Photo by Lee Woolcock
On Sunday December 4th, the world’s best cyclocross riders will meet in the Basque Country for the 35th edition of Ziklokross Igorre, part of the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) World Cup calendar. Metropolitan catches up with an American cyclocross enthusiast and grassroots racer who is hoping to raise the profile of the sport here.
Cyclocross is like cross-country running with a bike. It’s a winter sport that came about as a way for ‘roadies’ to stay fit through the winter when the roads are often dicey. The bikes we use are essentially road bikes with skinny, knobby tyres.
Races take place on a 2.5 to 3.5 kilometre circuit featuring pavement, wooded trails, grass, mud, steep run-ups, sand and barriers, forcing riders to dismount their bikes and run.
I ran cross-country in college, and was always passionate about trail running, so the bug for cyclocross just grew from there. I still run as part of my cross training.
Atlanta, Georgia, where I’m from, is as flat as a pancake. We count bridges and overpasses as hills there so I love doing climbs like Montserrat and Montseny. I did two road races this summer, in the Pyrenees and French Alps: Quebrantahuesos (205km, 3,500m) was a true celebration of Spanish cycling; La Marmotte (174km, 5,000m) was epic, finishing up Alpe d’Huez. I got gold in my age group, not bad for a Georgia boy.
This fall, I started competing in Ciclocross Català (CC). This is a series of races around Catalunya that culminates with one champion. The races attract about 100 riders each time. Last year, there were nine races around the region but there will be fewer this year because of the crisis.
My first CC race was in Les Franqueses del Vallés in November. There were 104 cyclists and I finished third-from-last out of 29 in the Masters 30 field. To the average spectator I lost, but to a niche group of cyclists who get their kicks from 45 to 60 minutes of pure pain, this is motivation and inspiration to pedal harder; victory is crossing the finish line. I’m pretty sure I was the only foreigner—definitely the only American.
The course layout was aggressive. The circuit was in a modest, unassuming park and we had to literally cycle into a stream and run out carrying our bikes three times per lap. It was raining, so we mashed our pedals through shin-deep mud, up steep and slippery run-ups, over barriers, through puddles of water, and the course zigzags everywhere. My shoes took three days to dry, but I can’t wait to do it again.
I race steel bikes: very few people do these days, especially in Spain. The industry has moved almost completely to carbon nowadays. Steel is a throwback material but its ride quality still rivals that of more expensive materials like carbon and titanium.
Cyclocross fits in well with my life. I’m a stay-at-home dad juggling a graphic design career, so I can’t dedicate too much time to a sport. Road racing requires many hours of training; this way I get to spend time at home.
I’m definitely happiest on my bike. I love the city but it’s not my natural environment. I prefer riding uphill to down; I love suffering on climbs. I had an English buddy here and we did a lot of eight-hour rides together: it’s a long time to be in the saddle but the exhaustion you feel is part of the glory.
I ride for Independent Fabrication’s (IF) Grassroots team. IF is a custom frame builder based in New Hampshire. My road bike is an IF so I wrote them and expressed interest about racing for their team. They enthusiastically welcomed me and I am now living the dream.
My big idea is to generate a buzz locally and create a criterium road race on closed streets in Gràcia, where I live. I can really see this turning into a popular annual cycling event if it gets off the ground.