Scott Mercier: As the snow arrives, cyclocross season is officially here

Scott Mercier
Special to The Aspen Times

Old man winter arrived early and has turned the Roaring Fork Valley into a winter wonderland. For most, this has us salivating for the lifts to start spinning. However, for a hardy few in the valley, fall storms mean cyclocross season is here.

Cyclocross has its origins in the fields of northern Europe. It’s a form of cycling that involves running up steep hills, jumping barriers and riding in mud. The Belgians, in particular, are mad about cyclocross, with tens of thousands of fans watching professional races.

In the U.S., cyclocross has always been a niche within the niche sport of cycling. However, we are seeing growing interest in the sport. It’s still mostly a local and grassroots sport, but there are now two World Cup races in Iowa and Wisconsin, and the 2022 Cyclocross World Championships will be held in Arkansas.

Many of the top young road racers in the peloton today got their start in cyclocross, including Belgian Wout van Aert and Dutchman Mathieu van der Poel. Van der Poel, at 24, is inarguably the greatest cyclist on the planet. In 2019 alone, he defended his cyclocross world championship, won the 165-mile Amstel Gold World Cup road race and won several mountain bike World Cups. He also came within 6 miles of winning the road world championships last month but he bonked in the cold weather. If you don’t know who he is, I’d suggest you look him up, because he is going to be winning races for years to come.

The local cyclocross scene is small but passionate. Aloha Mountain Cyclery in Carbondale promotes a three-race series at the North Face Park. The first race is Oct. 20. Racing starts at 9:30 a.m. with a strider-type race for kids, followed by a 30-minute race for the C/Jr. racers, a 50-minute “A” category race at 11 a.m, and the 40-minute B-open at 12:10 p.m. This race is unsanctioned, meaning you don’t need a USA Cycling license to race.

If you want to try out a sanctioned race, the Oct. 27 event will be a USA Cycling race with points available for category upgrades. This race will also be at North Face Park but will be promoted by The final race is Thanksgiving Day. You can find out more details about the series by calling Nick or Darren at Aloha Cycles (970-963-2500) or going to the Aloha Shaka Cross Facebook page.

The races are pretty casual, but reasonably well attended, with 75 to 80 riders at each race. Casual, however, does not mean you won’t suffer. Cyclocross is anaerobic and you’ll be going flat-out for nearly an hour. You can race on any bike you want and the main rule is: Don’t be that guy! That’s pretty much a good rule for life.

Cyclocross does involve a unique skill set that isn’t required in road or mountain biking. There is a technique to getting efficiently on and off the bike, running in the mud, riding the chicanes and jumping the barriers. Fortunately, we’re blessed to have Carbondale local Tom Clark.

If you don’t know Tom, you should. He was one of the first Americans to race cyclocross professionally. He spent 12 years racing in the trenches of Belgium and Switzerland in the ’90s. He’s back home in Carbondale and every Wednesday he teaches a cyclocross skills clinic. The clinics are from 5 to 7 p.m. at North Face Park. Everyone is welcome, from a neophyte just wanting to learn, to experienced racers who want to improve their skills. No special gear is required, just a bike and a helmet. They’re also free.

When I asked Tom what he liked most about cyclocross, he said he loved the inclement weather and the technique. Well, the inclement weather has certainly arrived!

I’ve never done a cyclocross race. I’m not sure I’ll do one this year, but I’m definitely going to one of Tom’s clinics. So, if you want to try something new and improve your fitness, give cyclocross a try.

Good riding!

Scott Mercier represented Team USA at the 1992 Olympic Games and had a five-year professional career with Saturn Cycling and The U.S. Postal Services teams. He currently works as a private wealth adviser in Aspen and can be reached at