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Cold spells don’t chill cyclist’s dream

As far as I’m concerned, bicycling is a summertime sport.

One group of cyclists, though, begins its riding season sometime in October and competes through the winter. It’s called cyclocross.

Joshua Johnson, a 20-year-old Fort Wayne cyclist, was racing in Wisconsin last month where temperatures were as low as 19 degrees.

Over Christmas break, he went to Europe and took part in five races there, all in the cold.

Not long ago, Johnson took part in the cyclocross national championships and earned the opportunity to do something that no one from Fort Wayne has ever done, at least as far as Johnson knows. This weekend he’ll compete in the cyclocross world championships in Louisville, Ky., the first time the championships have been held outside of Europe.

Cyclocross, in case you put your bicycle away after Labor Day, involves one-hour races over courses composed of pavement, grass, dirt and sand interspersed with obstacles that require the riders to get off their bikes and climb or run with them for short periods.

It doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, especially in the dead of winter, and Johnson acknowledges that it is a “growing sport” in the U.S., a nice way of saying not a lot of people do it.

In Louisville, though, riders will be coming from around the U.S. and Europe to compete.

Johnson, who is going to Marian University in Indianapolis on a cycling scholarship, will race Saturday in a youth division, but it’s still the world championships. The elite division (Johnson can’t race in both the youth and elite divisions) will race Sunday – Super Bowl Sunday to most people, so don’t expect to see much about the race on television.

That shouldn’t trouble the competitors. If you’ve ever been to a bicycle race you know that, in the U.S., practically no one shows up at most races except other cyclists waiting for their race to start.

What’s unusual about Johnson, who has been racing since he was 14, is that he’s in the world championships at only 20 years old.

Right now he’s studying business marketing at Marian, and spending the rest of his time training and racing. He needs an education, he said. Someday he’ll have to get a job in the real world. But he looks forward to racing full time once he graduates and perhaps becoming a professional.

It’s like baseball, he said. “For professionals, there’s a progression.”

You start off in the minor leagues and hope you can make it to a major league team.

Right now, he’s the equivalent of a TinCaps player, he said. Eventually, you hope to step up to a continental team and the pro tour.

“It’s not as glamorous as it might seem,” Johnson said.

But then who said that riding a bike in the dirt and snow when it’s 30 degrees was glamorous?

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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