November 5, 2009 at 7:14 a.m.

Tree farm race is a favorite on the cyclocross circuit

Tree farm race is a favorite on the cyclocross circuit
Tree farm race is a favorite on the cyclocross circuit

Last weekend, there were vehicles parked bumper-to-bumper along the hilly driveway into Erickson Brothers Christmas tree farm, on the south edge of Taylors Falls. It looked like a Christmas tree giveaway was on. But, wait, a hand-lettered sign "bike race" with an arrow was posted at the highway. The sign was askew and pointing in the wrong direction, only it didn't seem to matter because everybody knew the action was at Erickson's.

The crowd had arrived for the farm's once-a-year cyclocross race, appropriately dubbed the Red Barn Classic.

Cyclocross you ask? Think moto-cross, minus the moto.

Cyclocross involves racing competitors, riding and/or carrying their non-motorized bikes. Whatever the racecourse layout demands, the cyclists have to react to...manmade obstacles are erected that competitors have to hurdle, or sometimes it's just a twisty, mud packed turn you get off your bike to negotiate.

The cycling-running combo is nothing short of a massively good workout.

It's also entertaining to watch. Spectators gathered mainly near the race announcer canopy, next to the red barn. The course opens up there, affording a stretch of straightaway so you could get a visual of who was leading and how the riders were spaced. Bikers sped past and disappeared into many thousands of groomed evergreen trees.

Looping back towards the red barn, racers again came into view to negotiate by-foot the hurdles and a hill. You might catch a glimpse of a speeding bike crossing a gap in the trees...then, suddenly a pack of competitors would re-enter the straightaway and the announcer guy would impart his microphone wisdom as the bikers sped past.

Each lap of the tree farm amounted to about a mile and three-quarters.

Various races were run by men and women, elite and novice levels, throughout last Saturday. Flecks barely resembling snowflakes were falling, and a biting wind kept people milling about and shuffling their feet on the sidelines. Racers didn't seem to let the weather affect them. Participation at 180, however, was down from the 225 bikers or so that race organizers had expected, and less than last year's peak of 195 racers.

Erick Erickson said he raced bikes in college and, "This is my way of staying active in the sport." He's a father of two, and a teacher in the St. Paul School District and pursuing a master's degree, so his time on a bike is limited now.

His father Paul and uncle Steve operate the Erickson Brothers Tree Farm. One day he said it just struck him that the terrain would be a perfect site for a cyclocross event.

That first race was five years ago and the Red Barn Classic just gets better-known every year. Erickson added that even though Sunday was by far the nicer weather day last weekend; there were more contestants in the Red Barn Classic than there were at a Sunday race held in Fridley.

The Red Barn Classic is part of the Minnesota Cycling Federation's Cyclocross Rider of the Year series.

Seeing as this was also Halloween Day, the event awarded prizes for costumes; but most racers opted for the usual competitive bike gear.

For additional details see http://redbarncx.blogspot.com.

County Cycles, in Roseville on Lexington Ave. is an event sponsor and could also help you out if you are interested in cyclocross.


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