Nik Cotterel has been involved in Cyclo-cross in all facets of the sport. He is a race promoter, raced himself, travelled internationally for events and continues to extend his 11-year involvement in the sport.
“It started with a conversation between friends on the way back from a 'junkyard style' CX race in Warburton (one of the first for many years in Australia) about how 'we could do that' but with our own 'spin' based on our punk/DIY/inner-city interests.”
Nik has been involved in the running Dirty Deeds CX for the past 11 years and has seen the event evolve from grassroots level racing to a state-level event catering for all ages and abilities.
“A very supportive club (Brunswick Cycling Club) let us run with [the idea]. We thought we'd be lucky if 20 of our friends showed up for the first race... we got 60-70 people and the fire was well and truly lit.”
Growing up Nik used bicycles as a mode of transport and never saw them as a sport or recreational activity, despite his father being a roadie since the 1980s.
“I was too distracted by surfing, skateboarding and snowboarding, until the mid-2000s when I was living in Vancouver and started riding bikes for fun.”
“Track bikes on the street lead to road bikes lead to hanging out with a budding Cyclo-cross scene in Vancouver.”
And so, the ‘dangerous’ path of N+1 and needing all the bikes in the garage begun.
“A couple of years after moving back to Australia I met the right people to make races happen."
While mainstream popularity of Cyclo-cross in Victoria and Australia is growing, the sport has in fact been around for much longer than people are aware (the first UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships were held in Paris in 1950) and is hugely popular in parts of Europe and the United States. It involves mud, obstacles, the need to wash bikes part way through a race and internationally it is known for its party atmosphere. [Ed. Look up Cross Vegas].
“Now people actually know what a Cyclo-cross bike is... When I started, I got blank looks almost every time I rolled along the local trails on mine.”
In the decade that Nik has been involved in Dirty Deeds CX, the sport in Australia is has grown and he no longer gets strange stares on the trails. The change has been huge since the early 2000s.
“I'd say immeasurably... but that's not true. I have the numbers to measure it”
“But instead I'll say this... Immensely. From no races a year to now. We've sent racers to numerous world champs and world cups (shout out to the lovely and humble Nick Smith who has raced more of those than anyone else). We've had 300+ person race days. We've held and won UCI races.”
“We've built several excellent state series, Cycling Victoria have done a great job with the state series, we have a growing number of clubs who are putting on races and the standard of race production and racing quality gets better each year.”
“It'd be great to see more metro Melbourne clubs put on races as I know they have riders who are keen racers, and it is where the bulk of the racers live.”
What makes Cyclo-cross different from track and road, is that organisers can be much more creative in the courses they invent with twists and turns along the way.
“The friendships, the support and the willingness to entertain (and sometimes) celebrate the foolish ideas that my team and others come up with [are things Nik loves about the community]. We have run some very silly races regularly and people just love getting into them.”
"I love seeing people turn up and really not be sure about riding off-road or racing bikes or anything... and then at the end of the season they have a posse of friends, people are cheering them on by name and they want to know why the season has to ever end. I've seen that happen so many times and it never ever gets old.”
“Well, that and watching the perfect dismount and remount executed... that keeps me watching Cyclo-cross.”
Cyclo-cross is accessible and provides opportunities for our younger generation to have fun on bikes whether they are a toddler on a balance bike, just learning to ride without training wheels, have a mountain bike or a Cyclo-cross one.
“I'd love to see the kids racing continue to build. As an organiser, it's a highlight to see kids enthusiastically ripping around your course on balance and small bikes. Plus, we continue to see what happens as those kids grow up in the community and become great racers. I know Alex Meyland has great schools Cyclo-cross program planned for this year and I do hope that has a chance to be run!”
If you have ever been to a Cyclo-cross race you will recognise the key aspects that make it stand out, such as it is spectator friendly – usually held on a small block of land, cyclo-cross races zigzag through many laps of a short course along trails, grass, steep hills in a tight space meaning family and friends have multiple vantage points throughout a race.
“There’s life outside of cycling? Who knew....?”
Nik works in IT, “herding cats” as he puts it. He is also a father to a 14-month-old boy (future Cyclo-cross star?) and spends his time reminiscing about the old days.
“I regularly attempt to make my son giggle and be a good father and partner, daydream about skateboarding.”
No doubt it has been a tough time for many in the Cyclo-cross world who have seen their whole season disappear little by little.
“Right now, it's about staying positive and healthy (mentally and physically) in these crazy times. "This too shall pass..." and we have an awesome community. Try and stay connected virtually, and remember it's just bike racing... It'll be there when this settles down, and we are all looking forward to riding with and against each other then.”
As we have seen in professional cyclists in Belgium and The Netherlands like Wout Van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel, some the best cyclists to come into the professional road scene have come from Cyclo-cross. Marianne Vos is a multiple world champion in Cyclo-cross, track, and road. Even 1910 Tour de France winner Octave Lapize credits his win to his offseason training in Cyclo-cross.
So how do we bring the long history of Cyclo-cross from Europe and North America to Australia?
“This is a popular question... Do you follow the USA participant-driven model or the Belgian/Dutch spectator driven one? Especially for a region that races 'at the wrong time of the year'. Southern Hemisphere Cyclo-cross (shout out to our lovely NZ Cyclo-cross friends!) is its own special beast and I'm not sure copying the North is the answer.”
Do you know what Nik believes is the answer though? Kids.
“Instead I'd like to see Cyclo-cross be part of youth cycling development here. It is the ability to produce star racers is well proven. If we get the kids in and introduce them early to this entertaining and friendly form of racing it will help us get more eyes on the sport."
"It will help skills development (whether you end up on the road, track, BMX or MTB) and it will build relationships between the various disciplines.”
“More riders mean more dollars and more sponsors... which means bigger and better events. Which means more 'stars' come up from our ranks or come down from other countries. With that comes the screaming and dedicated fans screaming from the sidelines.”
“Or I could just say let's magically have lots of UCI ranked races and European and North American stars come down and race. And let's have mountains of frites! but those come with a lasting sport.”
If you ever get to travel internationally to spectate or participate in a Cyclo-cross race, here are Nik’s top tips:
I've been privileged enough to see world cups and world championships, and they are amazing. But there are several answers:
Photos supplied by: Linden Heywood, Elise Gould, Jarrod Benham, Mark Ogaram, Hamish Fitzsimmons