Finally cyclo cross has reached Australia and now Queensland. Over the past few years cyclo cross has steadily gained momentum in southern states, now thanks to guys like Scott Kirton and Brad Norman, the sport is beginning to take off in Queensland. Since 2010 Scott Kirton has put on one race per year at Ipswich in conjunction with the Ipswich cycling club. The August 2012 event at Ipswich was titled the Queensland cyclo cross championships. On the 1st of September 2012, two weeks after the Ipswich event, Brad Norman tried his hand at organising the first ever cyclo cross event held in Brisbane. Supported by the Balmoral cycling club, Brad's event was a success. The course meandered it's way around the infield and outfield of the Murrarie crit circuit.
For an alternative view, I invited Jeremy Haynes, organiser of the super successful Kansas City - Boss Cross series, to come along to Brad's race for a hit of dejavu. Jeremy had relocated to Brisbane earlier this year for work, into a town where there was no cyclo cross scene, here we are months later and a new scene is emerging. Jeremy and myself sat down and had a chat, next to the hipsters banging like mad on pots and pans as the racers went by. More posts this week as I interview Brad for a full report on Cyclo Cross in Queensland.
Here's what Jeremy had to say about the development of Cyclo Cross in the States, the inception of his Boss Cross series and the prospects in Australia for a new race organiser like Brad. Plus Jeremy critiques Brad's first ever go at designing a course.
What was it like getting a cyclo cross scene up and running where it had not previously existed?
Cyclo cross in the States I geuss started in the seventies mostly on the West Coast and the East Coast, that's where the big racing scenes were back then. I'm from Kansas City in the middle. I started getting involved in cycling in the mid nineties and I started racing cyclo cross in 1995 - 1996. I saw a flyer and I worked in bike shops, there was a shop putting on a race, I just came off a good season mountain bike racing and I started racing cyclo cross and I got hooked. There were some guys, Mark Thomas, Joel Dyke, and Curt Bales who were putting on a little series called Slime'n and Gross'n - for a little Belgian flavour. There were some people racing in Topeka, back then cyclo cross races were far and few between, you would race maybe twice a month from November to the end of January. I got involved because I like being involved in stuff, before I got into bike racing I put on punk rock shows, so I geuss I like to be part of something.
What little I knew about cyclo cross from racing a few races, also watching videos of European races, I thought that the races that we had in the States were a little too "Mountain Bikey" - so I wanted to make them whatever was my interpretation of European cyclo cross, so I decided I needed to get involved. I also wanted to race more than twice a month, we had all these expensive bikes and we needed to be riding them more. I believed the season should start earlier and that the season should go longer. So I started doing these "Show n Go" - just show up and go - free kinda bandit races. I lived in downtown Kansas City and we lived next to a park and so on Halloween we'd have a Halloween party and a cyclo cross race and that's how it started for me. Whatever the Sunday closest to Halloween was, we'd put on a party, I'd hand out flyers and we'd get fifty or sixty guys show up. Steve Tilford is a racer from my area, he's a world champion on mountain bike, he rode up to the race with some pro friends, and I thought oh shit that's cool.
So I started putting on a series the three Sundays in October to extend the season and just start getting more races out there and I used inner city parks. All free, never got permission, I dunno how we got away with it for as long as we did but we'd just show up with some tape, and everybody knew when to show up and we started racing. Then one year we decided to go legit, so we started getting permits and giving prize money, I geuss that was '99. In 2000 we had national championships for the first time in Kansas City.
At the time the scene was getting really strong, as I said it was strong on the East and West coasts. In '98 some friends and I went and raced cyclo cross in Chicago. There was a national series called Super Cup, there was a big scene in Chicago, Kansas City was big, I think Minneapolis had a decent scene but we never saw many Minneapolis guys. So there were little pockets, not like it is now, but you could see that it was growing. Everybody looked at Kansas City as, it sounds cheasy, as a kind of a growth market. We didn't have the largest scene but we had a very tight knit cohesive well put together scene. The guys who started it Joel, Mark and Curt brought the nationals to Kansas City, that was right after they had it at the Presidio in San Francisco, which was still legendary as one of the best national championships we've had. I'd like to think it kinda put us on the map. From there more and more people started putting on races. Now we've had nationals three times and UCI races at least twice. It got to a point where within three hours of the city no one else put on races because ours were so good, people would travel to our races.
What made your races special?
