Organizers say thousands of bicyclists and bicycle fans will descend on Bend starting Thursday for the cyclocross National Championships.
Once an obscure sport for pro cyclists, cyclocross has grown into a popular weekend sport-slash-festival in Oregon and the U.S.
From Bend, Ethan Lindsey reports on why the sport has seen such a growth spurt.
Hundreds of riders race around a makeshift track, sometimes pedaling like mad through puddles of mud, snow, and rain – and sometimes jumping off their bikes and carrying them up hills, and hurdling over obstacles.
|Cyclocross - Photos by Ethan Lyndsey|
This is cyclocross.
And at last week's Cyclocross Grand Prix of Portland, people were whetting their appetite for the national championships in Bend.
Brad Ross is the race director for the USA Cycling National Cyclocross Championships.
Brad Ross: "And the cool thing is that once the race starts, you could be in dead last place but kinda nobody knows, because the laps are so short, that there is just people all over the place, getting out, crashing, and having fun. And it's not like, ‘oh that guy's in last place, he's slow.' It's all just people going out and having fun."
At a cyclocross race, you'll see people crowding into beer gardens at 10 in the morning, ringing cowbells and cheering wildly.
But you'll also see mud-covered kids, hosing off their mud-covered bikes at the ‘bike wash', after they've just raced a half-dozen miles with their parents cheering them on.
Brad Ross: "A lot of adults like the whole aspect of being to act like a little kid again. You know, you can go out and play in the mud – and it's okay, it's normal."
If you think about it, the twenty-, thirty-, and forty-somethings today grew up with extreme sports – with the X Games.
And so maybe after-work softball is a bit too tame for them.
Brad Ross: "In the United States, cyclocross has turned into, like, an adult league sport. Like soccer – and now you have a sport where you don't have to be on a team, you can just go out and do it."
The sport began in the straight-laced , old world of European bicycle racing.
Paul Curley: "Europeans are crazy for cycling, and there was no reason for them not to race in the winter."
54-year-old Paul Curley from Massachusetts is in Bend for the championships.
He was one of the first Americans to ever race cyclocross in Europe, more than 30 years ago.
Paul Curley: "You know, I would say, as an American racing in Europe, I was definitely an outsider, and ‘auslander.'"
Curley says cyclocross started in mainland Europe, where it draws hundreds of fans – and spectators. But, across the Atlantic, the sport is reserved more for professionals – or semi-professionals.
Paul Curley: "And it's pretty much the only sport, bicycle sport, that you can do in the winter. So it tends to fill in the gap between the mountain biking and road seasons. And it adapted with a little bit of running, so if your toes were getting cold on the road, it was natural to go off and do some running and warm up your feet."
At the U.S. national championships in Bend, certainly big-name pro bicycle racers will be at the race, but they are just part of the draw.
Paul Curley: "A lot of people see it as being a little extreme. And a lot of the pictures you see of it, the pictures show the extreme conditions, which make it look like you are trying to do the Ironman, or climb Mount Everest, these things that are very challenging."
But Curley says the reason people keep coming back is that even though it looks crazy – it's less dangerous and more enjoayble, for amateurs.
Marcel Russenberger is a Swiss bicycle racer living in Bend.
He says the bike culture in Portland, and Bend too, has also pushed the sport into the spotlight.
Marcel Russenberger: "In general, I see in America a big cycling boo, not just racing but people riding their bike to work, or cruising around in town. Sort of a cycling revolution, and I think that's a big part of it."
And that's why Russenberger says he's looking forward to this weekend's national championships in Bend.
He says the sub-freezing temperatures and snow-covered ground only make it more interesting.
Local officials say the weather is a bit of a downer.
But the first few weeks of December are normally the doldrums of Bend's tourist business, so the national championships will ring a much-needed cowbell in the local economy.