The sport of cyclocross is booming in Australia, and last weekend we sent Tom McQuillan to Ballarat to check out a new race series organised by the Ballarat-Sebastopol Cycling Club.
Words - Tom McQuillan
'Mum, I think I'm going to give cyclocross racing a try.'
'Oh that's nice, dear...'
'And I've entered a 'cross race this weekend.'
'Want me to explain what cyclocross is?'
In case you're my Mum or anyone else who's unsure what cyclocross is, here's a quick rundown. If you’re already acquainted with the marvellously muddy mess that is ‘cross, feel free to skip down to the next heading.
SO WHAT’S CYCLOCROSS?
The sport of cyclocross is effectively a mix of road cycling, mountain biking, mini golf and fight club. Races take place around small circuits and can cover a variety of terrain over multiple laps, including grass, mud, bitumen, sand and gravel.
Aside from the different surfaces passing under the riders' wheels, there are also certain obstacles on every course that force riders to dismount and carry their bikes a short distance. These typically come in the form of staircases, small barriers that riders have to hurdle or short hills too steep to ride up.
The sport's homeland is the Low Countries of Europe, especially in Belgium and the Netherlands. Racing there is typified by muddy courses, appalling weather and rowdy fans fueled by a combination of beer and frites en mayo.
Australia's brand of cyclocross is much newer and very different. The sport has only existed in Australia in the past 10 years, and has only developed a competitive presence in the last 5. The newest race of them all is Dirty Rat CX, which held the first race of a five race series in Ballarat on Saturday.
RACE REPORT – DIRTY RAT CX
The course was nicely varied, a 2.8km circuit around North Gardens, just a stone's throw from Lake Wendouree. The circuit was mostly grass, and featured a gravel jump, small log hurdles, a scenic section around a pond, and a series of zig-zags through loose dirt around cypress trees which saw a number of riders (including yours truly) hit the deck over the course of the day.
There were no hills to speak of, but the varying surfaces, technical corners and two points where riders were forced to dismount and clamber between the trunks of trees.
Here's a quick breakdown of the course's features:
There was racing across six grades over the course of the day, with over 60 racers taking to the course across three men's grades and two women's grades
The most popular grade was Men’s A Grade, where 23 racers toed the start line, including former Australian road and cyclocross champion Allan ‘Alby’ Iacuone. After a fast start, Iacuone quickly pulled out a lead along with Warrack Leach and Dylan Newell, before the man with the Aussie champion’s bands on his sleeve began to gradually increase his lead with each lap, eventually crossing the line with more than 30 seconds lead over runner-up Newell. Special mentions go to Jasper Albrecht, who finished 5th in A grade despite being half the age of most other participants, and one unfortunate bloke who had to return to the start area multiple times to fix flats and shifting issues.
The consensus from participants was that the event was a smashing success. There was definitely a club feel to the racing (sausages and soft drinks were available near the finish line), and commentary on the finish line helped keep the crowd involved.
I raced in C Grade and had an absolute blast, so I’ll definitely be attending the four other rounds of the Dirty Rat series, the next of which will be held in Creswick on Saturday May 14th. If you’re up for a fun day out on the bike, I recommend you come along as well.
Entries will be available online at the Ballarat Sebastopol Cycling Club’s website for $20, or $25 on the day.
You can find more pictures from last Saturday’s racing here.