Rainey Park Cyclocross: Two Perspectives On One Great Race

Whelp, the end of cross season is here. It’s time to clean the bikes, throw away the ruined kits, and finally have the first relaxing weekend at home since Septem…

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Whoops, looks like I’ll be testing the relationship with Madison as well as my immune system for one more weekend of bike racing in cold and mud. Weekend after weekend, New York cross racers have been driving for hours to races, so how could I hang my safety hat (helmet) up when there is a race ten minutes bike ride from my house?

Keith Garrison is the New York arbiter of all things cyclocross. As the person responsible for both New York Cyclocross Facebook group as well as organizing and hosting the Wednesday night cross practice on Randall’s Island, I guess Keith decided he wasn’t doing enough for the  community. So he decided to host a cross race.

The snow is already inches deep on the park as we pull up to start mapping out the course the night before the race. I assumed setting up a race was a lot of work, in fact standing in an empty field with eight trash cans filled with stakes really puts the daunting task into perspective.  The four volunteers look to Keith for where we start and he points towards nowhere in particular and says “over there.”

The plan is to have Keith stick flags in the ground 20-30 feet apart representing the left side of the course. After ten minutes of this, one of the volunteers walked up with a shop broom. 30 more minutes go by and Keith comes running over a hill with a huge smile on his face, dragging the broom in the snow behind him right over top of the the first flags we set down. The course has been mapped, and now we have to drop those flags along the broom brushed path before the currently falling snow covers it up. I pick up about 400 flags and head off along a row of trees; behind me are the other volunteers grabbing a bushel of tape stakes and, one by one, sticking them right next to each flag I’ve placed. We’re all too far apart to be able to speak but every once in awhile the course will loop back over itself and a smile and someone would say “this isn’t so bad”.

I find myself on the other side of the park, alone, in the snow, robotically sticking these flags along the broomed path when I notice something. A course feature! The broomed snow goes slightly down this hill and then right back up. This isn’t just a hill in some park near my house, this is an off camber turn -- a tough one!

The rest of the flagging flies by, as I’m running along this broomed path, wondering if this turn will be a good place to pass or whether those stairs will be rideable. Over the span of a final hour, we individually start making our way back to the park entrance each one of us in disbelief that the job got done at all. Three hours earlier this was an empty park and it’s now a race course. The same type of course I have spent too much time and energy driving to, a where I get to push myself passed any limit I previously held, a course where I experience every emotion in the span of 45 minutes; it’s right here, one mile from my apartment.

There was an untold amount of work done before I volunteered, and an even greater amount of work still to do. I wonder all the time why people put on amateur bike races. All this effort (and money!) for what?  But that night, five hours before I planned on waking up to suffer and push myself and race my friends, I got to see why they do it. Making the course, however small part I played, was the best part of my cross season.

- Cullen MacDonald

Steve Rousseau: Racing Rainey Park made me hate myself a little less.

The cool thing about cyclocross is that you can go to all these big races and watch the big pros go very fast and you feel like you’re participating in this very big scene.

Shockingly, this makes you feel very small. When your race is the last race before all the pros light it up (At least in the Vittoria series, in the MAC racing as a Cat 3 man makes you feel like a literal afterthought, which is probably just about right.) it’s hard to not compare yourself to the pros, if only through the sheer force of proximity.

It’s something I’ve been dealing with all season, felt most acutely at this year’s Gloucester GP. When the real adults who are making a living off of this are patiently waiting for you to finish, it’s hard not to feel like a rube who’s playing bikes!

Racing Rainey Park after a season of big races, and even bigger disappointment, was a reminder why we do this dumb hobby in the first place: community.

Maybe this is only a problem unique to the Northeast. Where most of the big races happen, and coincidentally, most of the pros race. But Rainey Park felt like it was our race. A race for no pros. A race for just us. A race where no one is stressing about results and is just happy to be here, racing with your buds.

And all thanks because Keith Garrison, who is already one of the main reason why a cyclocross scene even exists in this city despite the city very much not wanting it to, moved heaven and earth to make it happen. It’s been said before, but he got like 200 people to race in the snow, mud and freezing temperatures and everyone had a good as heck time.

Sometimes, living in this city, it can feel like things have existed for thousands of years. That you’re constantly trying to worm your way into scenes and parties and places that would like it if you didn’t sit with them, actually. Racing Rainey Park was a reminder that the scene is us. We’re all contributing to it. That no matter what happens — whether the city (rightfully) shuts down our weekly practice, or it snows the night before our only local race of the season — we can still come together and make something happen? Like, there’s a base enthusiasm for cyclocross here in the city.

It’s nice to reminded that in a really shitty year in some corners of the world something earnest and pure still exists and is worth giving a shit about.

- Steve Rousseau