CHESHIRE — A specialized type of bicycle racing, known for iconic sights of cyclists dismounting and carrying their bikes over obstacles and up hills, will be taking place at Cheshire Park on Sunday.
“It almost feels like you are in a different world when you’re at these,” said Dillon Pronovost, who owns Cheshire Cycle with his brother Hunter Pronovost and organizes the Cheshire Cross race every fall. Around 350 bikers will be competing at the park from 8 a.m. until around 4 p.m.
The cyclocross race falls somewhere between road racing and mountain biking; though it is off-road, it will follow the 1.5-mile dirt path which snakes through the park. What really sets it apart, though, are the hurdles and steep hills bikers must dismount and carry their bikes across.
Racers will be broken into 15 brackets based on age and experience, ranging from novice to expert. There is also a bracket for children 10 and under. Racers will loop around the course as many times as they can within the allotted time for their bracket, typically five to a dozen laps. Cash prizes and merchandise will be given to the winners of each bracket.
Those interested can sign up at bikereg.com/cheshirecross21 for $20 to $36, depending on the bracket. Online registration closes on Oct. 30 at noon, however there will be same-day registration on-site. Competitors should bring a mountain or a cyclocross bicycle, not a road bike. A handful of bikes are available for rent at Cheshire Cycle with advance notice.
The race is also an experience for spectators, who traditionally heckle bikers as they pass. The tradition dates back to the sport’s roots in Belgium, Pronovost said.
“It's a very interesting concept at a cross race. I know this is going to sound weird at first, but people actually heckle you on the side … some are screaming encouragements, but some are screaming — I wouldn’t want to call them insults, but they’re heckling you,” he said.
Friends and family typically line up around the finish line and along an especially steep hill near the parking lot. Pronovost said those who heckle the bikers are affectionately called “the hill people.”
Food trucks, coffee and activities will also be available for racers and spectators. An announcer will help people get to where they need to be as each round of the race begins.
Sunday’s race is part of the CT Series of Cross, which ranks competitors in seven cyclocross races across the state from mid-September through late November. Cyclocross races are traditionally held in the fall and early winter when the roads get too wet for road racing.
According to USA Cycling, the national governing body which represents the country’s Olympics cycling teams, cyclocross combines the difficulties introduced by the more rugged courses with adverse weather at the start of winter. The sport is a way for bikers to remain active during the off-season.
“Although it is difficult to find the exact reason, many legends have it that cyclists would race from town to town off-road to bring a new element to road racing. These off-road adventures could have often required dismounting to hop fences and impossible terrain,” according to usacycling.org/.