There's a jovial side to sport that is revealed as athletes reach the end of a season, especially with the sense of bounty surrounding the autumnal equinox, as daylight becomes more precious. Add a little competition to the cauldron of Halloween mixed with a few spirits and the result is the gauntlet of fervent camaraderie that packed the bridge over the Big Wood River at River Run, center stage for the annual Crosstoberfest at Halloween weekend.
Flight after flight of cyclists in a number of categories, including children and masters racers, tested their muscle on a course that included all manner of terrain: patio pavers, pavement, mud, grass, gravel and even a smear of snow on Lower River Run that lasted for much of Saturday's races.
The Wood River celebration of bicycle racing revealed a level of creativity in the sport, which is perhaps the greatest manifestation of the principle of mechanical advantage. Competitors took to the course in bunny ears, tutus, spider helmets, fishnet stockings, lumberjack cutoffs and other resplendent costumes that competed in color with traditionally vibrant racing uniforms, otherwise known as "kits."
The two-day competition presented by Powerhouse, Sun Valley Resort and Road & Dirt bicycling club coincided with Sun Valley's 2010-11 winter kickoff at the River Run Plaza shops and was also host of a final race to determine the cyclocross state champions on Sunday. The women's distinction went to Liza Rachetto of Boise, who narrowly eked out Ketchum's Rebecca Rusch. Boise racer Shawn Mitchell took the 2010 men's title.
Racers had opportunities to shine both Saturday and Sunday. At least one junior racer from the Boise Young Rider Development Squad raced in multiple races per day to pack in as much experience as possible as the 2010 race season nears a close.
"We have training for kids in all disciplines of cycling," said team director Douglas Tobin, the owner of Endurance Training and Fitness Center in Boise.
Tobin said some of the 14 cyclists from Boise were making their racing debut at Crosstoberfest.
"We have riders who just started three weeks ago. Part of cycling is you always have to travel. You have to learn how to get your gear identified. Crosstoberfest is good preparation."
One young rider, Benny Torres, who arrived at the festival without a bicycle, jumped into a free event on Saturday to compete off the couch when another child bowed out of a one-lap, 6-and-under race.
"I started out in the back and started passing people," said Torres, who had borrowed a Strider—a two-wheeler without pedals—and tied for second. "Elias was way out there and I caught him."
During the adult circuits there was a great deal of catching up, and, with flat tires and tired bodies, falling behind that added to the suspense for spectators and competitors alike. A serpentine course, including barriers and grueling climbs up the base of Lower River Run and another from the original Union Pacific railroad grade to the River Run upper parking lot, added to the challenge. Only Matt Luhn, the masters 45-and-up flight winner on Sunday, was able to ride from bottom to top on a couple of laps, so arduous was the grade included by Powerhouse owner Billy Olson, who designed the course.
"It's an absolutely awesome time—the best race of the season," said Eric Ruggeri of Power Engineers, dressed in a Young-Crippen Space Shuttle flight suit, complete with duct-taped cuffs and a Bell helmet. "My whole family came out to race. It's cool when it falls on Halloween—I can blame my poor performance on my costume."
Races were launched to the cheers of adoring fans toasting with beer steins and bloody Marys with a backdrop of music and running commentary from the race organizers.
This year's race course had more road time between the barriers and hill climbs to help make traditional cyclocross bikes more competitive with mountain bikes.
Riders suffered and smiled, sometimes simultaneously each race.
"Chris Gardner is putting on a move," Olson announced over the race public address system, as Gardner and fellow competitor Josh Glick stormed after each other lap after lap.
Olson, together with Mike Pfau and Greg Randolf, announced winners and helped explain the unfolding drama with an underlying soundtrack of rock and polka to racers and fans alike.
"Eric Rector dropped the anchor for those last two laps," Olsen said on Saturday.
"He's not smokin' bacon," added Randolph, as a punishing hour-plus race entered a final lap.
Rumors circulated over the weekend that Nordic trails were being groomed between Prairie Creek and Galena Lodge in time for Halloween, work that could have impacted the Blaine County Recreation District director's cycling performance.
"Here comes Rector with a look of pleasure and relaxation on his face," Randolph added as the director reached the finish.
Even fans were victims of announcer hazing.
"Why aren't you racing, Nappy?" Olson asked as Elephant's Perch employee Nappy Neaman was spotted in the peanut gallery.
"I got a groin pull from dancing," Neaman said.
"That's the best excuse I've heard for not racing," Olson said.
Certainly, there are many ways to celebrate cycling. EMT Dave Bell did so by entering races with his 1972 Gitane, a steel-frame French road bike that he bought in high school, complete with a new wheel and better handlebars.
"It was so fun. I pumped my heart out," said 6-year-old Zander Trout Douglas, hopping up and down trying to convince his friend Nils Huss to enter the ages 7-to-12 race.
"Get the green guy," yelled a Rusch fan about a racer dressed in green, as the Ketchum champion rode by in her red Specialized kit with a smile on her face.
She did catch the guy in the green Guinness Cycling kit, Brian Schiller, a Fischer ski representative in town on business.
"It's tough coming up 5,000 feet trying to keep up with a bunch of people who live around here," said Schiller, who lives near Portland, Ore. "I just couldn't let her get away from me."
Schiller, Rusch, the state champions and multitudes of fans enjoyed surprisingly good weather during the races. One racer said he loved the "beer feeds" as he hopped with two feet in the air onto his bike like a Roughrider mounting his steed and road away, excited about the 2010 National Cyclocross Championships in Bend, Ore., from Dec. 8-12.