Posted: December 2, 2013 at 8:04 pm
By Josh Ewers
Morgantown,W.Va. – On Saturday Nov. 16, White Park, in Morgantown, W.Va., was transformed into a cycling course as hundreds gathered to find out who, among the varied in style racers, competing on equipment ranging from mountain bikes to road bikes, would become the Appalachian Bicycle Riding Association West Virginia State Champion. The race also set up which riders would be looking ahead to nationals in Boulder, Co. on Jan. 6.
Cyclo-cross isn’t a traditional road bike race or a mountain bike race. It is a grueling 40 to 60 minute race across grass, dirt, and road alike, where participants compete on a variety of types of bicycles, each with their own advantages and disadvantages
One hundred twenty-one cyclists came from West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland and even Texas to compete in November. Among them was cycling celebrity, long-time Morgantown resident and multi-time cyclo-cross national champion, Gunnar Shogren.
Despite going in as the runaway favorite, Shogren did not walk away with a state title. The day’s distinction belonged to rider and main event winner, Jordan Snyder of Rochester, Pa., a relatively new face in a sport that is very novice friendly for potential ladder climbers.
Snyder navigated the course better than anyone in his race, but it wasn’t a breeze.
“In practice, I crashed on the downhill section, so I was a little worried about that, but once I figured that out it wasn’t too bad. The run-up gave me a bit of trouble because you get the mud in the cleats and it was hard to get back in.” Snyder said.
This was a big win for the 23-year-old Snyder, especially over a veteran like Shogren.
“Last year I got into cyclo-cross and wasn’t taking it real seriously, but I was getting good results…moved up in classes and everyone was telling me, ‘Why don’t you take it seriously and get a coach'” Snyder said. “…I’ve been feeling under the weather the past few days, and I’ve tried to make the best of it.”
In the end, feeling ill didn’t throw Synder off his game.
“It doesn’t really matter who’s in the race. I just go and do the best that I can.” Snyder said.
Cyclocross is a largely commecially unheeded sport. On Nov. 16, riders competed in one of multiple classes including 40 and over, juniors, and even tandem where two people ride on a two seater bicycle. The men and women’s categories were divided up according to their cycling skill levels with one being the most skilled and five indicating a novice. The competitors competed in lengthy endurance races lasting 40-60 minutes, featuring twists and turns as well as sizable hills and drops that cyclists must actually dismount from their bikes to navigate effectively.
While he didn’t win the main event, the 51-year-old Shogren did win one of the two events he entered, the men’s race comprised of category 2, 3, 4 and 5 riders and those on single speed bikes. He is still qualified for nationals and a trip to Colorado in January.
Despite his success in the single races, Shogren knew where he went wrong in the overall by the time he was off his bike for the day.
“I was gashed [tired] already. I try to hold on to people as much as I can, so I’m not stuck out in no man’s land, but today there was a group up front and a couple people behind,” Shogren said. “I predominantly ran the race by myself, which I don’t like to do. It’s kind of boring, and it’s very tiring.”
The White Park race is of little importance for Shogren now. He’s looking ahead to nationals with his mind on preparation and planning.
“I race to get in shape and race to stay in shape, so to continue my training until January is going to involve some traveling,” Shogren said.
Long-term training, as well as actions taken during the week of the race, are critical to success.
“I’ve been racing for a long time so I know what I’ll need to do. The week leading up, I make sure the bikes are okay, make sure the tires are well and get a good night’s rest,” Shogren said. “You show up for the race, and you ride the course in your jeans or whatever…get the lay of the land.”
Drawing on years of experience in all levels of cycling, Shogren is also well aware he’ll be facing an elevated level of competition.
“If you were a June-bug and just started, you’d get your clock cleaned,” Shogren said.
Few West Virginia athletes break through in their respective sports, which makes Shogren a veritable rock star in the local cycling community and his 25+ year career exploits the stuff of legend.
All in all, cyclo-cross fans make up passionate and tight knit communities that really know the ins and outs of their otherwise obscure sport.
“When you’re inside the cycling community it’s a big world, but it’s not so big when you’re on the outside. It’s a pretty neat crowd, environment, and family we have here,” Shogren said. “The circus rolls into town. We set things up. All our friends come out to play. The circus leaves town, and then next week, it’s somewhere else.”
Cyclo-cross, while now past its “hey day” in the mid 90s, has comeback potential if crowd response is any indication of the future.
“We just heard about it, and I thought it would be fun for the kids, and it’s been great. I’d like to do it myself,” said Maura McLachlan, a first time attendee.
Kars Weld, the wife of cyclist John Weld, foresees a bright future for it as well.
“I think this sport, with these kids’ races, you’re going to see hundreds of kids. It’s such a great sport because it’s so accessible,” Weld said.
She explained that the biggest appeal of the sport is that it doesn’t require a lot of funds or space and that most races, like the one at White Park, offer fun kid’s races and more serious juniors races.
It was a sentiment echoed by ABRA president J.R. Petsko.
“It’s an easy sport for people to jump into. You don’t have to be a great bike handler or whatever, and it’s only for 40 minutes,” Petsko said. “We’ve grown tremendously. Every year we get bigger and bigger. Last weekend [the week before the White Park races] was the biggest race we’ve ever had, and this was probably the fourth or fifth biggest.”
Easy accessibility is a great aspect of cyclocross, the sport also accepts all levels of athletic prowess.
“We have guys like Michael Swope out here who finishes last every race, but he has a good time, doesn’t care where he finishes,” Petsko said. “He’s just looking for some fitness…the fast guys he’s racing with respect him like he’s right up front.”
The day at White Park was enhanced greatly by a successful canned food drive for the needy, sponsored by ABRA. Riders and spectators alike contributed.
“It makes me feel great to help people while enjoying the sport that I love with the people I love,” volunteer Gina Desmond said.
Profile video on Gunnar Shogren’s rise into cycling: