In 1989 I was in my college apartment, rooming with my cycling buds when one of them showed me a Velonews article about cyclocross. Basically a modified road bike with fatter, knobby tires raced on dirt, mud, grass and over obstacles during the time of year that us “roadies” were shutting down for the season. My first impression was, “That’s not real bike racing.” I saw it as a strange European anomaly. There were no cyclocross races going on in central Indiana at the time anyway, and I certainly didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything. Besides, I liked my bikes clean and shiny.
Twenty four years later I have found my way back to cycling. I love road riding and time trials, but I find myself a bit tentative about jumping into crits after all these years. Crits were the ONLY racing I did in the past and quite extensively. I have had my fair share of crashes and road rash, and I have had significant hip injuries. I just wasn’t sure I wanted to lay it all on the line again, but I still love to compete. So this is where the stars aligned. For a couple of years my friend Nick at BELGIANWERKX has gone on and on about cyclocross. The slower speeds and softer race surfaces made me feel better about being able to compete intensely without risking my skin and bones. I decided the time was right and I signed myself and my 14 year old son Ben up for our first cyclocross race in Lake Geneva, WI this past weekend.
Knowing very little about cyclocross, we jumped in on a few free cyclocross tutorials put on by Patrick Brock from Bike Science Coaching. He is passionate about the sport and ran us through many drills to prepare us for our first race. Ben and I also watched a bunch of Belgian cyclocross races on YouTube. Is it always rainy and foggy in Belgium? We were ready for our first taste of this Belgian form of racing that is exploding in popularity around the United States.
The forecast was for rain. If this was a crit or road race I would have stayed home, no joke. However, I have never seen a YouTube video of a Belgian cyclocross race where it WASN’T raining, so I felt like maybe this was normal. The coolest part was getting to the race and seeing the glow on the faces of the competitors. Not one person complained or showed disappointment in the weather. On the contrary, everyone seemed a bit giddy about getting to race cyclocross like the pros in Belgium. It got contagious and Ben and I were wagering on who would finish with the most mud on his face. We put on our nice clean BELGIANWERKX Team kits and started warming up on the course. My race was the first race of the day and I knew the nice green grass I was riding on was in for a long hard day. That was the understated thought of the day!
Our races went very well. Despite the weather and slippery conditions, both of us kept the rubber side down. After my first race (I had so much fun I paid another $10 to race the open Cat4 race also) my son laughed hysterically at the mud in my eyes and up my nose, then headed towards the start line with an eagerness that said “My turn to have fun!” The course got muddier and better every lap, but that was only part of the fun.
Despite the rain and our races being early in the day, we stayed the entire day to enjoy the atmosphere. Everywhere we looked people and families were laughing and sharing their adventure out on the course. We saw men in their late sixties, covered in mud and grinning ear to ear. We saw ten year old girls wearing big jerseys that looked like short dresses, covered in mud and glowing with excitement. We heard cow bells and vuvuzelas, those annoying horns you hear in European soccer matches. There were burgers being cooked under a tent and umbrellas everywhere. Whether you were tall or short, young or old, on this day we were all racers covered in mud. On this day we were all cyclocross racers!
Cyclocross is very spectator friendly because of the labyrinth layout of the courses, allowing spectators to walk short distances to see many parts of the course easily. We watched the top category riders show their skill handling the now heavily rutted course, all appearing to feel “privileged” to get to race this Belgian form of racing in such Belgian-like conditions.
We caught the bug. We can’t wait to race the next race. We loved the rain and the mud, but agreed we don’t need it to rain EVERY weekend. The entry fees are reasonable and the people are friendly. Best of all, for those of us in Southeastern Wisconsin, there is an entire WCA cyclocross series from September through December.
I Get it now. I get that this IS real racing. I understand that cyclocross is the natural outcome when you mix the heart of cycling in the world, Belgium, with the Belgian landscape and weather. The people of Belgium are passionate about their sport and I feel privileged to have an entire cyclocross race series “in my back yard”. Thank you to BELGIANWERKX for embracing the heart of cycling in the world and making it more accessible to all of us!
Arlen Spicer is a Cat 3 Team Belgianwerkx member. He’s been riding since college and is looking forward to his first cyclocross season this fall.