Santa seems to have replaced Rudolph © Janet Hill

Santa seems to have replaced Rudolph © Janet Hill

by Dave Queen

For full Cyclocross National Championships coverage and information, visit our 2010 USA Cycling National Championships Page.

BEND, ORE. – For the second year in a row the Clydesdales and Athenas met in Bend to decide the Cyclocross Champions of the Universe. Brad Ross throws a great party, and I was lucky enough to qualify for the invitee list. Bend was full of racers with Clydesdale envy, but alas, too many trips to the salad bar resulted in their downfall. If those same riders had eaten doughnuts instead of salads, maybe they could have joined us.

You can check Cyclocross Magazine‘s coverage page for photos of the winners of the Elite and age group races at Nationals. You will see some pretty fast men and women. But if you need someone to help you move your piano, you’re probably not going to call one of those winners. If you have any jobs that involve wheelbarrows, pick up trucks or a dolly, you will call your friend the Clydesdale.

If ever there is a duathlon that involves Cyclocross and a tug of war, these are the men and women who will be picked first. For the first annual race in 2009, we rode on an icy course and, if my memory is correct, everyone who rode last year went down hard on the ice. When a Clydesdale goes down hard, the ground hurts. This year we had mud. Deep, slow, thick, sticky, speed-robbing mud.

The field this year had twice as many large-boned racers – 60 to 70 by most estimates. With the age group races decided, only the Collegiate and Elite races remained for Sunday. This was a chance to let loose and have some fun. Nearly all had costumes ranging from the crowd favorites of Santa, a pair of Teletubbies, a Christmas tree (complete with lights), super heros and two tandems (combined weight of both riders needed to qualify).

After the sanctimonious weigh in and signing of Brad, there was an elaborate staging with the heaviest riders in front. At the whistle, the “lightweight” Clydesdales and Athenas had to work past the slower and wider riders who started up front. This led to some creative passing lanes. The crowd was thick, loud and energetic. Fans tried to distract the Zen-like focus of the large men and women by offering slices of pizza, doughnuts, marshmallows and an assortment of temptations. Like Odysseus and his crew we fought these temptations with mixed success. For many, a slice of free pizza was enough of a victory to step out of contention for the podium.

The course was not lit, so riders were asked to supply their own lights. I think I rode the downhill faster in the dark when I could barely see it compared to how I did during my age group race earlier in the day. It may have just felt faster, but with a herd of large riders behind me, I wasn’t about to touch the brakes.

With so much food and libations at hand, compared to the thigh burning slog through the mud, the temptation was too much, and riders began pulling themselves from the race on the second lap. By the fourth lap, it was apparent to this rider that if there was a finish line, or a formal end to this race, I was not aware of it. I climbed over the course tape and was welcomed like a conquering hero. A large and thirsty conquering hero.

They don’t award a stars and stripes jersey for this race. I guess if the stripes were vertical, they might have a slimming effect, which might not be all bad. Wisconsin is a long way away both in terms of miles and time. It isn’t too early to start carbo-loading is it?

Full Gallery by Janet Hill