I think that the quality of the courses made them special because, this sounds kinda cheesy, we had a little bit more of an edge because we had been doing it a little bit longer. The three or four years head start that we had on the rest of the country helped out, also a higher calibre of racers and we really focused on the course design, making sure that it was our interpretation of authentic. You know a lot of guys especially starting out will just put together a mountain bike race, something that is way too hard for the average bike rider. We always used to call it "Green Beret Training" and just these real jungly races. Our interpretation was it was more of a grass crit. Cyclo cross is about transitions from the hard sections, the barrier sections or the off camber sections and the rough technical handling sections into fast road sections. I think we were able to get a handle on that in Kansas City before the rest of the people around us. For me I came from a BMX background, growing up jumping your BMX bike off a wall or any little bump you can see in the terrain, it helps you develop an eye for a line. When we started doing the Boss Cross series, my race series, we could see flow where other people didn't. The tendency for most race designers is right we're gonna head down this way for a little bit then we're gonna take a hard right down this way, then we're gonna do a couple of switch backs, and some zig zags and go round that tree and then we're gonna go finish it this way.
So these novice designers might be working to a list of what they think they need?
We came at it where it was a little more organic than that. The comments that have been made about the courses that we've designed, are that ......
The bike turns when it wants to turn, the course is put where the bike wants to go naturally and when you ride it really slow it feels kinda choppy and disjointed, but when you ride it at race pace the entire course opens up. There are corners that don't need brakes, and there are sections that look hairy and when you ride them during a race the secret kinda reveals itself. I think that there are courses that are designed for racing. A lot of what you'll see is a course designed for an atmosphere, the way I looked at it is we're here to race our bike, not to hang out.
From Curb Destroyer Blog : The only course designer with the imagination to do anything like this is Jeremy Haynes and his Boss-Cross Series.
Once the racing style of courses came on that would have been more exciting for riders and spectators?
We were really good at putting on a race series for bike racers, we had guys from all over coming and really complimentary of what we were doing. Once the cyclo cross thing hit in Kansas City in the early 2000's in a big way we were racing every Saturday and Sunday from the beginning of October to the end of December into January. Other guys were better at promoting and putting together the entire race package. I wanted to keep our series at a level where it could sustain itself, we didn't have the largest attendance, prize package or a 'bouncy house' or any of that stuff on site, but you knew you were going to get the highest quality race.
So you've gone from the beginnings of an almost non existent scene to various race promoters promoting many different events?
Yeah, it's awesome because we all have our own flavour and it's really supportive everybody gets on, for a long time we shared equipment. We have an agreement in Kansas City that if you're a race promoter you don't pay for entry fees at other people's races. Yeah we built it up to what is a really awesome scene, so now we get around 200 people every Saturday and Sunday every weekend, and we race every weekend. We've got guys who've been on the podiums of national championships and national races, we've sent kids to Belgium and yeah we've done good, hopefully we've had a little part in that.
This race series that you have running in Kansas City now, how long has that been running?
The main race series is called "Boss Cross", I never thought the name would stick but it did, it's been going since '98. It's the longest running series, certainly in Kansas City, but we think it might be the longest running series in the midwest, outside of New England and the West Coast. So it started out three weeks in the beginning of October and then it was done. It then became three races over the fall, now over the last couple of years it's been one weekend one Saturday and Sunday and then two single day races. The last two years our series final was also the Missouri state championship, so it was cool to have guys from St Louis come over. I think we've done a really good job with it, it's bitch'n. I did it by myself and a couple of friends, and we'd wake up at like four in the morning on race day, and we start racing at ten or eleven, so we'd get out there at four and set up an entire course before the sun comes up.
There was this guy from Levinworth, Roger Harrison, who's this Vietnam vet, passionate about bike racing. Out of the blue he called me and started showing up at the races with a PA and tools, and would sit there and bust his arse with me, we did it like that for years. Then I had a race team help me for a couple of years, Midwest Cyclery where I worked. Then for the last five years I geuss, my buddy Joe Fox, (Joe Fox runs Cycle City) he and I are partnered up on it, that guys brought a level of organisation and quality that I didn't have before.
Have you had long term racers who've been involved since the beginning?
Yes, half the guys we race with started with this series. Every weekend it's people that I've known since I was twenty years old, that I've watched race. They're all older than me it's all the mentors, the people I learned from. Especially Mark Thomas, he ran a bike shop and ran this race series, he's like 'awesome, you're young passionate, you can do this, I can stop'. Later he got back into it, started putting on a series and it's great and he goes to the Masters worlds in Belgium, takes a group over there.
It's a friendly scene and a lifestyle?
