Hoist and Ride: Cyclocross Returns to D.C.

Obstacles that you have to schlep your bike over are just some of the challenges of cyclocross.
Obstacles that you have to schlep your bike over are just some of the challenges of cyclocross. (By Joe Foley)
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By Alex Baldinger
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 19, 2008

Take heed, area cyclists: That commuter bike you scored on Craigslist might help you get around town, but it will not help you on the cyclocross course at the second annual City Bikes DCCX. If you've got the right equipment, however, you could be one of up to 100 racers doing laps, rain or shine, over grass, gravel, mud, dirt, pavement, brick, hills and slopes. As fast as you can. For 45 minutes or more.

And, by the way, you'll repeatedly be forced to dismount and carry your cyclocross or mountain bike around or through a variety of man-made barriers and pits on the course at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Northwest Washington.

"You have to hold a little bit back because it's not flat, so you can't just redline it the whole time," says course designer and racer Marc Gwadz, 42, of Washington.

The sport of cyclocross, huge in Belgium, has been around for decades. Whether you're a mountain biker looking for a way to stay in shape this winter or a novice looking to break into cycling, your next ride should be Oct. 26. Last year's inaugural event drew about 240 racers in eight classifications, organizers say, including Gwadz's brother Joel, 41, an avid mountain bike racer who took up cyclocross to keep his legs strong during the offseason.

"Never in a mountain bike race or road race will you see people vomiting on the side of the road after the race," Joel Gwadz says. "Saliva will be hanging out of people's mouths like cotton. I know I'm going my hardest when I want to quit."

An experienced rider will be able to complete a two-mile lap in about seven minutes, Marc Gwadz says, and the total number of laps in a given 'cross race is calculated once an average lap time has been determined, much as an exam's grading curve is derived. Most races are capped at 45 minutes, plus an additional lap. The action is so frenetic and the racers packed so closely that many top riders forgo hydration. Not that we're recommending that.

"Usually you're going too fast to really want to take your hands off the handlebars," Marc Gwadz says.

Riders are grouped by age, sex and skill level. First-timers will want to register for a Category 4 race, where the riders are less advanced. You'll probably still be left in the dust, sure, but once the best racers have surged ahead, it becomes a race within a race as you compete against those around you -- and for your own pride.

"It's the only thing that gives you the reward," Joel Gwadz says. "I look at the people I'm racing against, and if I race several times in a season, I usually find myself around the same faces. There's some camaraderie. We remember each other's faces or bikes."

Just about anyone with a mountain bike and a modicum of physical conditioning would find the race appealing, several riders say. Alternatively, you can watch the race (free admission, photo ID required) while enjoying beer and Belgian fries, which might be equally satisfying, if not as strenuous.

"It's a great sport for people who want to get into cycling," says Libbey Sheldon, 42, a former bike messenger in Washington who works as a lawyer and competes when she isn't shuttling three of her children to soccer games. "Cyclocross for women, at least, tends to have smaller fields. As the race starts, you might be in a big group, but it spreads out. It's technical, it's hard, but it's a great way for people to start, to get their feet wet."

Feel the Pain (or Just Watch It)

City Bikes DCCX

is Oct. 26; races start at 9 a.m. Armed Forces Retirement Home, Rock Creek Church Road and Upshur Street NW. 888-956-9560. $10-$30 entrance fee (plus $10 race license fee). Register online

by Friday at http://www.bikereg.com

or in-person on race day.

Free for spectators.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company