Brian Crosby might have whipped through the roughly mile-long cyclocross course a bit quicker had he focused on the terrain ahead instead of trading lighthearted barbs with spectators.
The 27-year-old Albany man acknowledged having a weakness for good-natured ribbing with people watching on the sidelines and even racing alongside him. But that’s part of the fun of cyclocross: The cheers or jeers coming from a crowd standing only a few feet away.
“Very few people take it super seriously,” he said after finishing first in his heat at the Saratoga Spa Cyclocross on Sunday. “It’s about the fun.”
Crosby was among about 300 racers who competed on a course that wound through the lowlands of the Saratoga Race Course. The event also drew about 250 spectators, many of who jangled cowbells and tooted vuvezelas with each passing racer.
Cyclocross is sort of a blend of road cycling and mountain biking. The bicycles are outfitted with the curved, road-style handlebars and wider, knobbed tires normally seen on mountain bikes.
The sport evolved in northern Europe among bicycle racers seeking a way to stay in shape during the fall and winter.
Now, cyclocross is the quickest growing segment of cycling, according to Andrew Bernstein, one of the event organizers.
“It’s a different kind of challenge,” he said. “It’s really a combination of using your fitness and your skill.”
Cyclocross is also different from typical cycling events, where the race is spread over long distances. In cyclocross, the condensed course allows spectators to see more of the action, which helps to breed a festive atmosphere.
“Here, everybody gets to congregate and see a lot of the race,” Bernstein said.
The Saratoga Springs course featured tight turns, muddy or sandy pits and barriers that riders must jump. Some areas were too difficult to navigate, meaning cyclists had to dismount and carry their bikes up a stretch.
The races weren’t timed per se. Rather, the riders completed as many turns around the course as possible in a 45-minute window.
Zach Vogel of Saratoga Springs is in his second year of competing in cyclocross after years of road and mountain biking races. He didn’t think he’d like the sport at first, but has since found it to be just as enjoyable as other types of cycling.
Of course, cyclocross isn’t exactly easy, Vogel acknowledged. Many of the turns are sharp and on loose surfaces, which tests the technical skills of cyclists.
“Trying to ride through sand and jump over barriers — it’s a challenge,” he said.
And there’s plenty of interaction between the cyclists. That can mean a witty quip from a fellow racer or perhaps a little bump from one jockeying for position.
“It’s all in good fun though,” Vogel said.
Cyclocross is also a little more forgiving for those cyclists who crash. The slower speed of the race and the relatively soft surfaces of the course make taking a fall a little less painful.
“Here, you crash and you’re going into the mud,” said Crosby. “You’re dirty, but that’s about it.”
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