Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
By Steve Frothingham
Fireworks, bagpipes and cyclocross are three things best enjoyed outdoors, in the opinion of most.
But when the New England winter sets in even the hardiest crossnuts would appreciate a little bit of climate-control to take the edge off the season. That’s the thinking from a New Hampshire promoter who’s planning a race inside a 94,000-square-foot sports dome for some time after the new year. It would be perhaps the first indoor cyclocross race held in the U.S., providing further evidence of the growth of the discipline.
It also might contribute to shifting the New England cyclocross season to a bit later in the year. While races seem to be creeping earlier and earlier each year, the New England ‘cross season typically ends abruptly in early December, just as ‘cross fever hits its peak in Europe with the legendary Christmas week races.
Promoter and bike shop owner Bob Hall is looking at other indoor venues around New England in hopes of promoting a winter series in a few years.
His idea is raising questions among the New England ‘cross community: Is cyclocross without mud, dirt or even weather, still … cyclo-cross? And – never mind the philosophizing – what’s the best tire for plywood?
The race would be held at the Hampshire Dome in Milford, NH, 20 miles southwest of Manchester. The $3 million dome, part of a posh private training club, is no stranger to cycling. It contains an asphalt running track (five-laps-to-the-mile) that is open to cyclists at certain hours year round. The turns are banked, but it’s no velodrome; local roadies report they can safely ride the track at about 23 mph, max.
The nine-foot wide track, which wraps around a 105-by-60-yard artificial turf practice field, would be part of the cyclocross race Hall is planning. He’s sketched out a roughly one-kilometer ‘figure eight’ course that includes barriers, some riding on the track and a staircase bridge fly-over where the eight crosses itself in the middle of the field. It also might include a sand pit and BMX-style whoop-de-doos.
The artificial turf, which Hall calls “a million dollar carpet,” would probably be covered.
Because of the narrowness of the track, Hall is planning to hold qualifying heats – probably 20 minutes for about 10 riders – to whittle down the field. The heats would likely have a Le Mans start to spread out the pack before it hits the track.
The non-traditional format “doesn’t meet any of the requirements in the rule book,” Hall says, but he hopes USA Cycling officials will show some flexibility.
“It’s certainly out of the ordinary, but it sounds reasonable,” says regional USA Cycling representative Diane Fortini. “We’d have to run it by some people.”
While indoor cyclocross has been tried in Europe, often in dirt-floored horse arenas, Hall is unaware of anyone having tried it in the United States.
He still sounds a little shocked that the Hampshire Dome’s owner is willing – even eager – to invite a horde of ‘crosser onto his million dollar carpet.
But it turns out that Rick Holder, the owner, is a bit of a cyclocross fan. Holder has attended a few races and says the mission of his training complex is to promote any fun athletic activity, indoors or out, that gets people moving.
Holder says he believes in keeping his club members motivated by making available many outdoor sports, in addition to the usual indoor fitness club activities. The club even employs a bike pro, like a tennis or golf pro, who coordinates group rides. That might be why the average member of Holder’s club, Hampshire Hills, keeps a membership for more than four years, about four times the industry average.
The dome owner suggested the indoor idea when Hall approached him about holding an outdoor race at the dome this fall.
Details are still being worked out and a firm date has not been set, but Hall is shooting for January. He says he has verbal commitments from several local sponsors.
Holder says he’s waiting to see Hall’s full plans, to be sure the event can be held safely before he gives his okay. But he’s not too concerned about his facility holding up to bikes.
And he’s looking forward to the spectacle.
“I designed the dome so that, from any point inside you can see everything else; it’s like a three-ring circus,” Holder says.
Which, if nothing else, makes it clear that it’s perfect for cyclocross.