With rain falling around them and mud flying beneath them, dozens of off-road bicyclists raced back and forth across muddy grass and pavement, through woods, and even over a beach Sunday in the debut of a cyclocross tournament at Beaver Island State Park.
More than 90 racers from across Western New York, Rochester and Toronto competed in seven separate contests for men, women and children ages 6 to 17, in the Beaver Island Blackout Cyclocross Race.
Participants, ranging from regular competitors to those who just enjoy the sport, vied for cash prizes of up to $50 for first place, as well as their very own “Wilson Jr.” stuffed beaver for the three top finishers. Family and friends cheered them on with hoots and cowbells.
“This is the inaugural race,” said Robert Johnson, a licensed race official and president of the Buffalo Bicycling Club. “We hope that this catches on.”
The 3K-race course, marked by posts, yellow race tape and grooves in the ground, took participants on a range of twists, turns and zigzags. The course was described as a “flat, fast Euro-style loop,” but bicyclists had to take a dip from the boardwalk to the sandy beach and back up again, and then hop over a couple of fence obstacles.
The morning races were 45 minutes long, with racers taking five laps around the course, while the afternoon contests were 60 minutes and seven laps. In between, kids ages 6 to 9 joined in a noncompetitive fun event, while older children ages 10 to 17 did a competitive 30-minute race.
“It’s a good time, if the parents are racing, for the kids to also get involved,” said Jackie Young, 41, of Wilson, whose 44-year-old husband, Chuck, and 9-year-old daughter, Abigail, participated in the racing.
Sponsored by the Buffalo Bicycling Club and officially sanctioned by USA Cycling, the race represents the end of the local biking season, although races are held elsewhere into winter.
Cyclocross racing is a discipline of bicycle racing in which participants use a specially designed hybrid between a mountain bike and a road bike. The sport began in Belgium, Johnson said, and spread throughout Europe before coming to the United States.
Races are run in all weather and conditions, across grass, sand, asphalt or any surfaces, and even include obstacles for racers to get over or around. “Regardless of the weather, the race goes on,” Johnson said.
And Sunday’s weather didn’t disappoint. Although warmer than Friday, the wind and chilly constant rain made it feel cold and damp.
“It’s really bad when you’re out there, but when you get done, you’re cold and wet, but you feel like you accomplished something,” said Tom Emrich, 52, of Rochester.Tom Orrange, 40, of Colden, has participated in more than 10 bike races and said he enjoys cyclocross more than racing mountain bikes because “the courses are a little bit tougher” and individually unique.
“This race was good. It was challenging, a little muddy on the back section. The sand was an interesting element,” he said. “That’s what I like about cyclocross. Whoever is setting up the course can add a different element each time. It’s cool.”
The winners were Eric Ingalsbe for the Men’s Category 4/Citizen/One-day license race; Christine Schryver for the Women’s; Michael O’Brien for Single-Speed; Nathan Chown for Men’s Category 1-2-3; and Christopher Fuller for Master’s 1-2-3.