Nowhere To Hide

26 Nov 2013, Posted by admin in Packages, No Comments. Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Nowhere To Hide

An “all-day party in the mud,” the sport of Cyclocross is testing the agility and endurance of a growing number of riders in Cincinnati.

Story by Tyler Bell; photos and video by Tyler Bell and Justin Schapker

The cyclists break out of the gate, a blur of fluorescent Lycra and glittering metallic paint. Their legs pump like pistons, propelling the bikes forward in a whine of gears. The sound of the spectators along the starting line rises above the steady buzz of the tires against the cold, black tarmac. Soon the pavement gives way to the muddy greens of a park. Nobody turns. Nobody slows. The pack makes its way into the grass, and the race truly begins.

The cyclists are competing in Cyclocross, a high-intensity sport with a strong worldwide following that is growing in popularity in the Tri-State. In early November, Cincy3, organized by Cincinnati-based youth racing organization Lionhearts International, brought hundreds of cyclists from around the world for three days of racing on three separate courses in Covington, Ky., and Mason and Fairfield.

A weekend racing series with multiple venues is unusual in Cylocross, said Cincy3 race promoter and organizer, Corey Green.

“Nobody really does different venues on different days, except on the East Coast,” Green said. “Three different venues, three different days, and they all have their own personality.”


Cincy3 started out as way for Green and a few of his associates to promote the Cyclocross to young people.

“(Cyclocross) is, for me, a labor of love for my kids,” Green said. “It supports our junior program, Lionhearts International. Basically, all of this you see is for them.”

The support is paying off. Spencer Petrov, a 15-year-old Lionhearts team racer from Mason, placed first in his category in all three races.

Courses in Cyclocross gain much of their identity through obstacles known as “features” that slow some racers and let others showcase their skills. The course where the Day Two race took place has a feature called “The Camel,” a huge, muddy mound at the far end of the track that forced racers to ascend and descend in a series of grueling U-turns.

“Basically, they just dug a lake and stuck all the dirt there,” said James O’Loughlin, a racer with Cincinnati-based Team Hungry.


Racers wind their way through the course.

An energetic man with a medium build, O’Loughlin coughed sporadically as he spoke — a symptom, he said, of heavy exertion.

“That’s called ‘Cross Cough,’” he said. “When you ride really hard, it’s like you just smoked a pack of cigarettes.”

The Day Two course proved difficult for O’Loughlin. He was pulled from the race for being lapped before the final lap. The racer who lapped him? Spencer Petrov.

“I didn’t do very well,” O’Loughlin said with a laugh, “but I had a blast.”

The first day of Cincy3, at Devou Park in Covington, had a double set of hurdles, known as barriers, that cyclists had to either bunny hop over or jump over on foot after dismounting their bike. The UCI, an international cycling regulatory organization, only requires 90 percent of a course to be rideable.

Cyclocross racers have to be good at dismounting, carrying and then remounting their bikes without losing momentum. Trying to jump barriers without dismounting is a calculated risk, even for the best racers, but trying to cross more demanding features, like stairs or sandpits, without dismounting can sap enough energy to cost them the race.


Mud on the course can be one of the most challenging obstacles in Cylcocross. It can cling to bikes, making them heavier. It can even hide holes in the course, sending riders hurdling over their handlebars.


Modified equipment helps racers move through the boggy, unforgiving terrain. Bikes in the sport are basically street bikes with frames that are modified to accommodate wider off-road tires. They have pegs, like street bikes, instead of pedals that a rider’s specialized shoes clip to, but both the pegs and the shoes are altered. Cyclocross shoes are heavier than slick-soled racing shoes and cleated to grip in mud and sand, and the clip points on the shoes and pegs are wider and bulkier to give racers a better chance of clipping in at the first try.

Cyclocross bikes are also lighter than street bikes, for easy carrying, and made out of composite materials or aluminum. Boo Bicycles, a Colorado-based cycle manufacturer, makes bike frames out of bamboo.


Pro Timothy Johnson crosses the sandpits with dismounting.

Part of the appeal of Cyclocross is the atmosphere that surrounds the race. Raucous crowds populate open-sided tents next to the serpentine track, often all the way up against the plastic tape barriers that mark the sides of the course.

“It’s just an all-day party in the mud,” O’Loughlin said.

On Day Two of the Cincy3 series, Team Hungry handed out free samples of locally brewed Rheingeist beer. In one of the tents across the track, a man offered passing racers the chance to grab paper money from the mouth of the rubber chicken he was holding. This sort of controlled chaos attracts a strong following.

“I love it,” said Joe Pallatto, a 20-year cycling vet and three-year Cyclocross racer who placed second in the Men’s Category 2 (ages 35+) race.

In addition to its skill categories, Cyclocross riders compete in age groups. Racers younger than 18 and older than 50 found their way onto the track during Cincy3.

Pallatto, who races for Team Lake Effect out of Cleveland, said that normal cycling tricks like drafting won’t help someone win a Cyclocross race. The only thing that can bring a cyclist over the finish line is agility and endurance.

“There’s nowhere to hide,” Pallatto said. “You can’t hide in a pack of 100 guys and sprint at the finish. It’s a race of attrition.”

A racer does practice laps to get used to the course before her official run.

A racer does practice laps around the course before starting her official run.

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