What’s up with this Love Affair with Sand in Cyclocross?

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What’s up with this love affair with sand on a cyclocross course? I just checked out some photos of the Masters World’s course that my friend, Bill Elliston, so kindly posted.

I guess there are 3 sand pits on the course, with one having a u-turn incorporated in it. I don’t get the whole premise of including sand in a cross race. Is it because they have sand in Belgium, so we think it is cool to be like Belgians? That has to be the case. This sand riding has only become common the last decade or so. I don’t remember ever racing in a cross race that had sand before 2000.

If the Belgium connection is the reason, let me tell you, our sand is nothing at all like the sand in Belgium. Our sand is much more granular, courser, thus doesn’t compact like the fine, silt-like sand in Belgium. Our sand never will retain lines unless it is wet. Our sand is completely not rideable in many situations. Theirs is usually rideable, at least by the best riders.

Let me tell you how fine the sand is in Belgium. I have the pair of socks I raced in Mol, Belgium, two years ago. Every single time I put on those socks, I feel sand in them. I’ve washed those socks dozens of times and there is still a itty-bitty, tiny amount of very fine sand on the material. It’s nuts.

Anyway, I don’t want to bag on it too much, but I think it is stupid to go out of our way to add these sand obstacles in our cross courses, just because they do it in Belgium. It screws up the drive train of the bikes and seems unnecessary. Many of our cross races end up being extremely muddy. Then we go add an artificial sandpit into it. That is a recipe for disaster. In Belgium, normally where the sand is, the courses drain extremely well, because the sand is the natural composition of the soil, thus it isn’t super muddy, with sand.

I think that if the forecast for Louisville holds true, this will be the case there. Mud, plus 3 sand pits. For me, it shouldn’t be the factor to decide the outcome of a race, which it just might be this next week. Anyway, I’m driving towards the sand and mud in Louisville at this very moment. I have a physical therapy thing for my shoulder set up and then an awesome dinner after. Can’t get much better than that.

Check out the different in the composition of the sand in these two photos. The first is Klaas Vantornout at the 2013 Belgian cyclocross championships in Mol. The 2nd is Ryan Trebon and company in Boulder. See how the sand in the first photo holds the lines, while there are virtually no lines in the Boulder sand.

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15 thoughts on “What’s up with this Love Affair with Sand in Cyclocross?

  1. SalRuibal

    Last year’s CXWC in Koksijde was pretty much all sand, except the pits section. That’s because Koksijde is on the North Sea and the town is literally in the sand dunes. They didn’t have to add any sand. That’s probably why the Belgians won pretty much everything there. But will there be an Oompah Tent in Koksijde? We don’t have to copy the Belgians, but they do know how to put on a party, er, race.

     
  2. SalRuibal

    Last year’s CXWC in Koksijde was pretty much all sand, except the pits section. That’s because Koksijde is on the North Sea and the town is literally in the sand dunes. They didn’t have to add any sand. That’s probably why the Belgians won pretty much everything there. But will there be an Oompah Tent in Louisville? We don’t have to copy the Belgians, but they do know how to put on a party, er, race.

     
  3. Stamper

    Uh steve, you should look at a aerial image of the Course. It is right next to a sand dredging plant and its on the Ohio River. I kind of doubt that the sand is artificial (the features might be).

     
  4. The Facts

    Stamper, just a bit of information for you, no argument intended. Steve raced the venue of the Elite WC course last year so I’m going to assume he’s familiar with the grounds of that course. However, whether he knows it or not the sand he is refering to on the Masters WC course is not part of the natural landscape. In order to preserve the intergrity of the Elite course this years Masters course is not at the Elite sight. The venue for this years Masters WC is an old golf course very close to the Elite course. The sand is from sand traps on the golf course.

     
  5. Scott Dickson

    Tyger Johnson had a sand pit in the 2 Illinois cyclocross courses he designed in 1976. I remember how the chain skipped while riding through the sand and even for a distance out of the pit.

     
  6. Pete Webber

    Generally I think the addition of sand pits is a good thing because it adds a technical feature to courses that may not have much other difficult terrain. (Like the masters course in L’ville) Many of the properties that allow cross races do not have the landscape needed for technical riding, and if they do, it is often off limits because it will be severly damaged in a race. For example, steeps are a great challenge, but racing on them tends to cause a lot of impact. Sand is often easy to repair and doesn’t cause landmanagers to freak out about the cost to rehab. Most racers like it too, it is fun to ride and is a challenge that can be tried again and again. The type of sand varies everywhere you go. There is no single type of “Belgian” sand or “American” sand. The sand at Mol is fine, but the sand in other locations in Holland or Belgium is different. The photo from Boulder is Valmont Bike Park. I designed the sand pit to add a technical feature in a section of the park that is flat and non technical, and where we couldn’t build terrain. I speced it with pea gravel instead of beach sand because I thought beach sand would cause too much wear and tear on bikes when people are practicing the sand pit a dozen times. (It is open full-time) The pea gravel holds lines very well, perhaps too well in some conditions, so we roto-till it before races. I don’t think every race course should have sand if there are other things that add spice, but it is usually better than nothing.

     
  7. Nancy

    I am sure bike shops love sand because they get a bunch of business from the damage. There is a UCI rule for minimum length. At Noho, they remove the sand volleyball course because it was too short for the UCI race but amateur races had it because people wanted the sand.

     
  8. Mike Rodose

    Sand must be natural…courses with waterfronts and sand are rare and gems!

    Other additions of sand pits are ridiculous.

     
  9. clay

    Pretending is fun, I like to drive on the wrong side of road when drunk and pretend I am in Japan..

     

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