Feats of Strength, debauchery and food poisoning: my Single Speed World Championship racing experience

‘Lest you think this race is sheer debauchery and hangovers, I assure you the racing was indeed legitimate.’

Scenes from SSCXWC Durango
(Image credit: Beth Ann Orton)

Thanks to a global pandemic, the Durango cyclocross community, rallied by race director Dylan Stucki, had two years to perfect their game for the 2022 Single Speed Cyclocross World Championships (SSCXWC). If a hard-as-nails cyclocross course, keg stand shortcuts, sketchy gap jumps, course larpers armed with pool noodles, flame throwers, string bands and all-night crowd surfing are your jam, then please do read on.

The SSCXWC requires a fine balance of partying to racing: Too much party and your racing suffers, too much racing and you’ll quickly be shooed from the course by costume-clad fans armed with megaphones and an unlimited supply of Coors Light.  As Carl Decker (not in attendance in 2022) said in a recent instagram post reminiscing about SSCXWC, “Have fun and make bad choices, everybody!”. That about sums it up. 

If you think cyclocross is dying on American soil, a trip to SSCXWC might be just what you need to regain faith in the sport. One look at the Durango world champs venue blanketed in screaming crowds, with hundreds of spectators and racers in attendance, will make you believe in 'cross again. 

Cyclocross has always had a way of disarming and inspiring even the most rigid of bike racing souls, and SSCXWC takes this inspiration to the next ethereal level, with just a few presiding rules, namely rule number one: “Don’t be a dick”. 

Scenes from SSCXWC Durango

2019 SSCXWC champion Sunny Gilbert 

(Image credit: Beth Ann Orton)

Unfortunately, a sneaky case of common gastrointestinal staphylococcus, otherwise known as food poisoning, prevented me from racing in the garish tights and pink mesh I had planned for the championship race, but I did participate in the qualifying and “feats of strength” events preceding Saturday’s race. 

"Feats of strength" are a series of ludicrous activities designed as qualifying events for those who didn’t auto qualify as a Top-5 finisher in the qualifying heats, which consisted of one lap on Durango’s lung busting course. 

Saturday’s feats of strength included the now-famous Geoff Kabush beer chug and push up challenge, a Big Mac eating contests, carnal tug of war contests with waist securements and a petty cab tractor pull. 

I ended my day with more beers chugged and Big Macs eaten than during my entire road racing career. Imagine that. And remarkably, no bikes or persons were injured, though I can’t speak for the folks who voluntarily consumed 3 big macs as quickly as possible. I salute you. And your vomit. 

Scenes from SSCXWC Durango

The Tug-of-War competition

(Image credit: Beth Ann Orton)

Lest you think this race is sheer debauchery and hangovers, Saturday was the big show, and I assure you the racing was indeed legitimate. 

Riders in attendance included Durango single speed legend Sarah Sturm, 2019 SSCXWC champion Sunny Gilbert, cyclocrosser and Fort Lewis College alumna Sophie Russenberger (Team S&M) and retired off-road pro and resident shredder, Teal Stetson-Lee. 

Similarly, the men's side was the Who's who of off-road American cycling with the likes of  brothers Todd and Troy Wells, Keegan Swenson, Stephan Devoust, Henry Nadel, and Howard Grotts all vying for the coveted tattoo in the championship race.  

New for 2022 was a non-binary championship category —a very welcome diamond in the SSCXWC crown— represented by ridiculously fast riders from the West Coast. 

Team S&M's Robert Cummings handily secured  the non-binary championship race in a fury of off-the-front riding after an infamous Le Mans start through a cactus and cow manure laden field, which lead to a steep paved incline approximately 1 mile from the original projected start point. Naturally. 

Scenes from SSCXWC Durango

Sturm and Quinn battle it out in the women's championship race

(Image credit: Beth Ann Orton)

The women’s championship event was hotly contested by Sarah Sturm and Fort Lewis College’s Natalie Quinn, who navigated the course at preternatural speeds while their competitors fell folly to too many ham and whiskey hand-ups. 

Sturm was the race’s eventual champion after she rid herself of Quinn on the closing climb. Quinn took a well-earned second seat and Ellen Campbell was close behind in third place, completely unhindered by riding in a gold bodysuit, reminiscent of a 1990’s-era jazz team. 

While most adhered to the "don't be a dick" golden rule, it was disappointed to see WorldTour brothers Quinn and Colby Simmons, decked in full trade team kit, invite themselves onto the course in an act of attention getting during the women’s and non-binary championship race. Fortunately, they made a hasty exit at the bequest of crowd “boos”, and “read the room” and “nobody cares”. They also consented to a shotski, and I’m hopeful their sponsors will be tagged on social media in this nugget of disarmament. 

Scenes from SSCXWC Durango

Retired MTB and Cyclocross pro Teal Stetson-Lee

(Image credit: Beth Ann Orton)

The men’s race for the single speed crown was a flurry of full throttle racing between top contenders Tod Wells, Howard Grotts, Cormac Mcgeough and Henry (Hank) Nadel. The remainder of the men’s field participated in an urgent chase for the top 10, and a display of all-out carnage on the inflatable gap jump, which experienced various phases of deflation and abuse from its passers by. Grotts was victorious in the end, with Wells in a close second and Nadel taking third. 

At Single Speed Worlds, each victor receives a champion's tattoo. In Durango, ink was dispensed at Durango’s Ska Brewing afterparty, followed by an all-night mosh pit.  What happens at SSCXWC, stays at SSCXWC. 

As with so many world class events, you may just have to see SSCXWC for yourself. And you can, next year in Santa Cruz. We’ve asked for water-themed feats of strength. 

My advice? Start shopping for your wetsuits. If their performance in Durango is any clue, the crew at Rock Lobster Racing is going to put on one hell of a show. 

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