HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — For the past three years, Huntingtonian Mark Brown has been traveling the region from Louisville and Cincinnati to Columbus and Dayton competing in the wild world of Cyclocross bicycle racing.
Saturday, Brown has a short drive to a course as he and other fellow Cyclocross riders have set up a new one for people to try as part of the first Rotary Park Bike Bash, a fun and free day to learn about everything from road and mountain biking to Cyclocross — the red-hot, European-birthed sport sweeping the United States.
Organized by the Greater Huntington Park and Recreation District, the Bike Bash runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the ballfield parking lot with live music, food vendors, and lots of bicycle-info booths from the city of Huntington, Paul Ambrose Trail for Health, Ashland (Ky.) Cycling Enthusiasts and Marshall's Eco Cycle Program and others. At 9:30 a.m., a guided 14-mile road ride leaves that parking lot and returns in time for the start of the Bash.
In the hills just above the ballfields, Brown, who races professionally for the Cyclocross World Grassroots Team in the Ohio Valley Cyclocross Series (OVCX), and others have set up a course.
A Cyclocross demonstration and ride set for 1:45 p.m. will headline the day as riders will race on the course that will feature the sport that's part mountain biking, part steeplechase, part road biking and part tailgate party as bicyclists rumble over pavement, mud, sandpits, steep grades, man-made barriers, steps and more as folks cheer them on the short loop circuit.
Brown, who has more than 20 years of other bicycle racing under his belt, said he's excited to help introduce Cyclocross to the region.
On most courses, pros will lap fans every seven to eight minutes with folks cheering and jeering contestants during the rowdy rides.
"It is its own thing and has its own vibe which is a lot like being at a college tailgate party," Brown said. "Mountain biking has a good vibe, too, but no one can really see much of the race. With a closed Cyclocross course you can see most of the race from one stop, so it is real fan-friendly, too." Brown said it's a great time to introduce the region to Cyclocross as the Ohio River Valley already has a strong circuit that includes Louisville, which in February became the first North American city to host the Cyclocross World Championships.
Europe has hosted world championships in Cyclocross since 1950 when Jean Robic, the 1947 Tour de France winner, won, according to a recent "Bicycle Times" article that chronicles the growth of the sport in the United States.
In the past few years, the sport has seen remarkable growth jumping to 103,779 people racing in sanctioned Cyclocross events, up from 31,828 people racing in events in 2005, according to USA Cycling figures.
Brown, who often trains at Rotary Park, said the hilly 135-acre park is ideal for a course that is similar to the terrain they tackle in parks in Cincinnati, Dayton or Columbus.
"Rotary Park just about has anything that you will run duplicate in the park," Brown said. "If I have trouble with a particular section I will find a piece of land similar at Rotary and try to recreate that. That's been a big help."
At Rotary, they've laid out a course just short of one mile (Cyclocross is typically one to two miles). The course will traverse some of the lower road that slices through the middle of the park, as well as one of the lower level holes on the park's original disc golf course.
Brown said they wanted to make this course easy to access as it is right above the ballfield parking lot where Bike Bash vendors will be set up.
"In mountain biking you're thinking about riding over a fallen tree or through a rock garden but Cyclocross is a little different as the courses are wider, usually about 10 feet and up, and it's going to be something you can fly on," Brown said. "There's nothing to hit on the ground or to cause you to crash as you are approaching barriers. At the race last Sunday there were two barriers that were logs and then some sand to ride through. It's pretty cool stuff."
Brown said because Cyclocross is still such a fringe sport, he's been able to spend time with many of the world's best riders who've taken time to pass on riding and workout tips.
Saturday, Brown and other riders hope to do that as well during the clinic.
"We will go through the sections all together and show people how to ride each section," Brown said. "That's the thing that happened to me, different pros showed me drills to do at home and took me out on the course and showed me how to ride it." Brown said they're thrilled that Kevin Brady and the Greater Huntington Park District is leading the charge for introducing Cyclocross to the area.
Brady, the Park District's director, attended the Cyclocross World Championships in Louisville in February to see if it would be something they would want to bring to Rotary Park, which is about twice the size of Ritter Park.
"We loaded up and went over and it was a blast," Brady said. "It was cold and snowing and yet there were 10,000 spectators with cowbells clanging and all of them having a ball. The racers get muddy, they crash and, in that regard, it's kind of like being a NASCAR fan. You go to see what's going to happen." After seeing Cyclocross in action, Brady said putting in a course at Rotary is a great investment as part of the park district's reinvestment and long-range plan implementation at the park. This spring, a new $60,000 playground was installed thanks to the Rotary Club, the Huntington Foundation and the Park Board. The city has obtained a grant to restore 1.2 miles of paved trails, volunteers such as world champion disc golfer Johnny Sias have improved tee pads at the original 18-hole disc golf course, and plans are to cut another 18-hole disc golf course next spring that would make the park one of the few in the nation to have three disc golf courses.
"There's not a lot of money involved in setting up the Cyclocross course, and these are volunteers coming together to do this, and so we are not shelling out the big bucks to make it happen," Brady said. "We plan to make it a regular part of Rotary Park and when people get tired of this layout it would only take a few hours to move things." Brady said Rotary is also working with area riders on mountain biking paths at the park as well. Saturday, he feels, is just a celebration of how bicycling in many forms and fashions is helping shape up the Tri-State and the way Huntington views its city and parks.
"It feels like there's a trend throughout the Tri-State that more people are becoming cyclists," Brady said. "The city now has a commuter map and you can bike all over town and when the Paul Ambrose Trail for Health is complete there will be more than 60 miles of connector loops throughout the city. It's going to be huge. As far as the park, we feel like it's simple. The more good things we have going on in the park the less bad things we have going on."
Information from: The Herald-Dispatch, http://www.herald-dispatch.com