The Mud, the Muck and the Craziness: Cyclocross Emerges in Mississippi

Wendi Garrison running through a sand pit in her first CX race

Wendi Garrison running through a sand pit in her first CX race

2013 saw cyclocross infecting Mississippi in a big way. Wes McWhorter, the founder and race director of The Delta States Grand Prix of Cyclocross, said, “…once you get into cyclocross, you’ll be hooked for life!” This year cyclocross is back and bigger than ever.

In fact, the Tri-County Mountain Bike Association will host a two-day cyclocross festival the weekend of December 6 at the Ridgeland Mountain Bike Trails off of Giles Lane in Ridgeland.

What is cyclocross? Here is an overview of cyclocross provided by Wes:

Cyclocross 101
The sport of cyclocross or CX is believed to have originated in Europe in the early 1900s. Its similarity to steeplechase is no coincidence, as early races were contested over farmland, hedgerows, muddy roads and other reasonably nonnavigable parcours. Riders were often forced to dismount their bikes and run with them on their shoulders or push them along as they battled the natural and man-made obstacles. And so it is today. The bikes may be lighter and the outfits flashier, but the mud and muck and general craziness that define cyclocross remain alive and well.

What Does It Take to Get Started?
The good news about cyclocross is that it’s a sport you can get involved with on one of your current bikes. Down the line you can decide whether you want to make the investment in a CX-specific machine. There will be guys and gals riding mountain bikes, single-speed beater bikes and converted road bikes with knobby tires.

Since cyclocross is an off-road discipline, the only must-have equipment is the knobby tires. Any reputable professional bike shop should be able to help get you going. Apart from that, a helmet, some sunglasses, and a fairly typical riding outfit of cycling shorts and jersey should get you going. You should be aware that in almost all instances, you will be required to get off your bike and run with it at some point during races. So pedals that are easy to get out of, or off of, are a great idea. Riders often opt for shoes and pedals used for mountain biking. But traditional “bear trap” pedals and a solid pair of sneakers will do in a pinch—although shin guards are recommended if you choose this path.

Jason Shearer jumping a barrier during a CX race.

Jason Shearer jumping a barrier during a CX race.

What Is the Racing Like?
Cyclocross races are some of the most dynamic and challenging races you can compete in (or watch). They are held over short, circuitous courses, generally no longer than 2 miles in length, that are usually situated in some sort of public park or other outdoor facility. In some cases a race could be out in a hay field, taking advantage of the naturally occurring undulations in the topography and the giant bales of hay drying in the field.

The races are generally short—30 minutes for beginners; up to 60 minutes for elite riders—but are characteristically intense. It’s not uncommon to be choking on your heart halfway through the first lap (but hey, you’re also quite likely to receive a special “hand up” from some rabid fan out on the course who sees you working your butt off). The outcomes of cyclocross races are determined as much by the technical aspects of the course as they are by riders’ ability to handle their bikes. Races can be lost due to a simple pinch-flat or an accidental “overcooking” of a hairpin.

One thing is almost guaranteed, as a racer, cyclocross is the most fun you will ever have on a bike. Why? Because of the fans and spectators. CX fans are renowned for being raucous and wildly enthusiastic. For reference on how to be a well-prepared cyclocross spectator, please check out this excellent primer from our good buddies over at Yeah You Ride.

Fun Spectator Sport
Finally, from a fan’s perspective, I can say that cyclocross is the perfect combination of festivity and competition. What other sport encourages you to put on a costume, hang out in a beautiful park all day, drink beer (if it’s allowed), rattle a cowbell till your arm is ready to fall off, and scream for every rider who flies past? Cyclocross is as much about the party as it is about the race. But the party, dear fans, is your responsibility!

Ridgeland Cyclocross:
The Ridgeland Cyclocross festival will be held at the Ridgeland Mountain Bike Trails at 521 Giles Lane in Ridgeland on December 6-7. The two day event will start at 10:00 each morning. Registration is $30 online and $40 the day of the event. Registration is necessary for each day and event. Spectators are welcome, encouraged and get in free! Primitive camping will be allowed and a bonfire will be going both days! Oh, and bring your cowbell – they are not just for football and everyone knows the world needs more cowbell!

Additional Links:
Delta States Grand Prix of Cyclocross

Delta State Grand Prix of Cyclocross