Cult Cross: the rugby of cycling

Ian Cropp
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Nederland resident Brian Hutchison jumps onto his bike after carrying it across an obstacle portion of the cyclocross course in Gypsum during the men's pro race. Cyclocross takes riders through any terrain imaginable. (Kristin Anderson/Vail Daily)

GYPSUM, Colo. ” With a set of woods planks yards away, Jake Wells continues to pedal his bike until the last moment.

In one sweeping motion, Wells throws one leg over the frame, drops his other leg off the pedal, grabs his bike and quick steps through the planks. No sooner than his back foot clears the final jump, Wells pushes his bike forward on the mushy ground and leaps back on with his eye on the next turn.

Wells and other riders splash through puddles of mud and crunch piles of snow.

In the sport of cyclocross, bikers don’t go around obstacles; they go through them.

Last Sunday in Gypsum, the area that normally would be the a soccer field, parking lot, hill side and knoll became prime ground for those looking to chase the winter away on two wheels.

“That’s what’s great about cyclocross, you find a piece of property then you form the course around the natural features on the property,” said Larry Grossman, who brought the sport to Eagle County in the spring under the name Cult Cross. “I used a pile of snow that would ordinarily be there as part of the course, but they have to run over it, and if they can ride over it, they ride over it. You ride the natural terrain and accept its challenges.”

First- timer racer Seth Smekal, who came up from Boulder to compete, was an immediate con­vert.

“It gets you a little bit of everything,” he said. “There’s some road biking, some mountain biking, a little running, a little mud. Some snow. It’s such a diversified race. And the fun part is, it’s a good crew of people, too.

Cyclocross draws competitors with different rac­ing backgrounds.

“I saw something on a blog, watched a YouTube video on cyclocross, and it looked super cool,” said Hank Pool, a triathlete who lives in Denver. ” I just came out and had a good time.”

Fun for serious bikers can be code for something else.

“Cross is hard,” Pool said. “Cross is real­ly hard. It’s 45 minutes in the pain locker.” Racers complete a set amount of laps on the course, with pro races lasting between 45 minutes and an hour.

“It’s really high intensity,” said local resident Courtney Gregory. “Your heart rate is through the roof immediately, and it stays that way the whole time.”

While most cyclocross races take place in the fall ” when racers are coming off their summer peak ” the spring is a bit of a different story, Wells said.

“It’s quite a shock to the system. But it’s a good kick-start,” said Wells, who lives in Avon.

Grossman saw spring as the perfect time to host the races.

“We tried doing it before and couldn’t compete with the fall races, so we decid­ed to do a spring series to get some peo­ple up from the Front Range,” he said. “I saw this as an opportunity for some mountain bikers to get some early-sea­son training in.”

Certain skills from road cycling and mountain biking transfer to cyclocross, but just as the sport requires a specific bike ( the tires are skinny like a road tire but knobby like a mountain-bike tire, and the frame is similar to that of a road bike), it also requires some specific skills.

“Trying to stay upright and getting on and off the bike kind of smooth was very difficult,” Pool said.

Typically on a cyclocross course, about 25 percent is on asphalt with a mix of grassy, hilly and muddy sections. On Sat­urday, Grossman held a race in Eagle and had to be creative with 2 inches of new snow.

“That goes back to the heart of cross,” he said. ” Whatever terrain you have, you deal with what the conditions are. The racers never complain. They see it as whatever the terrain offers is a challenge, and at the end, everyone pals up and drinks a beer and talks about how hard it was.”

And, of course, about how much fun they had, too.

“There’s a lot of soul in it,” Wells said. ” It brings the soul back to racing. It’s kind of the grass roots, the way the mountain bike was 10 years ago before it got corporate and uptight.”

Cult Cross will host another race March 29 at the Eagle fairgrounds. For more info, visit