PUTNEY — West Hill Shop's 25th Annual Cyclocross course kept riders challenged as they consistently pedaled with high intensity.
"It's variable terrain. You actually get into the woods and do single track. It's not just on a golf course where it's all fairly flat and contrived," said Diny Sweitzer, co-owner of West Hill Shop. "It really has some personality to it."
Over 300 cross racers registered for Sunday's event, which doubled as the Vermont State Championships. Organizers describe the course loops as "rough" and "often muddy," featuring numerous obstacles. Racers used special bicycles designed for such riding while completing laps around West Hill Shop in Putney.
"The cornfield is the whole lap," said Ian Kola, of Burlington, who has participated in cyclocross races for the past four years and West Hill's event for two years. "Personally, it's a little long. It felt like the majority of the race."
Kola enjoyed a part of the course where racers took a corner and hit a dip.
"Then you have to get off (your bike) immediately and go up," he said of an uphill section.
While Kola was attending University of Vermont and joined its cycling team, members were encouraged to get in on the cyclocross action. Wasting no time, Kola went out and got a bike to fit the venue right away.
"It's pretty fun especially when doing it with the team," he said. "Everyone watches everyone race and everyone heckles and has fun."
Sweitzer said the Putney event has "really good energy." Competitors are part of a small community. License plates from several states could be seen at The Putney Inn, where parking was made available.
"This is a great crowd. The people are awesome," she said. "Cyclocross in general, from what people tell me who compete in other road racing, there's a lightness and camaraderie."
West Hill co-owner Jim Sweitzer said 24 volunteers helped make this year's race happen. They drove approximately 600 stakes into the ground, flagged 7,000 feet of shop property and put up 500 feet of fencing.
Although Jim has only been running the event for the last 10 years, he said there are only two or three other races going on in New England as long.
"And it's always been right here," he said. "(The course) is about a mile and a half. It's more of a timed course than really distance so we try to make it so that the lap for the fastest racers is right around seven minutes."
Attendance at the event has grown throughout the last three years while the sport of cyclocross itself is seeing a similar trend, Jim said. The sport began in Europe in the 1930s and it has caught on in New England.
"Road cycling was such a cultural thing in Europe and then there was a point of time where they wanted to extend the season into the fall," Jim said. "So they came up with cyclocross and rode around the cow pastures."
Southern Vermont has some of the best dirt roads, said Diny Sweitzer, who doesn't race but uses a cyclocross bicycle to navigate the local streets.
"It's the perfect bike for it," she said, noting some of the racers were using a different gearing on their bicycles.
Jim said the bikes are similar to road bikes but have more clearance for fatter tires.
"The geometry's a little different," he added. "There's all different styles of tires, from slick to knobby, depending on the conditions."