Originally published November 1, 2012 at midnight, updated October 29, 2012 at 9:48 a.m.
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Cyclocross is a hybrid discipline of cycling performed in the autumn and winter that combines the best of road and mountain biking in an adrenaline-fueled ride over grass, mud, pavement and obstacles that at times force riders to use their feet to carry their bike during the race. A cyclocross bike looks much like a typical road bike with a curved handlebar and smaller frame, but with the knobby tires of a mountain bike.
"Everybody is there to have a good time. It's really spectator-friendly, and it's just a goofy sport when you really look at it," says accomplished local cyclocross racer Kym Flynn. "It doesn't make any sense, but it's just so much fun at the same time."
David Hutton, a pro cyclist who frequently transitions to cyclocross, is part of the Hub Endurance Cyclocross team in Chattanooga. “When I moved to Chattanooga about 4 ½ years ago, there were only two, maybe three people doing cyclocross in Chattanooga,” Hutton says. “It’s an emerging sport.”
The time of year when cyclocross is held is the key to its attraction, says Flynn's husband, a professional fitness coach from Chattanooga. Cyclocross was historically an off-season sport that European cyclists would do to keep their fitness from going away,” he says. "Since the off-season is typically the fall and winter that means that you are going to deal with (a wide variety) of weather conditions — so you may get dry, smooth conditions, or wet and muddy."
Hutton began riding cyclocross as a way to keep himself occupied during his off-season and he’s currently focusing his efforts on building up the Hub Endurance team while building up the sport’s reputation in town. “Cyclocross is a strange combination of the hardest aspects of other disciplines of cycling — you have to be able to handle your bike,” says Hutton. “It’s really the steeple chase of cycling because part of the course design will require you to get off your bike and run with it.”
Fasczewski and Flynn own Vantaggio Fitness and Nutrition in Hixson and are one of the driving factors behind the growth of cyclocross in Chattanooga in recent years. Fasczewski says he works with 20 to 30 cyclists of various abilities from beginners to pro cyclists, and he has a rather unique sales pitch for anyone thinking about taking up cyclocross. “If you're doing it right, you'll get feelings of nausea, be cross-eyed and with your tongue hanging on the ground,” he says. “And that’s true. It's very hard and painful, but it’s short. So as someone who is competitive, I'd rather trade in a long training ride in the winter for an intense race that's hard but over in an hour, and it provides a competitive outlet.
Despite that daunting description, Fasczewski says cyclocross is an excellent cycling discipline for those who are just getting into competitive cycling because of the relative short races that aren't so intimidating to new racers. Cyclocross races are set up on a fixed 2 ½- to 3-kilometer course with natural and man-made obstacles that the riders must get past. Races are based on time rather than distance, with beginners racing for 30 minutes and more experienced racers competing for an hour.
“The beauty of cyclocross is that the races are relatively short, compared to three-plus hour road races, so for someone just starting out, racing 30 to 40 minutes isn't very long at all,” Fasczewski says. “But it's an inverse relationship between how long it is and how intense it is. Because it’s short, it is really high intensity. It's the gateway drug to racing.”
Flynn has been a professional mountain bike racer since 2001 and took up cyclocross in 2005, quickly becoming one of the best cyclocross racers in the country. She won a collegiate national championship in cyclocross while at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and is a masters runner-up in both the U.S. cyclocross championships and the world championships held last winter in Louisville.
Flynn's rapid rise in such a short time is not unique in cyclocross, according to Fasczewski, and the lack of a steep learning curve helps build confidence and keep new riders engaged in the sport.
If you're looking to get started in cyclocross, Fasczewski's training company, Vantaggio Fitness, offers free cyclocross training rides each Wednesday, as well as individual training for new and experienced riders.
For more information, visit: www.vantaggiofitness.com.
Mountain bike shoes are needed because riders are on and off often during cyclocross, but little specialty equipment is needed to give the sport a try. There are specially designed cyclocross bikes, but they aren't necessary for beginners.
"The exciting thing about cyclocross at the local or regional level, you don't have to have a cyclocross bike to start,” Fasczewski says."You can use your mountain bike, buy a racing license for $10 and go out and test the waters."
“I can take someone who's never raced cyclocross before and get them relatively good fairly quickly, and whenever anyone starts something new in any sport one of the keys to keep them excited is for them to see progress,” he says. “When they see results quickly, that keeps them excited. It's just like a diet plan — if someone loses some weight early in their diet they are more likely to stick with it.”
In Chattanooga, cyclocross has grown quickly in recent years, and there are now several local cyclocross races here and across Tennessee and Georgia for experienced racers and those looking for a new challenge on the bike. Flynn has organized a women's team for the past couple of years which will merge with the Chattanooga-based Motor Mile Trek team this season to field men's and women's teams. Fasczewski organizes the Old Gray Barn Cyclocross Race, which was run in early October in Rocky Face, Ga., and Hub Endurance has launched a series of cyclocross races that are held at Greenway Farms in Hixson, with the second race of the series scheduled for Nov. 10.
Both Flynn and Fasczewski say that the growth of cyclocross locally only adds to the fun and should make it even more popular in coming years for riders who want to keep racing even as the temperatures drop and other cycling seasons wind down.
“It's been pretty awesome to see just in the last couple of years,” Flynn said. "Three years ago in Chattanooga, Mark and I were pretty much the only ones racing cyclocross ... but now it seems like everyone is racing cyclocross. And I think that's true in many places across the country.
“Cyclocross is the fastest-growing discipline in the country right now. I think everybody has just discovered how much fun it is. It's just a good way to get out and experience the camaraderie and have a good time on the bike when there's nothing else going on.”