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Mud, Bikes, Tears and Pain

Article Published: Jan. 13, 2011 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Mud, Bikes, Tears and Pain

Cyclo-crossers hit the North Wilkesboro Speedway this weekend. Photo courtesy of Pirate Race Productions

Gears of a different kind will shift at the historic North Wilkesboro Speedway on Sunday, Jan. 16, for Speedway Cyclocrossapalooza.

"The speedway is an unmatched venue in the southeast for the stuff we do," Andrew Stackhouse, founder of Pirate Race Productions, said. "We are not only using the oval, but the entirety of the grounds. It's a high energy event."

Cyclo-cross is a hybrid sport, involving biking, running, jumping wooden hurdles and climbing stairs through a maze of mud, grass, sand, pavement, and sometimes snow and ice. At the speedway, the course is so steep in certain sections and the mud and sand so thick, it is faster for cyclists to jump off their bikes and sprint.

"It's just a spectacle, the whole idea of jumping off a bike at full speed and running over a set of barriers and then jumping back on your bike is kind of crazy," Stackhouse said.

Most legends regarding the origins of cyclocross are set in the dead of winter in a lowland European country, such as Belgium or Holland, during the late 19th century. Cyclists would race from town to town in a straight line. They would dismount their bikes to hop over fences and run across bogged-down, muddy cow pastures.

"Over the years, it has evolved into a sport," Stackhouse said.

Cyclo-cross isn't as popular in the United States as compared to Europe, but an estimated 10,000 people attended the 2010 Cyclo-cross National Championships in Bend, Ore. in December, where Lees McRae College and Appalachian State University both stood on the awards podium, finishing in first and fourth place, respectively.

During a cyclo-cross race, the crowd has more fun than the participants. They wear outrageous costumes, cheer and heckle riders, who misjudge jumps or slip in the mud, all the while ringing cowbells and blowing horns.

"The races are sort of ridiculous," Stackhouse said. "It's a party atmosphere. People are yelling and screaming, while you are running around the course. There are idiots like me who take it seriously."
Play word association with cyclocross racers, and these words likely come to mind: Mud, bikes, sweat, tears and pain. One cyclocross video on YouTube is titled "An Hour in Hell."

"It's so aptly miserable while you are doing it," Stackhouse said. "When you are done, all you want to do is race again. It really is the most fun you can have suffering on a bike for a half hour or so."
The laps tend to be short, roughly 10 minutes long, but they are intense and nonstop.

"It's like any other competition, you try to push yourself harder and overcome your own self doubt and achieve something," Stackhouse said. "Everyone comes into it with such a positive attitude. Whether I get killed or have a good race, I'll end up hanging out the entire day cheering and heckling other people. It's fantastic."

The Speedway Cyclocrossapalooza starts at 10 a.m. and ends at 3 p.m. this Sunday, Jan. 16. The race length varies from one lap for kids to an hour of racing for professionals. There are 12 different categories racers can enter, ranging from children, seniors, men, women, amateurs and professionals. Registration costs between $10 and $25. Awards will be given out, as well.

"It is a spectator friendly event," Stackhouse said. "You can pretty much see the entire race on top of the winner's circle building where we will have the Belgian Party Tent. Talia Espresso will be serving waffles and frites. We'll have Blowing Rock Ale, too, so you can hang out there and party and see the whole thing going on."

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