PALM BAY, Fla. – It's a sport that boasts heckling and crashes but shuns "sandbaggers," those who race at levels too easy for them.
"It hurts, but in a good way," said Michael King, part owner of Infinity Bike Shop in Melbourne and an avid fan of cyclocross. The sport — "It's like road biking offroad," King said — has gained traction nationwide in recent years.
Now Palm Bay is set to become the cyclocross capital of Central Florida.
This weekend, city officials will cut the ribbon on Cyclocross Rotary Park, converting an old, unused BMX course in the far southwest part of the city into into what King believes is the first public cyclocross course in the area.
Tires will christen the new course this weekend at Infinity Cross, a two-day competition that King hopes could be the biggest of this year's Florida cyclocross season. He said 75 riders have signed up so far, Local 6 news partner Florida Today reported.
"The most for a race this year is 125 (cyclists), so we're shooting for 126 or more," he said. "That's what we'd like to see."
Here's how it works: riders tackle the nearly 2-mile course in 30, 45 or 60 minute heats. "You go as hard as you can for your length of time," King said. It's a mostly grass course and those on two wheels also navigate a few handlebar-busting obstacles.
These athletes like cold weather, rain and mud. They shun pavement for courses with berms, jumps and a "flyover," a steep wooden bridge up and over a ditch they'll eventually ride through. Like any good competition, this weekend's race intertwines physical prowess with libations and camaraderie at the finish.
The newly minted park — the sign went up Thursday — took minimal work to convert. The land on Osmosis Drive SW was once leased to a private owner as a BMX course, but city officials said that lease ended years ago, leaving the track mostly unused. Then Infinity approached the city, looking for a place for a permanent cyclocross course. City staff changed the sign, marked the course and installed the flyover. Voilà, a cyclocross track.
"We have a great working relationship with cycling groups and enthusiasts in the area and want to continue to provide the best possible cycling experiences for them. Offering a challenging course like this will draw riders of all levels to test their skills," Palm Bay Parks and Recreation Director Heidi Lapin said in a statement. "The Cyclocross Rotary Park provides a great opportunity to position Palm Bay as a leader in cyclocross and attract cyclists from all across the country."