Cyclocross bike race builds community, one muddy rider at a time

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Cyclists take off during one of the Hyattsville CX races held at Magruder Park on Oct. 2. Photo by Krissi Humbard

BY LINDSAY MYERS — For the cyclists at 2016 Hyattsville CX — the annual cyclocross bike race in Magruder Park — rain is just about the best thing that could happen on race day.

“We love the mud!” said rookie race director Peter Van Riper. “We want more mud. That’s what makes it fun!”

Cyclocross is the bike race version of trail running. The courses are primarily off-road and feature sections of grass, dirt, mud, standing water, gravel, sand, and whatever erected barriers or ‘features’ the course designers throw in for fun. In addition to a muddy section through the Magruder Park woods, the Hyattsville course featured two 40 cm wooden barriers that most racers tackled by leaping over them like clumsy hurdlers with bikes slung over their shoulders.  

Although the barriers are a classic part of cyclocross racing (providing ample opportunity for competing teams to heckle one another — “heckling is one of the great traditions of cyclocross,” Van Riper claims), most competitors couldn’t stop talking about the woods. “The section through the woods is awesome, especially since it rained. This course is muddy, and fast, and flat. You can really get some good speed for hard competitive racing,” said Van Riper.

By the morning’s first race at 8:15 a.m. on Sunday Oct. 10, the mulch covered downhill trail through the woods had turned into a muddy river, 2-3 inches deep. When asked whether riders would tackle the wooded section on foot or attempt to pedal through the ooze, Eric Link, a volunteer from the University of Maryland cycling team laughed. “They’ll do what they can. That’s kind of the whole thing with cyclocross,” he said.

 

The Hyattsville CX is the first stop of eight in the 2016 Bikereg Super 8 Cyclocross Series hosted throughout DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Sunday’s event historically has had the largest turnout of any in the series, partially because it is open to all age groups and levels and partially because it is a community fundraiser for the Prince George’s County Special Olympics. Over 650 racers competed this year, which is up by about a hundred racers from last year.

The Hyattsville CX has a different feel than most other bike races, which Van Riper and Chris Militello, co-owner of Arrow Bicycle, say has to do with the community-oriented vibe of the event and the Magruder Park setting.  

“Magruder is great place to have a bike race,” said Militello. “You can see the whole course from the park, which is great for spectators, and there’s a playground for the kids. This is such a Hyattsville kind of event. It’s really focused on families.”

Van Riper worked hard to make sure the race was community centered and family friendly. He solicited sponsorship from local eateries like Shortcake Bakery, Franklin’s Restaurant, and Vigilante Coffee to help promote local business and he worked closely with Cheri Everhart, the Events and Recreation Supervisor for the city, to integrate the race into the city’s Healthy Hyattsville weekend. Van Riper and his crew of volunteers arranged to set up the course on Friday night so that it was available for casual cyclists and families to explore during Saturday’s Zombie Run and celebratory activities.

We could not be more thrilled with our partnership with the City of Hyattsville,” said Van Riper. “One of my goals for the race was to bring out more community involvement, so when Cheri Everhart asked if we wanted to be a part of the Healthy Hyattsville weekend, it was a no-brainer.”

Over its eight-year tenure, the race has raised over $30,000 for the Special Olympics of Prince George’s County. Chris Militello and Chris Davidson of Arrow Bicycle have been coaches for the Special Olympics cycling team for fifteen years. They train with the riders once a week from June through October on the Lake Artemesia trail in College Park in preparation for the annual Special Olympics Maryland Fall Sports Festival held every October. When Militello and Davidson opened Arrow almost nine years ago, they became official sponsors of the Special Olympics through the Hyattsville CX.

“When we opened the shop we had already been working with the Special Olympics for a few years. The [fundraising] partnership just went hand in hand,” said Militello.

Van Riper says he has big goals for next year’s event.

[Cheri Everhart and I] are already talking about next year,” he said. “We’re talking about even more involvement with the Hyattsville community and even more involvement with local business. We want to make sure that every person in Hyattsville is going to mark this weekend on their calendar: Zombie Run, Healthy Hyattsville, Cyclocross.”