Cyclocross racers plow through course

Each year, Charles Stanger said he tries to add a new element to the first day.

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Not exactly subterranean but the course was diverse with an overpass/underpass section.

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Going against the grain, a bicyclist traverses tall grass during part of Saturday morning's race course.

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Over hill and anything else imaginable, a racer lugs her bicycle up a steep hill during Saturday morning races.

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Bells ring and banners wave under blue morning skies as bicycle racers charge from the starting line during Saturday races off Sapolil Road.

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A racer takes a water fall after coming down a steep and slippery hill with her bicycle.

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It was a big bicycle racing day at 1004 Sapolil Road Saturday morning as a large bicyle sculpture marked the driveway entrance to a day of racing over hills, bridges, through streams and underpasses and tall grass. The race course is in the wooded area at left, behind racer and spectator parking.

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Bicycle racers in the first race of the day -- Single Speed Men and Women, Women Cat. 4, Master Women 40+ and Collegiate Women -- struggle with bikes in tow up a hillside after a stream cross.

WALLA WALLA - The triple fly-over was the toast of the day for the annual Walla Walla Cyclocross race on Saturday, along with the beer that was handed out instead of water.

"We give them no option. If they want water they can go into the creek," Michael Austin of Allegro Cyclery said, as he struggled to fill a dozen polka-dotted kiddie-sized paper cups, without making any foam.

Since the first Walla Walla Cyclocross race around 2005, Austin said the event has always been a mixture of light and serious.

The light part often involves zany cycling decor, like a chandelier made of bike parts or Halloween-themed decorations and riders in costumes.

The serious part is the competitiveness of the racers and a precarious section.

"There is one issue. On the way back, do not ride into the creek. There is a big hole there. And you are going to end up swimming," USA Cycling official Bill Wykoff of Clarkston warned, attesting to the graver side of the race.

Each year, co-coordinator Charles Stanger said he tries to add a new element to the first day of the race, which takes place at his and a neighbor's farm off Sapolil Road.

This year it was the triple fly-over, which was two crossing bridges built over an underpass trench.

The hills leading from the fly-over bridges were lines with berms and proved to be a favorite for the riders.

"It's a fun course," said Darlene Kirk of Spokane.

Her husband, Dewayne, agreed, "It's really fun. It is a lot different from other courses."

"It is a varied course," Darlene added.

The racing couple had already finished their races for the day. And the place where they chose to spend most of their time watching the other races was on the observation bridge over Dry Creek, where racers navigated the most dangerous part of the course.

In the last creek crossing, racers had to jump off their bikes, run across the seemingly shallow stream and then haul themselves and their bikes up a muddy steep bank.

Though the vast majority of racers made it across without falling, a handful misjudged the uneven stream bottom and found themselves taking a drink of water instead of beer.

"Oh," Darlene Kirk yelled out in empathy, as a racer fell face first into the shallow stream. "Good recovery," she then yelled to encourage the man, as he rose, picked up his bike and ran up the muddy bank.

"That's impressive. He got back into it. I would have laid there," she said.

All day, the cyclists competed in the sometimes painful, often funny and very competitive race.

The two-day event is part of the Inland Northwest Cyclocross Series.

Saturday and today, racers compete for points, which are accumulated over the fall season.

For Rhonda Pinto of Moscow, Idaho, 2011 is her first cyclocross season; Saturday was her fifth cyclocross race.

"I like the light hardiness of it. Some racing can be too serious," she said.

As for the beer, she declined her chance to chug while chugging along.

"No. It would make me choke," Pinto said.

That was not the case for the Kirks, at least one of them.

"I did get a cup on a lap," Darlene said.

"I forgot," Dewayne added.

Event coordinators were uncertain of the number of participants this year, though they said the event generally draws about 200 racers over two days.

If you go

The second day of the Walla Walla Cyclocross Race will be at Bennington Lake, with races at 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 12:15 p.m., 1:15 p.m. and 2:15 p.m.

The races are timed, with lengths ranging between 30 to 55 minutes.

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