We take a look at the sport of cyclo-cross in the first of a series of posts to help you discover and enjoy the sport and Louisville 2013.
For the first time in 60 years, the UCI World Elite Cyclo-cross Championships will be held outside of Europe on February 2 and 3, 2013; the city chosen for the history making event is Louisville, KY.
This is big - huge - for the sport of 'cross and of cycling in general, a good-natured new world vs old world sporting contest. The biggest stars are coming to race in the United States, many for the first time of their storied career. For the American riders, it is an opportunity to take advantage of homecourt advantage against the Belgians, who dominate the elite men's field. The UCI World Elite Cyclo-cross Championships aka Worlds is the big race that decides which four riders will get to be called world champion and wear rainbow stripes on his or her jersey for the next 12 months.
But what is cyclo-cross? It's a high-energy mix of hard bicycle racing and a party, held outdoors in the fall and winter, in all kinds of weather, snow, rain, mud, ice, dust.... fans and racers a like say bring it. The racing as been described as a “bike race mixed with steeplechase” where racers on a course that includes pavement, wooded trails, grass, steep hills and obstacles that require a quick dismount, running and remount. Obstacles, or as we like to call them features, can be a long sandpit, a flyover with or without stairs, a run-up again with or without steps, barriers, tight turns.
Throughout the race which can last from 40 minutes to 60 minutes, depending on the age/expertise of the racers, fans line the 1.5 to 2 mile (2.5 to 3.5km) course, cheering on the racers every lap. Which means that an elite men's race of 60-minutes will see from seven to 11 laps, while elite women race 40 minutes. The other two races at Worlds will be junior men aged 17 and 18 who will also race 40 minutes and under-23 men, aged 19 to 22 who will race 50 minutes.
Typically, it is quite easy for fans to move from one spot to another during the race to see other difficulties; and also fans have access to food and beverages before, during and after the races. Another great venue spot for fans during a muddy race is to get a great vantage point of the pit. Twice every lap, racers have access to a mechanical pit where they can quickly exchange bikes with their mechanics in case of issues or if they need to get the bikes washed due to heavy mud.
Fans can also easily interact with the racers before the races, to chat and get autographs. Where else can a young fan get a world champion to sign a photo? Where else can an up and comer racer ask the national champion for advice on tire pressure? It all happens at 'cross races.
The racing is heated from the start, it's an all out effort to get to the front and limit mistakes, called bobbles. The first laps are full throttle, with a lead group trying to pull away, and then often, for a few laps, racers settle in, watching each other until the next attack. Racers try to find the best spot for their next attack, where can they drop their competitors?
Speaking of racers, the cross scene is full of interesting personalities both in the United States and in Europe. Stories of young guns taking on veterans, of teammates racing against each other, of heartbreak, of breakthrough, of emotional wins, of suffering,... all these stories and more exist in the beautiful world of 'cross.