Saturday, January 10, 2015

Cross Racers Will Descend on Hartford

Cross racing.  Have you seen it?  Not a horde of queens sprinting in heels, although that would be equally awesome.  Cyclocross is a newer format of bicycle racing where masochists on road-like bikes hammer around a snaking route through a field or park.  Consumerism has morphed the road bikes into race specific rigs with carbon wheels and tubeless low pressure tires.  The course is set up to maximize punishment and spectator viewing.  Weather be damned, the event runs in rain, sleet, or snow.  The obstacles and mud/sand pits have cyclists running with the bikes over their shoulders.  The crowd is encouraged to ring bells, holler, and even heckle the racers to eek out their deepest energy stores.  It's a hoot, and "Hartford Has It."

When there is an obstacle, you'll see running.
Just announced!  
Hartford will host the 2017 Cyclocross Nationals.  

We were chosen over many other cities based on an impressive cooperative bid by Connecticut Cycling Advancement Program (CCAP), the City of Hartford, and the Connecticut Convention and Sports Bureau.  Hartford is well situated in the Northeast where cyclocross racing is booming and the population density allows for many nearby races, racers, and spectators.  This is a big deal folks.  The influx of bike racers and spectators to Hartford, up to 20,000, for this national event in December will be a great off-season economic boost.  Hartford gets to show off as a destination on the national stage.  Leading up to the Nationals, there will be more regional races in Riverside Park and Colt Park in 2015 and 2016.   With the 2017 race on the horizon, the regional races will have increased exposure.  To get full bang for the buck on a national race, we need to grow and expand the regional races both before and afterward.

This national opportunity didn't materialize out of thin air.  In 2013 and 2014 there were two cyclocross races in Hartford proper and a series of other races across the state.   One of them was right next door to my home in Colt Park.  You may have missed the races in Hartford.  For some reason the larger cycling community in the area didn't mobilize and show up to cheer and spectate.  I'm still trying to understand why.  Connecticut has a bevy of bicycle shops.  Those shops have mailing lists and Facebook pages.  Growing cyclocross as a racing and spectator sport is a clear way for our local bike shops to extend their customer season into the otherwise quiet Fall and Winter.  I'm imploring our cycling community, riding clubs, and bikes shops to do better publicity in 2015.  Let folks know that this is an engaging spectator sport.  There are always beginner races for those that want to try it out for themselves.

There should be a hipster bike category.  Single speed required.
In addition to the racing community the event publicity must tie into the advocacy groups that promote bikes for both recreation and transportation.  A cyclocross racer who enjoys riding a skinny tired bike through cold, semi-frozen mud would be a champion bicycle commuter.  Bike commuters, like myself, often got their start as racers.  Explaining to a cross racer that bike commuting year round results in free and efficient training miles is an easy sell.  Also bike commuters and recreational (non-racing) riders love bikes, and often enjoy watching them being ridden in circles by others that are suffering (schadenfreude or sadism?).  Bikes aren't just toys, although they are really fun all around - for racing and commuting.  I'll do my best to connect Bike Walk Connecticut and Transport Hartford to the 2015 cross races.  Cross promotion and cooperation between racing and advocacy is the next step in Connecticut.

Another item to improve for 2015 - food.  These cross racers are hungry and thirsty.  I didn't make it to the Riverside Park CCAP race, but I noticed a lack of food and drink at the Colt Park Veteran's Memorial Race.  We've got great food trucks in Hartford.  They will show up if you put a call out and let them know there will be hungry customers nearby.  If you need suggestions, here are a few - Whey Station (gourmet grilled cheese), Amor (healthy, vegan), and Lucky Taco.  It's also relatively easy to get a permit for beer sampling or a beer tent at a park event.  Let's get some Hooker, City Steam, or Burnside beer out there for the 2015 races.  For the Colt Park race, there is also a nearby grocery store, C-Town, for racers looking for Gatorade or some hot rice and beans.  Just across Wethersfield Avenue.

Excited for this announcement.  We need to ramp up the events in 2015 and 2016 so Hartford is ready to blow the doors off in 2017.  Let's do this!

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