The Big Picture: U.S. Open Of Cyclocross

[Editor’s Note: Neil Schirmer used to be a DC-area guy, and a fixture in the Mid-Atlantic cycling scene. He’s now a Colorado guy, and we are going to take full advantage of that. Check out his site cxetc. at cxetc.wordpress.com/ and follow him on Twitter at @nschirm.]

UCI C2 races are among the more enjoyable ones to watch, driven in part by the fact that many times there’s a really compelling mix of racers showing up to grab points. There could be a current national champion in the mix (as with Katie Compton next week at DCCX), or the occasional European pro here and there, and those are always fun. 

Most of the time the average field profile seems to consist of a handful of nationally competitive pros near the top of the domestic bunch, then another layer which consists of a smattering of folks who are in various stages of rise and decline on the national scene. The fight at the front of the race is obviously the biggest story, but the second tier and beyond are where many great battles are going on. When you throw in the third layer of top local talent that emerge from the top spot of their respective local scenes to prove themselves against the next level, the crowd is invariably treated to a great day of racing to take in.

© 2016 Neil Schirmer
© 2016 Neil Schirmer

While snapping some pictures of the races in Boulder this past weekend, I kept wondering, “…how and why to these folks keep doing this?” The C2 races showcase the gritty and hardscrabble reality of trying to squeeze out an existence racing cyclocross professionally. It ain’t glorious, that’s for damn sure. The ones that have some traveling infrastructure to lean on are the luckiest. Many appear to be schlepping themselves from race to race, and might be lucky to have a local friend or social network that can provide a warm body in the pit.

© 2016 Neil Schirmer
© 2016 Neil Schirmer

Valmont Bike Park is set up with a nice set of permanent bathrooms, a permanent playground, and some water fountains for some much needed free relief in the often sunny and hot weather in Boulder. After my own masters race on Sunday, I rode over to the water fountains to fill up my bottle. There are two regular “bubblers” along with a spigot that you can use to easily fill a bottle or other larger vessel.

dsc_0107
© 2016 Neil Schirmer

I approached the second, smaller fountain and tilted my bottle to allow the most water that I could manage. Another guy next to me who was using the spigot to fill his bottle asked me if I wanted to use that now that he was done.

“No, I’m good, thanks.”

“You sure? It’s much faster…”

After a brief pause, “…nah man, I’m a cyclocross racer, I like to do things the hard way.” Everyone around the fountains shared a brief chuckle over that one, because I think we all knew it was true of all of us.

© 2016 Neil Schirmer
© 2016 Neil Schirmer

All of these thoughts swirling in my head brought me to the conclusion that, more than anything, cyclocross racers are required to do this out of love for it. When you account for the suffering required for the task at hand, there is no other logical conclusion. I think this is what contributes to the enhanced sense of community around cyclocross and what sets it apart from other disciplines.

dsc_0128
© 2016 Neil Schirmer

Even for the top riders that we see in this country, there is very little material payoff, if any. Just as with the average citizen lining up each weekend in their own local race, it takes a certain type of individual to sign up for the relentlessly challenging and inglorious task of battling your body and mind, pushing to your outer limits, over, and over, and over again. Cyclocross requires that you conduct that battle at the fringes while simultaneously concentrating on efficiently and skillfully handling your bike through evolving and variable obstacles and conditions. The distilled byproduct is a purity and a beauty that is unmatched.

dsc_0131
© 2016 Neil Schirmer

Inside that internal battle and in that beauty, there are endless wonderful moments that keep me coming back. Hopefully these pictures capture a few of those moments. See you at the races next week…

dsc_0142
© 2016 Neil Schirmer
krughoff-asks-wells-how-do-you-ride-with-that
© 2016 Neil Schirmer
dsc_0238
© 2016 Neil Schirmer
dsc_0088
© 2016 Neil Schirmer
dsc_0056
© 2016 Neil Schirmer
dsc_0202
© 2016 Neil Schirmer
FacebookTwitterTumblrRedditShare

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.