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Cyclocross makes a splash! (In Lousiville KY!)

Form my bud in Louisville (KY, not CO):

[Photos as well here ]

Monday, December 4, 2006

Cyclocross makes splash
Competitors, spectators enjoy muddy River Road course

By Melissa Gagliardi
The Courier-Journal

With mud on his face, Robert Bobrow took to the winding trail looping through River Road Country Club in a sport that is gaining popularity in Louisville: cyclocross.

About 160 enthusiasts of cyclocross, which is like steeplechase with a bicycle, competed in "Storm the Greens" yesterday at the city-owned golf course, which has been closed nearly two years.

Competitors slopped through mud, raced up stairs and encountered other obstacles that forced them to dismount, run and jump back on their bikes in one fluid motion -- at least for the more seasoned riders.

Bobrow, who lives in St. Matthews, was the Kentucky champion last year, but he came in second this year, losing the hourlong off-road race by about 40 seconds to Kevin Attkisson.

But he wasn't disappointed.

"It was great. I was very happy," Bobrow said, adding that his 5-year-old son, Will, won first place in a shortened version for children.

Bobrow is among a group of local riders hoping to see the course, at River Road and Zorn Avenue, become a permanent venue for the sport. He has raced on courses across the country and said the country club is one of the best he has experienced.

"We could even hold the nationals there," he said, noting that the event would bring about 1,800 riders and possibly twice as many visitors to the city.

Spectators are a big part of cyclocross.

To encourage the riders through one tough leg of the course, Pat Ruzicka stood on a bench ringing a cowbell, a tradition that goes back to the sport's origins in the dairy regions of Western Europe.

After searching all over town for a bell, Ruzicka found one at a hobby shop and said it was worth the $5 investment to support the racers.

"I've never seen a cyclocross race before. It's exciting," said Ruzicka, a member of the Louisville Bicycle Club.

Rick Lyon banged a spoon against a metal dog dish to encourage racers as they entered a particularly dangerous leg of the course where several muddy wipeouts occurred.

"Cowbells are for sissy Belgians," quipped Lyon, who had planned to participate but was recovering from the flu.

Watching his fellow racers proved to be a fun substitute. He was among dozens of spectators to crowd along the course's obstacles, which included sand traps, muddy dips and what's called a "whoop dee doo" -- the bikers must dismount, carry their bikes up stairs, then whip through two sharp 180-degree turns before taking on a small but steep hill.

Given the serpentine nature of the course, cyclocross events attract many spectators, who get to watch the competitors come through several times.

Brad Swope said Louisville is fast becoming a hotbed for the sport, and he wasn't surprised that this year's event had more than twice as many competitors as last year's, which was the first state championship to be held in Louisville.

"It's the next new thing. It's growing like wildfire," he said.

Andrew Llewellyn is one of the top younger riders. The 16-year-old placed second in the junior division, even though he was just introduced to cyclocross this year.

He said the atmosphere, with so many supportive people, is part of its appeal.

"It's so much fun. I fell in love with it," he said.

Reporter Melissa Gagliardi can be reached at (502) 582-4117.

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