The spotlight seems to get a little brighter each fall, and the South Sound doesn’t mind.
First an occasional cyclocross race was held in the South Sound. Last year, an International Cycling Union races was staged in Spanaway and Lakewood.
Now, the region is preparing for what’s arguably the most action-packed 15 days the sport has ever enjoyed in the region.
“It’s really fun to see,” said Ron Jones, a racer who is helping promote the Tumwater race. “It’s a great sport and there are some great venues around here.”
Jones was in the field last fall in Spanaway when an international field raced at the Marymount Event Center. They rolled over the grass lawns, powered through mud, dismounted and carried their bikes as they ran up steep hills and hurdled low barriers. All with the backdrop of the LeMay car collection.
“It was a really fun venue,” Jones said. “… I thought having those UCI races here was a really big deal.”
Afterward, as promoters Zac Daab and Terry Buchanan reseeded and repaired the Marymount lawns, they declared the race a success and promised to try to bring the pro races back to the South Sound and add Marymount to the schedule.
Somewhat fittingly, Marymount is where November’s South Sound cross crush gets rolling.
The Spanaway grounds is hosting an MFG Series race Nov. 1. The course will be tweaked considerably from last year’s UCI race. The majority of the race will be held on the facility’s lower lawn, an area called the Back Forty. Racing left the upper lawn quite muddy last fall.
On Nov. 7, the Olympia Orthopaedic Associates Cycling Team hosts its fifth Deschutes River Cyclocross race at Tumwater’s Pioneer Park. This year, the race doubles as the Washington State Bicycle Association Championships.
The association oversees USA Cycling races in Washington and Northern Idaho and moves its championship around each year.
Jones says the Pioneer Park course is a flat 2.5 kilometers and will include such terrain as grass, dirt, sand, bark and perhaps mud.
The top racers in the state are expected to be in the field, Jones said, but the fields won’t be as large as other races.
Unlike the Seattle-based MFG and Cross Revoluntion series, racers in the Deschutes River event must have a USA Cycling license. The license is $15 per day or $70 per season in addition to the entry fee ($15-$35).
Racing under USA Cycling guidelines also means stricter rules. “Like no handing beer to racers,” Jones said with a laugh. MFG and Cross Revolution don’t have to follow such rules.
But none of this is to say the scene at the Deschutes River race will be that much more serious than it is at that famously fun-first MFG races.
The relaxed nature of cyclocross is one of the reasons it’s become the most popular form of bike racing in the Northwest, sometimes luring more than 1,000 competitors to events.
Like a standard community fun run, most of the field doesn’t have a chance of winning and doesn’t harbor such illusions.
In fact, Jones says, because of the nature of the sport, many racers don’t really have an idea how they’re doing until they see the final results.
Races are held on a circuit that riders cover repeatedly over a preset amount of time (usually 30-60 minutes). When a bell signals the final lap, the first of those in the lead to cross the finish line is the winner.
But along the way leaders might lap others in the field, Jones said.
“In a road race, if somebody gets dropped they know it and everybody else knows it,” Jones said. “But I think in cyclocross probably only the top three, maybe five racers really know where they’re at.”
Because racers are rarely alone on the course, Jones says participants can simply pick somebody near them to race against, whether or not that other person knows it. And whether or not that person is actually a lap ahead or behind, it doesn’t really matter. “It’s just fun,” Jones said.
Cyclocross events typically last most of the day with races for all ages and skill levels. Even people on mountain bikes can usually participate.
Not only does Cross Revolution have a wave for beginners at the race it hosts at Graham’s Frontier Park Nov. 8, but beginners are also welcome to race in the state’s biggest races.
The Subaru Cyclo Cup at Lakewood’s Fort Steilacoom Park Nov. 14-15 will offer two days of racing for all skill levels before finishing with elite men’s and women’s race with international fields. Racing licenses are required for this event.
Jones believes the South Sound’s population and its collection of interesting venues willing to host the sport are at the heart of cyclocross’ growth in the region.
And he’d like to see it keep growing. “I think it would be fun to see even more of the higher level events that draw the nation’s top riders.”
SOUTH SOUND CROSS MONTH
November is loaded with South Sound Cyclocross races. All are free to watch. There is a fee to race.
NORTH 40 CX: Marymount Event Center, Spanaway, Nov. 1, 9:30 a.m.-3:45 p.m., mfgcyclocross.com/events/north-40-cx.
DESCHUTES RIVER CX: Pioneer Park, Tumwater, Nov. 7, 9 a.m.-3:10 p.m., 53eleven.com/deschutes-river-cx.html.
CROSS THE FRONTIER: Frontier Park, Graham, Nov. 8, 9:15 a.m.-3:35 p.m., cross-revolution.com.
UCI/USAC CYCLO CUP: Fort Steilacoom Park, Lakewood, Nov. 14-15, 8:30 a.m.-4p.m., mfgcyclocross.com/subaru-cyclo-cup-uci.
CLAW CROSS: King County Fairgrounds, Nov. 29, 9:15 a.m.-3:35 p.m., cross-revolution.com.