknamed this course Logzilla and I soon found out why. Some of the obstacles were large logs. When I say large logs, I mean really large, high as my waist large logs. I wasn’t sure how to get over these. The juniors who were racing at the same time as us seemed to be able to hop off their bikes and take a couple of steps up and over these giant logs and then they were over and on their way. To this day, I still don’t know how they did this. I, on the other hand, had a completely different and much less graceful approach. I tried a couple of different methods. I didn’t like any of them. At one point, I straddled the log and attempted to hoist my monstrously heavy bike up and over and got stuck on top with my bike mostly on top of me. I think three juniors passed me like little deer leaping through the forest as I was high centered like a hippo on a rock in the savannah. Ugh! In succeeding laps of the course, I learned to throw my bike over the log first and then crawl over. It wasn’t quick, but at least it was over.
There was a lot of mud on this course. This mud was very much to my advantage as I was able to plow right through it without any problem while some of the others on less knobby tires had to be a little more cautious or risk landing in it, rubber side up. I soon found that my mountain bike was better suited than a cross bike on muddy and/or technical courses such as this one or the Godfrey Trucking course later in the series. Because of this, I managed to place second in this race. I managed to crash my bike at the Godfrey Trucking race due to my own stupidity and a desire to get ahead of someone who I thought was going slow. I missed a couple of races because of the injury, but was happy to return for the last couple of races.
I competed in quite a few of the Utah Cyclocross Series this last year and had a ton of fun at each one. Each course was slightly different and offered new challenges, new adventures, and new cycling puzzles. I would really like to participate in this kind of fun again this fall.
As I look forward to this year’s season of racing, I am planning lots of new adventures including everything from weekly crits to Crusher in the Tushar to Seattle to Portland and hopefully ending with a successful Lotoja. I am going to work hard to earn the much-deserved playtime of challenging and hopefully muddy cyclocross racing. That was just too much fun to miss!