THE SANTA ROSA CUP IS CYCLOCROSS AT ITS GRUELING, GRITTY BEST.

Much of the other corners of our fair continent host their citizens in fleece and frost this time of year. People put on their winter weight and grumble from heated box to heated box under chill gray skies. Their fitness suffers, as well as their form, and talk turns to far off climes with sunny skies where multi-month slumps like this go to be busted but good.

In Santa Rosa, however, we do not have an off-season. While the rest of the world labors in the crisper drawer of winter, we simply shift from one bike to another. We dust off the cyclocross rig to, at least ceremonially, acknowledge the barely dimmer days and only slightly cooler nights. Then, come some lazy Saturday or two (or three, or more) in fall and winter, Bike Monkey and CX Nation’s Santa Rosa Cup race series grabs select city parks by the short hairs to deliver the finest in community-based anaerobia and world-class heckling.

Hundreds of racers come from all over the Bay Area and Sacramento to contend in cycling’s biggest and most popular stepchild discipline. At dawn, the tape is strung, the barriers dropped. A serpentine track of sand and mud and pavement rise up where once there was only weeds and playgrounds. In the morning mist an air horn blasts and a horde of cyclists erupt off the start line. Racers flog themselves, six-minute lap after six-minute lap, redlining their legs, hearts, and lungs in a bid to win their category.

bikemonkey

Up the stairs, through the sand, over the barriers, up the grassy bank, down the grassy bank, up the grassy bank again. They collapse afterward, teeth lined with grit and bodies sprayed with dirt. Bikes are assessed for damage, breath is recollected and some even go out again. The rest take their place on the sidelines, loudly impugning the next crop of racers’ cycling skill/physical strength/parentage, handing beer out to those who can still swallow, and dangling dollar bills for the on-course multi-taskers who can pedal at the edge of their strength and still see clear enough to snag a buck or two. Racing is racing, but spectating is at least as much of an art.

And when the last race is done, the riders and their families ease back home, throttled by somehow squeezing a 4-hour ride into 50 minutes. The race crews descend on the course, tearing it apart nearly as quickly as they built it up. They chase the sun and, in the waning light of day, there’s little left to suggest such fun transpired.

Next Saturday, same thing. Welcome to Santa Rosa.