Cyclocross Hits Northern Michigan
By Cory Sovis
Cyclocross is an animal all its own. On one hand, it is a bit of everything, but is most decidedly not a road race, not a mountain bike race, and most certainly not a track sprint. It’s perhaps most broadly defined as a pinch of everything, but in its entirety something very unique. The Cross the Bay Cyclocross Series is bringing this exciting sport to your backyard.
While Cross the Bay is in its first year here in Northern Michigan, the sport of cyclocross isn’t anything new. The first race was very different from what we see now, but the heart of the sport was born in France in 1901. The original format was laid out by Geo Lefevre, the same man who had a very far-fetched and ambitious idea for a tour of France. The race was designed, like the Tour, to draw spectators and to have more races, with the idea that more people would buy newspapers to check the race results.
Early cyclocross races were actually point-to-point, with riders being able to pick their paths. That led to jumping over fences, riding through swamps and sand, and riding on roads and trails. All of those elements are still fixtures of ‘cross races today, though most now use a lap format that is often less than a mile. It makes it much more spectator-friendly than road races or even mountain biking.
People sometimes see cyclocross as a way for road racers to stay in shape in the winter, but in a lot of places in Europe, it’s a very important season all its own. In the US, there’s a trend of professional cyclists, many of them mountain bikers, switching to ‘cross in October. That has helped cyclocross become the fastest growing segment of cycling, outpacing other types of riding in the past five years. The sport is ideal for road cyclists working on their bike handling, mountain bikers working on top end speeds, and the casual cyclist for just getting into racing.
That is just one of many reasons why cyclocross has been such a big hit in Northern Michigan. It’s a fun, laid-back atmosphere that is easy and exciting to watch for even casual fans. Cyclocross is famous for its wild, crazy fans dressed in costumes and doing ‘hand-ups’ of beer, cash, and high-fives. It is also much less expensive than larger mountain bike or road events, with entry fees usually only $20.
The Cross the Bay Series offers riders of all abilities a chance to ride well into the winter and on the same course as some of the area’s best racers. There are three categories to choose from. The ‘C’ race is for Beginners, and it is actually very often one of the most entertaining of the day. The ‘B’ race is targeted for Sport and Experts, while the ‘A’ is for the Elite riders. Part of the fun is watching the other races after you’ve completely emptied the tank.
Cyclocross is gaining momentum in Michigan, and it’s a great way to stay on your bike (and running next to it) well into the winter months. Pick up a ‘cross bike, or just bring your mountain bike and try out one of the most fun cycling events around.
Our dates for Cross the Bay are:
October 21 at Petoskey High School
November 18 at Traverse City Civic Center
December 9 at Traverse City Civic Center
Our website is xthebay.org and the recap from the first week is available here.