It’s Cyclocross Season in Missoula

By BEN WEISS

The cool nights, the cold mornings, streakers at Griz games. I hate to say it, but Fall is officially here in western Montana.  So, aside from the harvest parties and the cider pressing, it also means it is time for Cyclocross season in Missoula.

Cyclocross is a sport that is kind of like a cross between mountain biking and steeplechase – technical bike riding on a more or less flat course with obstacles that require the riders to dismount and hurdle them. Cyclocross has grown in popularity across the country in the past few years, probably because the course is short, there can be lots of mud, and races are open to anyone.

Cyclocross races take place out at the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula on Wednesday evenings.  Racers, spectators, and hecklers meet at the Fort at about 5:30 for a 5:45 race time.  The race consists of many short laps, with the race being over when the winner completes all of his or her laps.  So, when I get passed, and lapped, I will only be racing for as long as it takes the winner to finish. Races generally last 50 minutes or so, are fast paced, and dirty.

Professional Cyclocross racers often bring multiple bikes to a race, because the mud and dirt can clog the bike so much that it is unrideable.  Riders can switch bikes while pit crews (read: family members) can clean, and even repair, bikes while the race is happening.  Or, you can just bring your mountain bike, trudge through the course, and hope for thebest.

Of course Missoula is at the forefront of Cyclocross racing.  The fall series of races, which began back in 1998, is the only such series in Montana, and the Rolling Thunder Weekend race at the end of the series, is by far the largest Cyclocross race in the region. This year, Rolling Thunder happens October 22-23, and organizers are expecting 150 racers to compete.

Cyclocross in Missoula is exciting for many reasons, a major one being that you race on the same course as (and sometimes alongside) big-time professional racers.  Mountain bike champion Sam Schultz can be seen lapping folks on many Wednesday nights, and USA Cycling future-star Tejay Van Garderen cut his teeth at the Missoula Cyclocross FallSeries.

The best way to learn more about Cyclocross is to come to Fort Missoula for the next 6 Wednesday evenings and watch or race.  Other ways include checking out http://www.montanacyclocross.com, emailing rob@bigskybike.com, or calling Alex Gallego at Missoula Bicycle Works (721 – 6525).

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Like this blog on biking?  Chances are you’ll also like:  “Sharrow the Road”: Missoula’s New Biking Road Symbols and Missoula Festival Celebrates Biking & Walking with Movies & Beer.  And Check out our Mountain Biking Trail Guide.
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Ben Weiss has been biking around Missoula for the last decade, on his way to and from work, school, volunteer engagements, board meetings, pot lucks, concerts, and the bars. Previously serving as a Bicycling Ambassador for the City and as a current employee of Missoula In Motion, Ben has spent hundreds of hours talking with Missoulians about how and where they ride theirbikes.