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The weekend before we headed out to Bainbridge for the Fall Festival of Leaves, we ventured a little closer to home for some exciting cyclocross action at Fairfield’s Harbin Park. Cyclocross races are an exciting hybrid of road and off-road racing, featuring twisty, occasionally technical courses, barriers that require dismounting for all except the most accomplished of riders, and the occasional sand-pit or water hazard. Typically they’re laid out in a spectator-friendly manner–for instance, even though the Harbin Park course was 3.2 km (a shade under 2 mi.), it was possible for fans to scoot quickly from one vantage point to the next and catch a good chunk of the action.

In addition, the Harbin Park race (more specifically, the “BioWheels Cycling/United dairy Farmers Harbin Park UCI Race presented by BioWheels“) offered a little more appeal than average local bike race: participants in the Elite race would be competing for valuable points in the national rankings. As a result, the race drew more than your average weekend warrior: competitors in the women’s race included the reigning American Champion and World Silver medalist, and in the men’s race two members of the US contingent to last year’s World Championships and the current Danish National Champion. A national-caliber professional sporting event! Free! In our back yard! I wasn’t going to miss it.

We arrived on a hot Indian Summer Sunday, and watched the last half of the Elite women’s race. These two Elite races followed a full slate of races earlier in the day, and the PA announcer was congratulating the winners and all participants as they, their friends and families, and average fans like yours truly milled about. The atmosphere was a little subdued, or perhaps the anticipation for the main event was bubbling just beneath the surface. In any case, US champion Katie Compton beat the rest of the field into submission (and would go on to a strong top-30 place in the men’s race), and the place began to gear up for the men’s elite race. An enthusiastic fella set up a drum kit next to the sand-pit, folks broke out the cowbells–a sine qua non of cyclocross fandom–and once the starter’s gun went off, flocks of fans made their way from vantage point to vantage point, watching as riders negotiated hairpin corners, grassy expanses, and the occasional technical mishap. From a field of almost 60, ten strong men emerged as contenders, and from that group, two duked it out over the last 30 minutes of the one-hour race. Ultimately, one rode away for the victory. The atmosphere was great, the setting was idyllic (if a bit dusty, but the organizers can’t be held responsible for the drought), and for my money, it was the best sporting event going on that day. Of course, the Bengals were losing and I didn’t pay anything to get in, so it had a leg up on the competition already. But I’ll be back to watch more cyclocross races–might even jump into one or two.

In the meantime, our Bluegrass neighbor Louisville is hosting two national-profile cyclocross races this coming weekend. The list of riders is even more impressive, and the racing promises to be superb. See you there?

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