Before I had even laid eyes on the course out at the Portland International Raceway yesterday, a friend I ran into in the parking lot set the tone for the day: “It’s a soul-crusher out there, man.”
And it turns out he wasn’t exaggerating.
The finale of the 2012 River City Bicycles Cross Crusade was one for the ages. Many people I spoke to throughout the day said the thick mud made this the most difficult race in recent memory. Saturated from rain, yet still dry enough to be sticky, there was nowhere to hide.
“That was ugly,” said one veteran racer at the finish line. “That was the hardest race of my life.”
“I rode until I couldn’t ride anymore and then I had to run. Then I ran until I couldn’t run anymore and I had to ride,” said another.
People were flailing on the run-ups and slipping down the descents. Many were forced to stop during the race to remove built-up mud from their brakes and tires to get their bike rolling again. It was a test of mental and physical will…
It’s hard to tell how hard a race is if you only look at the racers as they stream by. You have to look closer at the faces of the riders…
And at the faces of sheer relief mixed with euphoric endorphins once they were done:
And you also have to look at the toll a course takes on equipment. A safe estimate on the number of crumpled rear derailleurs — which seize up with mud and then bend back until they break off the dropout — would be about 100. In the Men’s C category field alone, there were about 20 of them.
But there’s something about tough courses and dreary weather conditions that bring out the legendary ambiance of the Cross Crusade. The team tents bustled with activity. Friends and families huddled together to enjoy the camaraderie. Small campfires crackled, pots of food boiled, and copious amounts of beer was shared.
There’s a strange relationship between fans and racers when the going gets tough. The more challenging a course is, the more fun it is to watch. People lined the course in the most treacherous sections, and their fun came at the expense of the racers.
Other spectators tantalized with free beer hand-ups. One group of fans, in an attempt to lure a racer into stopping, placed a hot dog on a bun atop a can of Pabst. And sure enough, someone stopped to pick it up. Another racer I saw, took a beer hand-up; downed a swig, and then crashed flat on his back in the soupy mud. He then started making mud angels before starting back up again.
Yes, muddy conditions often make adults act like kids (as does cyclocross in general). Organizers of yesterday’s Kiddie Cross spared the little ones any mud-bogs, but given how excited the kids were to race, I’m sure they would have barreled right through it.
Cross Crusade director Brad Ross enjoyed a nice cold beer toward the end of the day. He told me overall participation numbers are a bit down this year, but he’s not surprised. A number of other cyclocross events and series’ have sprung up and are seeing big numbers. Cross Crusade is far from the only game in town. Ross loves that. He actually helps other organizers with their events. “I just want to see as many people as possible racing cross.”
— View more photos in the gallery.
Share and Enjoy