Cyclocross is a kind of bicycle racing popular in Europe and in the more interesting parts of the US. Arkansas cyclocross is just getting started – last year’s fall/winter series was sort of ragtag, I’ve heard, but there’s more momentum and organization behind this year’s races. Racers do several laps around a closed course, on a mix of surfaces – usually some pavement, some gravel, and some grass or dirt or mud. There are obstacles to ride or jump over, like tree limbs and boards, ditches, and sometimes even stairs to run down while carrying a bike. The course is taped off in such a way that there are often sharp turns to navigate as well. Racers ride as hard as they can to do as many laps as possible in a certain period of time – 40 or 50 minutes seems to be the usual length of a cyclocross race.
Mandy was a little bit interested in cyclocross last year, but we never actually got around to watching a race. This summer, when her bike was wrecked, the replacement we bought was a cyclocross bike. We thought it was a good choice because it was set up more or less as a road bike, but the frame and fork were broad enough to accommodate wider tires when we wanted to ride on gravel roads or smooth trails. Having a cyclocross bike, though, made her think that maybe she wanted to race cyclocross this season.
She did a workshop or two to get the feel for what she could expect physically, bought a racing license, and she jumped right in. The first race of the season was a night race at Kanis Park (see ArkansasOutside.com coverage), and we arrived early enough that she could pre-ride the course so that she’d be less stressed in a group of other riders. She raced in the ‘juniors’ category rather than ‘womens’, so she was up against some really fit teenaged boys who road-race. Our friends Britt and Debbie and Mitch showed up to cheer her on (and ring cowbells for her) in her first race. She finished next-to-last, but grinning.
She spent the night with the ArkansasOutside crew, since Bryan and I were already committed to spending the next morning serving food to riders on the Arky100. He and I got to Reservoir Park in time to watch her finish a MUCH more demanding race – the Reservoir course was very muddy and very hilly (see ArkansasOutside.com coverage) . She wasn’t as cheerful at the finish of the Sunday race, but she finished it anyway, once again next-to-last, and rewarded herself by gobbling up four plates of bratwurst and potato chips.
I was proud of her. Sure, she finished badly, but she was racing against people who’d been training for this specific kind of thing, and she honestly hadn’t even been on her bike for a month. I was proud that she wanted to do something new, even though she knew she might be bad at it. And when she found out that she wasn’t going to stack up well against others, she did it again, and I thought that was great.