Cyclocross: A Season of One-Night Stands

The ABA cyclocross season is like a one night stand; It’s hot, sweaty, quick, awkward, bloody fun and a wicked story to tell your friends.

I suppose a few days before the Nationals in Winnipeg and with the majority of the season over; this is a good time to reflect on this year’s cyclocross season.  I’m not going to regale you with my own stories of racing agony, but I’m going to try to explain the general atmosphere of the cyclocross scene.  It’s just not a coalescing of roadies and mountain bikers, it is something quite unique and rather odd.

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(Photo: Mystique photos)

The race schedule is very short and condensed with a race on the Saturday and Sunday of every weekend starting in September and ending in November, so you get to see/race the same people within a very short period of time.  It’s sort of like moving in with someone after a month of dating just because you really want to know if it’s going to work out.  This is a strategy which I normally dissuade people from utilizing as I’ve tried and failed numerous times (I’m a hopeless romantic and a huge John Hughes fan).  You go from, “Who the hell is that guy?” to “Hey Brad, how are your kids doing in math”, quite quickly at the start line.

After having my cross season shorted early last year due to a knee injury, I was looking forward to traveling to Calgary a few times this year to make up for lost time.  So between all the Edmonton and Calgary area races this year, I’ve collected some interesting observations from the cross scene.

First of all, people are here to race.  Hard.  Even though most people spent the summer road or mountain bike racing, this is no half exerted venture.  Most people have cyclocross bikes that are, at most, 2 to 3 years old reaching into the $5000 plus range.  If you have an older bike, like Ryan Hopping and his Salsa Con Crosso, you will receive constant lighthearted derision from other racers.  The days of piecing together a cross bike for racing is over.  If you don’t have a carbon frame, hydraulic disc brakes and carbon wheels with tubular tires, you may as well just show up on a Huffy wearing acid wash jeans.  Yet, despite the haughty bike snobbery, people are genuinely encouraging and inclusive.   They want you to buy a new bike because they just love cyclocross.  With everyone reloaded with new bikes, the racing is intense, short, frustrating and climactic.

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(Photo: Mystique photos)

After race-to-race and weekend-to-weekend, you get to know or get familiar with people who frequent the races.  It’s like homeroom from the beginning of the school year to the end.  You get to recognize where people sit in class, who the class clown is, who the popular kids are, who the wallflowers are, etc.  Because you see the same people in such a short period of time, you can’t count on small talk to get you through the day.  You can’t say, “How are you doing?” or “Nice weather we’re having this fall aren’t we?” when you just saw them yesterday.  Well, you can, but you would be the weirdo everyone makes fun of.  You are basically forced into some kind of meaningful conversation whether you want it or not.  Because of this, you actually get to know people over the course of the racing season or, in some awesome cases, you become friends.  Yes, it has been reported that there is a flutter of new Facebook friending during cross season.  At the beginning of the season, Shantel and I are constantly trying to remind ourselves who is who, but at the end, I’m telling those same people that we should go on an All-Inclusive Mexico vacation in March.

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(Photo: Mystique photos)

These same people are also usually the ones who stay after the race and help out with taking down the racecourse.  We had our redbike race at the beginning of the season so when we started to take the racecourse down, it was mostly volunteers from our own club.  As the season went on and people started to get to know each other, we all started becoming accustomed to helping out with the tear down.  At the Pumphouse race in Calgary, I remember the horde of people who just started to help Synergy with the clean up.  The kids and parents from Juventus,  Marg from ERTC, Kyle from DeadGoat and others all stuck around and helped out Marcus with pulling up the stakes and collecting the tape.  Even my buddies from Pedalhead supervised the clean up from their cool down routine on their trainers.  It takes a village to raise a child as they say.
Now, you would think that the frequent cross racing would create animosity, enmity and segregation amongst the racers, and it kinda does, but just during the race.  Once it’s over, there is this sense of admiration for the other racers because they just went through the same hell you just did.  The acknowledgment of your similar achievement kind of creates a bizarre unity with racers, and with the repeated frequency of cross racing, it magnifies the phenomenon.   While I’m sure some people just straight up hate me and my racing, I’d like to think the feeling is mutual.  Right after the race, we all shake hands (or in some cases, uncomfortably side hug or gymnastic hug each other) and share stories of the race.  It’s like the old cartoon of Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog.  They are good buddies and punch in their timecards and then once the whistle blows, Sam proceeds to beat the shit out of Ralph.  At the end of the day, they punch out and become friends again.

By the end of the cross season, you know oddities about people like: Andre likes to collect ceramic unicorns, Marcus has an amazing beard grooming routine involving a picture of Prince, Janet can do a wicked “Carlton” dance, Shantel can put 8 pickles in her mouth at one time, Stu has a tattoo of PeeWee Herman covering his back, Katie purposely unzips her jersey for a certain someone, Kyle’s nickname of “Chocolate Rocket” has nothing to do with his bike racing, Pepper’s real name is Petulia, the entire Juventus junior squad’s collective age is still less than Peter Lawrence’s and Shawn Bunnin is a foot model in Japan.

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Cyclocross: Bringing strangers together to race so they can ignore each other, then eventually become friends since 1902.

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