Utah Cyclocross offers a rough ride | ParkRecord.com

Utah Cyclocross offers a rough ride

For those who like to get dirty, cyclocross may be the perfect sport.

A marriage between mountain biking, road racing, steeplechase and just plain old rolling around in the mud, cyclocross has become quite popular in Utah.

On Saturday, riders from across the state came together at the Heber Fairgrounds for one the 11 races of the Utah Cyclocross Series, which will continue into December.

According to Jon Gallagher and Matt Ohran, who run the series, interest has been growing rapidly. This year, the numbers have jumped from 150 racers per week to 220. The series, in its 14th year, is held at venues across the state each Saturday. Gallagher said that they draw racers from Utah as well as Idaho and other surrounding states.

Cyclocross was designed to be a shoulder sport that bridges the gap between the end of the road-racing and cross-country season and the ski season. With weather conditions changing every week in the fall, the season starts out fairly mild and soon turns into an all-out, cold mudfest.

"Cyclocross was traditionally a winter sport," explains Gallagher. "The weather makes it ten times more demanding."

He said that it favors a tougher kind of rider, but, as the season progresses, he sees different riders doing well in different kinds of conditions.

"Earlier in the year, the conditions favor road racers," Gallagher said. "Once it’s wetter, it’s a more technical rider."

Races are also held at Wheeler Farm in Salt Lake, Rocky Mountain Raceway in West Valley and sites in Ogden and Draper.

Cyclocross, or "cross" as it is commonly called, has been popular for decades in other areas in the country. Gallagher grew up racing in the Northeast and "cross" races in areas like Portland, Ore., can see upward of 1,000 people each weekend. Utah Cyclocross used to be the only race in town, but other non-series events are now held in the fall and other races have begun cropping up in nearby regions.

But Utah Cyclocross still remains king in Utah. After many years in the business, it has been able to garner sponsorship, has announcers at each event and gives away plenty of cycling products and other gifts each week.

Besides the nitty-gritty appeal for the riders, "cross" popularity may also have a lot to do with spectators. As opposed to a road or cross-country race, fans can do a lot more than just stand in one spot and wait for the peleton to whiz by. Cyclocross courses are walkable and offer plenty of intense action.

A typical cross course can include dirt hills, smooth straightaway, areas lined with sand or pebbles or, in the case of the Heber Fairgrounds, even a stable or two. Riders must get off their bike a few times on course to attacks the hills or to jump over small barriers.

Cyclocross also offers something for the entire family. There are 13 different categories, including an A, B and C level for adults, junior, Masters and single-speed races. Some of the top Utah cyclists like Ali Goulet, Bart Gillespie and local favorite Kathy Sherwin will often make an appearance at a race. Each week, individual riders and their teams garner points that will ultimately determine a winner of the series.

Ohran first began the series after seeing how much fun small local races were. A cyclocross lover himself, he slowly built the series to the point where he was getting plenty of riders and volunteers each week. Now, he has so much help in putting on each race, that he is able to compete in one of the races himself.

"The reason I did this is because I love my bike," Ohran said.

Gallagher joined Ohran nine years ago after riding in a series for a year. The two are now partners in the business and see the series grow every year.

Ohran said that part of the success of the series is the affordability. Riders can purchase a season pass that works out be about $18 per week. For youth, they teamed up with Canyon Sports of Draper. Canyon Sports brings kids’ demo bikes that are free for any child to use and charge only $8 per week.

"It’s the most economical series in the country," Ohran said.

Ohran also posts video and photos each week. Currently, on http://www.utahcyclocross.com, Ohran has a video running from last week’s junior and men’s elite races that gives those new to the sport a taste of the dirty fun that cyclocross offers. He also posts results and other racing info on the site every week.

Kathy Sherwin sidebar

The final race of Saturday’s cyclocross event featured many of Utah’s top male races and one Kathy Sherwin. Sherwin, a pro cross-country racer from Heber who got her start in cycling when she was a Deer Valley employee and decided to enter a local race, decided that she would see how well she would face against the top men.

"Its pretty intimidating racing against the best guys in Utah," she said. "Bart and Ali they are so awesome."

She shamed quite a few, finishing in the middle of the pack after passing a number of male riders.

"They’re just like carrots," she said about picking off a number of the men. "They could be women."

That was quite a feat, especially considering that she also raced in the women’s A race just a few hours earlier,

The fall has served as a triumphant comeback for Sherwin, who shattered her hand in a crash at a NORBA race in upstate New York in mid-July. Following surgery and intense rehabilitation, she was finally able to get back on her bike for a cyclocross race on Sept. 21 in her home state of Washington. Surprising her hand surgeon and everyone else, she took third place in that race and has been on the podium in every race but one since then.

Sherwin mostly races in International Cycling Union (UCI) events around the country to gather points and improve her starting position, but occasionally races in the Utah series. Saturday’s race was a natural choice. She was able to warm up in her basement before riding the five blocks to the Heber Fairgrounds.

"This is a great local series," she said. "It’s so fun."

Sherwin has been re-signed as a pro rider by Cannondale for 2009, despite missing the rest of the season after her accident. To keep up with Sherwin’s racing throughout the year, visit kathysherwin.blogspot.com.

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