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October 25, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
The grassy field outside Socket’s headquarters on Tuesday nights is a maze of yellow, green and pink caution tape strung around in seemingly random patterns. What appears at first to be an elaborate and colorful crime scene on the lawn of the Internet and phone service provider is actually the course for the CoMo Cyclocross racers.
Cyclocross originated in France in the 19th century as a sport where cyclists race on off-road courses and through obstacles such as hurdles and sandpits. Josh Johnson, the organizer of the local races, says it was designed so people from all cycling disciplines could continue racing into the winter months, when snow and ice conditions aren’t ideal for road racing.
At 6 p.m. on Oct. 9, 28 racers — most in skintight racing gear and a few in T-shirts — line up on the driveway and wait for the race to start. Everyone there seems to know one another. Riders from Walt’s cycling team joke around with those from Big Tree Cycling. At the starting gun, some rode full force into the track, while others finish their conversations before casually mounting their bikes and taking up the rear.
Johnson, an experienced cyclist who has raced Cyclocross around the country for 13 years, decided to start a local chapter this September. He established CoMo Cyclocross, a weekly training series that runs from Sept. 4 to Nov. 20, so racers don’t have to travel to St. Louis or Kansas City to find an organized event. Socket, where Johnson works, lets the group use the front lawn for free. Participants pay $5 at the gate each week, and four Columbia bike shops, Klunk, Tryathletics, Walt’s and Cyclextreme, each pitched in $200 to get it started.
“It’s not a leap of faith for us,” says racer Tom Brinker, owner of Cyclextreme. “We believe in the bike. We believe in the cycling community. We are the people who participate.”
Within minutes of starting, the participants are so spread out that it’s difficult to say who’s winning and who’s lagging. At one point, they have to pick up their bikes and jump two wooden hurdles before continuing. By the end of the first lap, racers are already sweating.
“This is the easiest way to get a really good workout in a short period of time,” racer Tyler Cordia says. “Twenty minute races are as much as you do in about two hours on the road.”
The race in general can get really competitive, Johnson says, but the group is pretty relaxed and supportive of one another. At one point in the race, a competitor falls down, and another stops to help him up. A woman on the far side of the track hands out cups of beer to participants as they go by. Big Tree Cycling team member Jeff Fox and his 6-year-old daughter Lily hold Twizzlers out over the ropes to anyone who’s interested. “Twizzlers!” screams one racer as he flies by, fumbling and dropping one as he tries to grab it.
Johnson says minimal competition allows for a high variety of skill levels: “People can come out, ride, get their feet wet — try it out in an informal way, see if they like it and go from there.”
After the race, the participants lighten the mood by heading to the patio, popping some beers and piling barbeque onto their plates. A drizzle starts to come down; a few stay behind and brave the rain to chat with their competitors and help with cleanup.
The tape is gone, but these racers will bring it back next week.