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WCN quicklinks >>  VeloBella main page    Melodie Metzger - latest - 2006   What is cyclo cross?

             

 

VELO BELLA - The Elite Women's Cyclocross team

Velo Bella Website

What is cyclo cross?

 

Alex Burgess, from the Velo Bella staff has provided this introduction to the winter competition - a mixture of cycling, running and a true test of bike skills

 

What is Cyclo-cross? 

The most fun one can have on two wheels without being arrested…  While road racing demands the ability to suffer while putting-in long hours on the bike maximizing our aerobic engine, and mountain biking forces one to improve their bike handling skills in order to stay upright, cyclo-cross demands those skills as well as the ability to run while dismounting and remounting their bike fluidly to be successful.

An athlete must be able to sprint to full speed from a dead-stop in a flash, utilize cat-like grace to manoeuvre obstacles strewn across their path without losing speed and handle steep twisting descents on grass or through the mud or sand.  Of course, if you are a Velo Bella racer, you have to look good, smile and have plenty of flair while leading the race too!

When asked to describe what they have just witnessed, most new cross fans say they feel like they are standing next to a herd of freakishly coloured gazelles stampeding around the course overcoming obstacles as though they were not even there.  Experienced cross fans are usually too overcome by emotion (beer) to make a coherent comment… 

Where did cyclo-cross come from?

 Invented by European road racing professionals shortly after the end of hostilities in war-torn 1940s Europe to help maintain fitness in the off-season, Cyclocross combines the best elements of road racing, off-road racing and steeple chase into one exciting spectator sport.  While there is no known correlation between the sport and the skills required by bicycle troops in the war, one could conceive of soldiers recently paroled from service looking to continue the fitness/skills learned in combat into their post-war cycling experience. 

The season begins in September and runs through February every year with the World Championships held in late January to take advantage of the glorious European mid-winter weather.  A true cross-racer loves nothing more than pulling on their kit in the coldest, wettest most disgusting weather imaginable and getting out there to put a hurt on someone, but one must never let a gorgeous day go by without a quick turn on the cross-bike. 

The first Cyclo-cross World Championships were held in Paris, France in 1950.  The French dominated the sport through the 1950s with Italian cyclists enjoying a surge of success through the early 1960s.  Unfortunately, for the French and Italians, Belgian riders discovered the sport in the mid-1960s and have enjoyed a strong showing on the podium ever since.  One can argue about the Belgian landscape and weather as to how healthy it is for the average human, but those conditions certainly produce some phenomenal cross racers, and great beer too (an important element in any cross race).

  Intimidated by the potential their superior grace and ability to handle pain would provide, Women were not permitted to compete for a World Championship until 2000, and the race is on to see whether it will be an American, Canadian or Australian rider to unseat the dominant women from Europe…  Who knows, perhaps a young Kiwi from the South Island might rise from the moss and mirth to storm the scene… The French, Germans and Dutch women have been leading the charge, but the time is coming for a non-continental to take over the lead. 

What does a Cyclo-cross race look like?

Unlike road or mountain bike racing, cyclo-cross races only last from 30 to 60 minutes depending upon one’s skill and fitness making the sport great for spectators and tolerable for the athletes.  Distances vary, but normally one must complete 2.5 to 4 revolutions of the course the fastest in order to win.  The fact that the course is so “small” means spectators are free to roam around the course to get better and different views of their favourite athlete.  Very different from road racing and one of the reasons why Cyclo-cross is becoming so popular in the United States.

 Courses usually have a number of obstacles (bars, boards, trees, shallow streams, drunk boys) the riders must negotiate, as well as at least one “run-up” forcing the rider to dismount their machine, hoist it on their shoulder and run as fast as they can up the hill.  Upon reaching the top, the rider must then smoothly drop the bike to the ground and remount their machine without losing any momentum or speed.   Sand pits or mud pits are also common elements in a race with a “pit area” accessible from two spots along the course to change bikes or wheels should the conditions require it.  

The closed-loop aspect of the sport, as well as the ability to walk around the entire course to watch your favourites, not to mention the underground festive feel of the races makes cyclo-cross a fantastic spectator sport.  That the courses are so small and easy to build, as well as the ability to spend less time on the bike training makes the sport easier for organizers to put racers in central urban areas maximizing fan participation, as well as making the sport approachable for more non-professional athletes who only have a limited amount of time to train when they aren’t working or taking care of their families. 

So, now you know a bit more about this aspect of cycling. Why not go along to an event near you and give it a look or a try? Spectators find the atmosphere friendly and exciting, plus its easy to keep up with the action, with the race passing through every few minutes. There’s always something to capture your interest and for those rare moments of boredom, or the need to keep those younger spectators you've dragged along, there are usually plenty of food vans and stalls on the course - in Europe the staple 'cross diet of the spectator is 'frites' (fries / hot chips) served up with mayonnaise. It is only recently that the controlling body has put a stop to the tradition of sending the course right through the tent selling spectators beer too! 

Competitors find the challenge exhilarating and the length of races means that newcomers can quickly become competitive too – it doesn’t take months of training to be able to ‘stay the course’. For racers who usually ride the road in the summer, the variety of ‘cross and means that its easy to get some varied training, maintain fitness and not get bored.

 

The Velo Bellas compete in the Crank Brothers U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross Series. The series schedule for 2005 is as follows:

October 8, Portland, Oregon
October 9, Seattle, Washington

October 29, Gloucester, Massachusetts
October 30, Gloucester, Massachusetts

November 19, San Francisco, California
November 20, Watsonville, California

 

 

 

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