As the biggest off-season race gets underway in Monaco, cyclocross racers have to wait just a little longer for the early summer ‘cross races to start. But does that mean ‘cross season is almost here? CXM contributor Jamie Mack takes a deeper look at this touchy subject.

by Jamie Mack

“Cyclocross seems to be starting earlier and earlier each year.”

That was the response I got after suggesting a road trip together to Spectacross in NJ at the end of July.  Granted it came after the requisite question regarding fermented beverages, and the whining of the spoiled roadie who could not fathom that we were going to sleep on the ground, but still it was the timing question that got me thinking.

Now, I’m still a relatively new comer to the ‘cross lifestyle.  Last year I bought an honest ‘cross bike, hooked up with a training group and slogged through the mud with the rest of the cyclocross community that descended on Mercer County Park for the USGP.  Through it all, everything just felt right.  After years of bouncing between bike disciplines, I had found my cycling home.  I was a ‘cross racer.

Through the season and the off-season, I dove in and devoured everything related to ‘cross that I could find.  I knew all the stars, I learned the history and the tradition.  Photos and stories ingrained in me that cyclocross is for the toughest of the tough cyclists.  Battles fought over frozen ground, riders with bloody chins from a misjudged barrier, races one or lost in a muddy corner taken too hard.  That’s ‘cross.

Through all that, I have been led to believe ‘cross does not belong in July.  There may be mud, but there will be no cold.  There will certainly be reason to dismount, given the rumors about the car on the course.  And there will certainly be the community, reduced as it may be by the absence of those still entrenched in road and MTB race seasons.

These rambling thoughts eventually bring me back to the question at hand.  Can a race held in the heat of the summer be a ‘cross race?  Should it be considered part of ‘cross season?

My opinion?

Without doubt this is a ‘cross race.  Whether defined by the course, the bikes or the familiar names popping up on the registration lists, this is shaping up to be a good weekend of ‘cross.  Granted the weather that can define ‘cross may be absent.  But it is not so much a specific weather pattern that is inherent in cyclocross, as it is the variability that produces the extremes.  And July in New Jersey can certainly produce its own weather challenges.

But is it ‘cross season?  No.  Not to me.  Races held outside of the traditional September to February time-frame are not part of the “season”.  ‘Cross season is something that happens only when the other bikes have been put away.  The focus shifts and the community reunites as other disciplines enter their off-season.  And I think that it’s because many riders see this as the off-season that ‘cross races are conducted in an atmosphere that other types of races cannot recreate.

Relaxed, laid-back, whatever term you use to describe the feeling, there is something different about ‘ cross.  But it is only when the elements conspire to keep the whiners and the posers inside that I believe it’s ‘cross season.

But then again, I’m relatively new, remember?  Think I’m completely off?  Drop a comment below and let me know.