Commentary: Obstacles you won’t see at ’cross worlds
Each season, organizers of the UCI Cyclocross World Championships transform their venues into devilish circuits of pain.
Need proof? Observe Helen Wyman’s course preview video from 2016 Zolder worlds in Belgium, which shows a course full of steep climbs, wooden flyovers, patches of sand and mud, and plenty of twists and turns.
I’m sure the Zolder course created a worthy challenge for the world’s best pros. But will you see any smoking coffins used as barriers at a future championship? Will there be barbed wire? Will riders be forced to navigate a limbo pole?
Of course not.
The worlds organizers are beholden to the UCI’s Technical Guide for Cyclo-cross — a charming document that reads like VCR instructions. The guide prohibits a promoter from transforming a ’cross course into a demolition derby or minefield with rules like the following:
— The course may include no more than six man-made obstacles.
— The length of an obstacle may not exceed 80 meters and the height may not exceed 40cm.
— The course may include a single section of planks… placed minimum 4 meters and maximum 6 meters apart.
— Bridges or footbridges shall be covered with an anti-slip surface.
You may be wondering what specific obstacles are strictly verboten under the UCI’s stringent rules. Organizers of unsanctioned races have, for years, created nasty or wacky features to boost the mayhem or simply challenge racers’ might. Of course, there are simply too many of these nutty features to tally. But I’ve compiled a short list of my favorite cyclocross obstacles that you won’t see at worlds.
Mad Max-inspired Thunderdome
In 2009 the Singlespeed Cyclocross World Championships headed to Portland, where the local Cross Crusade organized the event. There was a foam pit, a windmill, and a 30-foot high metal dome structure inspired by the 1985 classic Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Racers had to ride through the thunderdome, while fans hung from the metal dome spokes and doused them with beer.
UCI Rulebook violations: The Thunderdome is definitely taller than 40cm. I believe the UCI also has rules against anything Mel Gibson related.
Who would excel: Drunkest fans.
This story comes from UCI mountain bike coordinator Simon Burney, a ’cross veteran. Apparently in the mid 1980s, the organizer of the British National Cyclocross championships had a limbo pole on the course, which forced a rider to hang off the side of his bike to pass under the obstacle. “It generated quite a lot of heated discussion between the 6-footers and the organizer,” Burney said. Apparently someone smashed the pole before the race.
UCI Rulebook violations: Per UCI rules, I believe limbo music must also be played when limbo poles are in use.
Who would excel: Short people.
Junkyard front-end loader
Since 2006, Philadelphia’s Bilenky Cycle Works has held a cyclocross race in a junkyard, where rusty metal and tetanus provide the real challenge to racers. One year, Steve Bilenky and his crew had racers run through the shell of a burned out van and then vault over a dead car. “Most people just fling themselves over,” Bilenky said. Another year, they routed riders up a ladder, over a wooden corridor, and through the cab of a bombed-out front-end loader. They even tacked some anti-slip surface to the descent from the loader to keep racers from breaking their tailbones.
UCI Rulebook violations: They put anti-stick material on the descent, so this one might be legal!
Who would excel: Scrap metal aficionados
Smoking coffins and tire run
Every October, the Cross Crusade holds its annual Halloween ’cross race, where riders and fans don costumes. Organizers also jazz up the course with two features that would definitely make UCI delegates scratch their Swiss heads. Instead of wooden barriers, the Cross Crusade puts out old wooden coffins, each with a smoke machine inside. After leaping over the coffins, riders must then navigate a military-style tire obstacle that would make Private Benjamin proud.
UCI Rulebook violations: I didn’t ask Cross Crusade if the coffins were under 40cm, so hey, maybe they could get away with it.
Who would excel: The undead. Also, G.I. Joe and Jane.