Those guys brought the lifestyle to it, I never had any involvement or influence on that, I was there to put it on, get done with it. We were sponsored for several years by Boulevard Brewing Company, local Kansas City Brewers who've always got shit-loads of beer.
The beer adds more to the atmosphere!
Yeah, also one of the things I liked, because I've also been kinda slow and never won a race. I don't like seeing the top three or five guys win everything. I don't think guys that are that fast deserve to get prizes, usually because they work at a bike shop so tubes or tires, they already get it. So what we did is we would do a raffle, so if you raced you get a raffle ticket. That's how you got your prizes you had to stick around, you mighta got some cases of beer, we did a wheel set or two, we did frames one year. I wasn't putting on races for the fast guys, it was for the forty year old plodders. So that's the only atmosphere thing I did.
This is the very beginning of a scene here in Brisbane, it's the first race ever today, there's a huge opportunity. For you it must be like a time machine - you're going backwards, back to square one, dejavu?
Kansas City it's bitch'n over there, here in Brisbane is just like Kansas City in '96! It's really weird, like a salad days thing, it's like ohhh wo, going back to punk rock bands and seeing them for the first time. It's neat because there's obvious passion. It's cool, I like seeing that not everybody's riding a five thousand dollar carbon bike. People are just put'n together what they want to put together.
Has it come to that now in your series, five thousand dollar carbon bikes?
Yeah in Kansas City everybody's got a seriously bitch'n bike, and I like that. Back in the day it was your cast off road gear and whatever frame you could cobble together. Mostly cyclo cross bikes, but it was bar end shifters and a set of crap training tubulars. Now it's $2,500 carbon wheels for the guys who look like they're nine months pregnant.
It's a bit like the coffee shop scene here in Brisbane for road riders…
How cool is that, I like that because I like bike stuff, I believe everybody deserves it if they can afford it, it doesn't make them goofy.
So it's nice here today because there are people who are on those bikes that they've put together whichever way they can, people on road bikes, cross bikes, single speed. That's a nice thing to remember because it's going to change rapidly.
It'll change rapidly especially with all the money that's here in Brisbane…
We've got these guys here in the A grade race now and they're going for it, it's just a matter of people learning the sport. Racers are watching videos on You Tube, studying the sport, reading books, anything they can lay their hands on.
Back then for us it was a couple of grainy VHS tapes and what people told us from visiting the East Coast or West Coast, or the guy who went to Europe in 1984.
Here what I'm most struck by is how good the quality of the course is.
Based on you're experience, that's a compliment to Brad the race organiser, so you reckon these guys have designed a nice course.
Yeah it's a nice course. They win. It's not a grass crit. It's not an army training course. Yeah it's spot on, the corners are in the right spots.
So it's not too easy and not too severe?
Those are the things you really worry about, it's not zig zaggy. When you see just a flat piece of grass it's hard to figure out what you want to do with it. These guys have done it, there's contours, there's off camber sections. The only thing that needs to improve is put a wheel pit in.
Can you explain how a wheel pit functions?
When you're not racing cyclo cross in paradise, you get mud and gunk and mechanicals, so you have a wheel pit where you can change over bikes. It's a good idea to have two bicycles when there's bad weather. There's a guy in the pit who washes wheels and bikes, so you trade your bike on the way through. So your race isn't ruined by bad weather or a mechanical. Sometimes I'd show up with two buckets of hot soapy water and as a team we'd help one another during races.
So you don't have to be the guy who goes out there that has to win the race, to have fun at a cyclo cross race. Even if you don't beat the guy in front, you've still had a good day out.
The great thing about cyclo cross is this is one of the only sports you get to dice it up the way the pro's do. No one's ever going to be able to experience what it's like to be in a professional football game, no one's even gonna know what it's like to hit in a professional baseball stadium or drive an F1 car. But with cyclo cross even more than road racing you get to experience everything a pro experiences. It's not a sport just for the fast guys, even if you're off the back you're dicing it up with somebody, you always have a guy at your level who you can target to beat.
CYCLO CROSS LINKS
Boss Cross - Jeremy Haynes and Joe Fox's Kansas City Race Series Blog
Boss Cross Photos - Photos by Phil Peterson of muddy Boss Cross racing - as Jeremy says "Link to Bitchin photos"
Mudsters of The Universe - Brad Norman's Cyclo Cross Blog
Ipswich Cycling Club - Cyclo Cross, racing organised by Scott Kirton
Cycle City - Joe Fox
All cyclo cross photographs by Robert Cobcroft