Riley Polumbus: Cyclocross: Cycling’s answer to winter
Steamboat Springs — While the snow was piling up in Steamboat Springs in December, Jon Cariveau plowed through mud to earn third- and fourth-place finishes in the single speed and masters divisions at the National Cyclocross Championships in Bend, Ore.
Isn’t December a little late in the year for riding? Do they purposely ride in bad weather? What is cyclocross? I called Cariveau to find out.
Riley Polumbus: What is the season for cyclocross?
Jon Cariveau: In the U.S., the season is late September to mid-December, but that will change next year when the season aligns with Europe’s. It will still start in September and to go through early to mid-January.
RP: What is the origin of cyclocross?
JC: It started in Europe in the ’30s or ’40s. The guys who were doing the Tour de France wanted a way to stay fit during winter, even in the cold climate. They started riding their road bikes through the fields and little roads across Europe. They would get off their bikes and run so their feet and hands would warm back up.
RP: What is a typical course like?
JC: No more than 3 kilometers in distance, they try to make it variable surface conditions, such as 20 percent pavement, 50 percent grass and a little bit of singletrack. Just like a ski race, there are technical requirements for the course: width, varying surface conditions and a certain amount of dismounts per lap.
RP: What’s different about a cyclocross bike?
JC: It looks largely like a road bike: drop handlebars and the same kind of lever systems for shifting. The frame has much more clearance for wider tires, and it’s a much knobbier tire than what is used on a road bike. It’s kind of that middle ground between a mountain bike and a road bike, but leans more toward the road side — lighter weight but more upright.
RP: How did you get into this type of cycling?
JC: Soon after I moved to Steamboat in 1992. I had been a mountain bike racer and a road racer and had a cousin who had gotten into cyclocross. She said, “Where you live with the snow and the mud seasons on each side of the winter, a cyclocross bike would be one of the best bikes you could have.” So I bought my first cyclocross bike in 1993.
RP: Is Steamboat a good place to train?
JC: Without a doubt. You ride all summer on a mountain bike and a road bike and that’s great base miles. With our snow that starts in November, you learn to ride in those conditions. We have a lot of great dirt roads and parks. The terrain in Steamboat is very conducive for a cross bike.
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