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Mud, sweat and Gears.

Byline: Serena Markstrom The Register-Guard

They carried their bicycles, high-stepping over logs, hurdles and up stairs. At times, they rode through standing water and plodded up steep inclines crunching gears. And they raced on asphalt, plowed through sand and squished over mud.

Yes, cyclocross is a sport for the fit and filthy.

Some of the cyclists who competed in the final Oregon cyclocross event of the season Saturday at Camp Harlow in north Eugene were runners who took up the sport for a new challenge. Many were road racers or mountain bikers who use it to stay fit in the off season, and others said they do it just for fun.

But by the end of their two-mile races each had one thing in common - they were splattered in mud. And by all accounts, it was a dry day.

Part of the job of anyone organizing a cyclocross event is to throw barriers in the path of riders. And the riders want it.

"Any time you gain some speed, you take it away," race director Sal Collura said.

Collura has been putting on races in Eugene for 10 years, he said. He calls it the Psycho Cross Pseries and this fifth and final race capped off a season that began in September. Racers must be members of the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association, which has $20 a year membership fee, but otherwise the events are open to anyone.

"It's a terrific skill builder," Corvallis-resident Flo Leibowitz, 58, said. "There are a lot of things that are less intimidating after you've done this."

The elite women's winner, Tina Brubaker, said she has noticed a steady increase in participation since she started in the mid-'90s, particularly among women.

In contrast to road racing, cyclocross is more inviting, she said. Here, riders are spread out and moving slower. One person's mistake generally does not lead to taking out a group of people. New riders need not be privy to etiquette that comes with experience and training.

Brubaker runs clinics in Portland and said there are usually 15 new women each time.

"For me, it's exciting," she said.

Spectators Jeff and Monica Bauer live on Camp Harlow and brought their 5-week-old baby Adelia to take in the races. Positioned near a steep hill by the finish line and lap marker, the family watched the final group, professional men, wrap up the day.

"What I like about cyclocross is the group of people who come out are pretty laid back," Jeff Bauer said.

From chatting with several racers, it seems people attracted to the sport are work-hard, play-hard types.

The Northwest is one of the nation's cyclocross hotbeds. Nationals were earlier this month in Bend. At the biggest races there is a festival-like feel and a fun attitude. Some people wear costumes and there is a whole lot of cow bell ringing to keep the mood light.

Racer Holly Kotsovos, 33, of Vancouver, Wash., said she and some friends brought a portable fryer and cooked a bird at one of the big races.

Melissa Boyd of Corvallis competed in nationals in the 55-plus age division and came down to Eugene for the final race with her teammate Leibowitz.

Three years ago, Boyd said she did not even exercise regularly but Saturday she was hanging in there with women half her age and challenging herself on a course that required keen technical knowledge of one's bike, as well as endurance, coordination and agility.

"It's kind of like a steeplechase for bikes," Boyd said.

When Boyd arrived at Camp Harlow she saw a little boy jump out of his family's car, head straight for a mud puddle and jump in.

"Cross is really in that same spirit," Boyd said. Getting muddy "is actually considered to be part of the fun of it."
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Title Annotation:City/Region; Cyclocross racers get down and dirty in season's final event
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Dec 20, 2009
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