Last winter, the Wood River Valley proudly laid claim to the official title of “Nordic Town USA,” as the best cross-country skiing destination in the nation.
But the ways things are going around here, the Valley may have to put in for another title: “Bike Town USA”
Earlier this month, the International Mountain Bike Association gave the area the rare recognition of an “Epic Ride Center” for “exemplifying what mountain biking looks like when it’s done right.”
Last summer, the USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships were held locally and were a huge hit. And now, thanks to the hard work of Eric Rector’s crew at Blaine County Recreation Department (BCRD) and a squad of passionate volunteers, the Wood River Valley has a world-class track for the fastest growing bicycling sport in the country: Cyclocross.*
The new cyclocross track will be on display this weekend when Hailey hosts the 8th Annual Crosstoberfest. Styled after similar, extremely poplar autumn festivals held all over Europe, Idaho’s Crosstoberfest matches a couple days of unique bicycle races with a beer festival.
“It’s a huge in Europe. (Cyclocross) is a household thing over there,” Rector explained. “It’s everything fall for them. Whole cities will close down for races. It’s like the Super Bowl for those people.”
Rector, who’s been into the sport for close to a quarter of a century, and Billy Olsen of Power House Pub & Bike Fit Studio in Hailey are responsible for bringing cyclocross to the Wood River Valley. The two cyclists (Billy is former pro rider) would travel to Europe in the autumn to participate in cyclocross events and they felt the sport would eventually be a big hit in bike-crazed places like Sun Valley.
“We have the right kind of people around here who love this stuff,” Rector said, of the sport’s growing popularity both locally and nationally. This year’s Crosstoberfest is expecting to be the largest ever.
Riders and fans are expected to descend upon the Valley from across the state and region. According to Rector, there are growing and healthy cyclocross scenes in Boise, Twin Falls, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and throughout Utah and Oregon.
“There’s lot of great stuff going on. Things are just going to keep getting better and better,” Rector said, and he should know.
Last spring, Rector led the movement to build a permanent cyclocross track around Cutter’s Park (connected into the Croy Trails), where Crosstoberfest will be held again this year. After pitching for help from the Hailey City Council, Rector was able to add some of the unique elements to the new track that make cyclocross races so fun—elements like stairs.
“It was the one feature we were missing and it’s a great feature to have because it makes it just a little bit harder,” Rector said about the new steps. “And there’s nothing bad about making things a little harder.”
It's certainly not hard to see why events like Crosstoberfest are growing in popularity nationally and especially locally. For a bike—and, quite frankly, a party—loving community like ours, marrying a beer festival with some really fun and unquie bike racing is a match made in heaven.
“It’s really a Wood River Valley Community thing,” Rector said about the local support for Crosstoberfest and the Valley’s new cyclocross track. “It’s about all of us.”
Video of participants tackling a challeneging section of the new cyclocross track. Courtesy BCRD.
*Cyclocross events traditionally take place in the autumn and early winter, after the normal bike racing seasons have come to a close, and consist of short races (usually lasting less than an hour) where the competitors make laps on short tracks (usually less than two miles long) that contain challenging terrain, which varies from dirt to pavement to grass, and includes obstacles that occasionally force riders to dismount and carry their bikes.