Growth in the Junior fields has been on the rise.

Growth in the Junior fields has been on the rise in the Cross Crusades.

After 20 years, the Cross Crusade in Oregon has grown into one of the world’s largest participatory cyclocross series in the world. The series averages more than 1,000 racers each of the nine race days throughout the season, with a record of 1,536 showing up for the traditional Alpenrose opener in 2010.

There are plenty of Elite racers and even more elite cyclocross machines at the races, but even after 20 years of steady and consistent growth, the biggest group of racers each Sunday comes from the competitors who are new to the sport or have just recently started to learn.

And also with people who are a little older, explained Brad Ross, the series director since 2000. “It’s turned into, at least here in Portland, a sort of an adult league kind of sport for people who maybe had their kids and are looking for something to do that is relatively safe but still keeps them fit.”

Of the roughly 1,350 riders who participated in the 2013 series opener on Sunday, Oct. 6, in Portland, less than 250 were elite-level riders. Many of the rest would more easily fit into Ross’ description of beginner or intermediate riders looking for a fun way to stay fit. Junior racing has also been picking up as of late.

“It’s good now, but for a long time we had a real problem attracting Junior riders to the Cross Crusade because we were totally promoting it as this adult league party sport with beer and all that kind of stuff,” Ross said. “Now it’s good. I can’t take credit for this, it’s other people, the people who were over in Bend and a lot of these other organizations here have really taken on junior development. So now our junior racing is really growing big.”

The biggest category by far at the Cross Crusade races is the Masters 35+ Cat C group that saw a dead-even 200 riders on the start line this year at Alpenrose. With a policy of leaving lapped riders on the course to finish their race at their own speed, things can get a little bit crowded.

But that’s the case for most of the Alpenrose, which accommodate 20 age- and skill-graded categories with eight separate starts throughout the day. (The popular Kiddie Cross, which often sees as many as 250 kids competing, surrendered its spot on the schedule and now takes place on a separate infield course with a separate schedule of events).

For all but the Masters 35+ C race, the categories are combined to fill the course and give as many people as possible a chance to race against their peers. On the course, staggered starts between groups quickly fade into a never-ending train of suffering.

“The goal is to try and make sure that each one of those race starts has approximately—as close as we can—the same number of people in each start,” Ross said. “But the other thing we look at is making sure we don’t have people with radically divergent ability levels on the course at the same time. It’s a safety issue. So you try and keep people on the course who are of relatively similar speed and ability levels. It’s hard.”

The Beginners race with the Unicycles. The Cat C men race with the Clydesdales. The Masters 35+ B men compete on the course with the 50+ and 60+ riders. The women B, C and Beginner racers share the course with the Masters Women 35+ A and B fields, as well as the 45+ women. The Cat B men are on the course with the singlespeed race. All of the juniors—boys and girls—share a course.

The elite riders of the day, the men’s and women’s A fields and the Masters Men 35+ A racers, compete for 60 minutes on the course at the same time.

The arrangement makes for a full day of racing on full courses; if you want to win at the Cross Crusade, you will learn how to pass people. And Ross said he regularly gets requests for new categories. Each year the Cross Crusade crew breaks out the spreadsheets and gives the numbers a second look, trying to figure out if there is a way to fine tune the schedule.

“It’s hard to add categories at this point, for sure,” he said. “We don’t have anymore time in the day to add anymore race starts. At this point the categories just get bigger. And people figure it out. The Clydesdale category (riders over 200 pounds) used to be really small, but people started looking at it and figuring out they could race in it and not be racing with 200 guys. So now even the Clydesdales category is huge.”

One of the Masters men's fields takes off on the Rainier course.

One of the Masters men’s fields takes off on the Rainier course.

Cross Crusade by the Numbers

Series Race #1, Alpenrose Dairy, Portland
Sunday, Oct. 6

1,350 racers

  • Beginner Men = 102
  • Beginner Women = 36
  • A Men = 67
  • A Women = 38
  • B Men = 70
  • B Women = 38
  • C Men = 112
  • C Women = 46
  • Clydesdale = 51
  • Junior Men = 78
  • Junior Women = 23
  • Masters Men 35+ A = 98
  • Masters Men 35+ B = 125
  • Masters Men 35+ C = 200
  • Masters Men 50+ = 70
  • Masters Men 60+ = 18
  • Masters Women 35+ A = 26
  • Masters Women 35+ B = 21
  • Masters Women 45+ = 25
  • Singlespeed = 97
  • Unicycle = 9