One thing Lee carries while racing - his bike! ? Annette Hayden

It takes a special type of person. © Annette Hayden

Masters racer Lee Waldman reflects on what makes us ’crossers separate from the rest of the herd. Missed Lee’s last column? Catch up on his opinions about the Nationals’ schedule.

by Lee Waldman

It takes a certain frame of mind to love cyclocross. It takes a lust for mud, snow, rain and ice. A kinship with frozen ruts. To be a ’crosser you need to embrace lactic acid, dance around pain and laugh at bloody shins. ’Cross requires a love of L.T. and the patience to slog through the muck for what seems like days when, in reality, it’s less than an hour.

Ask a cyclocrosser why he (or she) loves this sport and they’ll look at you for a moment…and then just smile. They’ll be sympathetic, as well, because if you need to ask – well then this just might not be the sport for you. We ’crossers just know; we are uniquely aware of how twisted our sport is. Yet we toe the line religiously, every weekend, in search of the hole shot, the perfect dismount, the smoothly ridden switchback, the ballet-like dance over the barriers.

It doesn’t end there, however. When the suffering is over we gather around the power wash with mud on our bikes, mud in our hair, mud in our teeth, ear-to-ear grins on our faces – and what do we talk about? What else is there? The race.

“How’d you do?” We’ll ask.

“Didn’t that just suck?” We’ll agree.

Then what will we do? We’ll smile, say goodbye and start to plan for next week’s race. We know how bizarre it is, but do we care? Absolutely not! Because we are different, unique in our ability to seek out the pain and suffering that every cyclocross race deals out.

Beyond that, though, we know the beauty that’s inherent in these “rides through the woods.” We know the joy in the effortless glide over terrain, in stepping off the pedals with little loss of speed and then rejoining the bike just as smoothly. Calling it ‘ballet on bikes’ is a futile attempt to define what we do – there truly are no words to describe the feeling.

We know also that we’re set apart from the rest of the cycling world. The road is…different. More white collar than blue. Their bikes are pristine, not built for dirt. They sweat in the heat, avoiding the nitty gritty, snot-dripping, icicle-forming, mud-coating, red-lining beauty of cyclocross.

And though we know that we could just as easily have raced on the road, or the track, we’ve made our choice and with that we’re happy. We’ve seen the beauty in snow, the challenge in ruts, the madness of the mud.

And we don’t care. We don’t care about the pain and the dirt, or how long 60 minutes can seem. Our skills have developed and our sense of accomplishment has grown with every passing race.

There’s not much more that a person can expect from a sport and every cyclocrosser knows this. We push bikes and bodies to the limit. So we ignore the negative, laugh at the discomfort, do our laundry, cleans our bikes and wait for the sky to turn gray, for the leaves to fall, for the ground to soften and turn to mush. We smile, knowing that it all is precious.