This isn’t your normal bike race.
Cyclo-cross — “CX” — is a form of bicycle racing that consists of a course that generally stretches upwards to 1.5-2 miles in length that laps around multiple times.
With every course being unique to its environment and culture, many feature such obstacles for riders as gravel, grass, mud, asphalt, dismounting and remounting the bike, man-made barriers such as 15-inch high boards, or natural barriers such as steep, muddy hills that might require the competitor to throw their bike on their shoulder.
Founded in Europe in the early 1900s with specific cultural ties to Belgium and France during the off-season of bike racing, the sport of cyclo-cross has travelled across the globe and found a new home in no place other than the Gorge.
Hood River has two teams that compete in cyclo-cross races across the Pacific Northwest, and they are affiliated with local companies Mountain View Cycles and Dirty Fingers Bikes/Double Mountain Brewery.
Respectively, the teams are overseen by Bob Camillucci and Mike Schrankel.
“Cyclo-cross sounds miserable, but it’s a blast,” said Schrankel, a member of Team Finger. “Every race the teams attend, we make a day of it because of the sports ability to make for a real party and family atmosphere.”
“It’s a sport that’s also really accessible to newcomers,” said Camillucci, team manager of Team Mountain View Cycles. “Many people start mountain biking and eventually transition into a cyclo-cross bicycle.”
A cyclo-cross bike looks like a “10-speed,” drop-bar road bike, but the difference is a cyclo-cross has wider tires with a knobby tread and brakes more suited to wet and muddy conditions.
“You don’t have to be a super athlete to compete in cyclo-cross,” said Schrankel. “But you do have to be willing to get a little dirty and laugh at yourself.”
Other than the junior division, which is for both boys and girls ranging from the age of 9-16, there are five different categories that separate racers.
Category five is considered the novice division, while category one and two are for the elite men and women. The competitions are also separated by age, with the oldest division being 70-plus.
Last year, both Hood River teams saw 20-plus newcomers to the sport.
“We’re especially interested in encouraging kids and teens to come out and try the sport,” said Schrankel. “We’ve got a wide range of riders from folks that literally just started riding a bike to seasoned category 1-2 veterans. Our team is about one-third women, and we range in age from 15 to 55.”
This season, the teams have a total of 10 riders who will compete in their first CX race, including five high school athletes. Oscar Powell represents Team Finger. Keeley Brownback, Walker Hendricks, Caleb Trumbull and Tucker McManus will ride for Team Mountain View Cycles.
Over the past month, CX racers across the Gorge, both team members and individual competitors, have taken part in preseason racing events across the state in preparation for the River City Bicycles Cyclocross Crusade.
One of the more recognizable series of races in not only the Pacific Northwest, but also in the country, is the River City Bicycles Cyclocross Crusade.
The River City Bicycles Cyclocross Crusade is an eight-race series that begins on Oct. 6 at the Alpenrose Dairy in Portland.
In its 25th year, the Cross Crusade attracts more than 800 riders at each race.
Most races are in the Portland area, but there’s one in Cascade Locks on Oct. 28, and then a big two-day Halloween-themed race the following weekend in Bend.
Races often begin around 8:30 a.m. with the Clydesdales/Athenas (men 200-plus pound and women 160-plus pound division), and then finish late afternoon with the category one and two racers.
Generally 45-minutes long, these races tend to be spectator-friendly because of its moderately short competitions and reoccurring visuals of competitors.
Unlike road races, the CX closed course is designed to give spectators the opportunity to cheer on athletes every seven to 10 minutes when the competitors make their way around the course.
Also, races often share a festive setting with its spectators. For example, the Cyclocross Crusade event will have tents, tables, coolers, music, commentary and a barbeque, complimentary of the teams competing, that make for a party and family atmosphere.
The cyclo-cross season begins in September and ends in November. Over the course of the season, results and stories will appear in the Hood River News.