The Singlespeed World Championship has spent ten years fostering its reputation as the best party in cycling, and people have taken notice. The event now garners so much interest that a highly selective qualifying process is needed to whittle the final field down to a (somewhat) manageable level.
Crossing the bridge onto Sauvie Island on Saturday morning, it was obvious the day would be a sloppy affair. A first glance at the course revealed a heavily flooded pumpkin patch complete with thoughtful modifications including the “shark jump,” a ramp straight into a manure-filled lake, and a rowdy dual slalom course far from appropriate for a cross bike. We were welcomed with a smile and informed: “The parking lot is under water, as you probably heard.”
And while the fittest, or perhaps luckiest, participants earned a ticket to Sunday’s race with strong showings in high-intensity, single-lap qualifying races on a slightly shortened course, it was the alternate methods of qualifying that provided Saturday’s entertainment. These “feats of strength” are as much a part of the tradition as the race itself.
A holeshot sprint caused numerous over-the-bars crashes as riders hit the large pool of standing water that marked the finish at full speed. A brutal potato-sack race through the mud at times appeared to be a full-contact sport. The truly desperate souls were forced into a dual slalom race that concluded with a road gap fit for a full suspension mountain bike. No one was riding one.
As an official said over a crackling megaphone, “This is not a UCI race, and we never want it to be. Never stop trying to have fun.” This seemed to be the real key to qualifying for Sunday’s final—accept another ridiculous challenge in the face of heckling by a crowd becoming rowdier by the hour.