Theatres of Cross

“Men must endure. Their going hence, even as their coming hither.”
– King Lear, by William Shakespeare

Professional cyclocross is intense, the action so intimate that spectators can all but smell the toil, hear the thumping heartbeats and taste the adrenalin. It is, in some ways, the struggle of life in microcosm, the drama ebbing and flowing, the plot thickening as the athletic actors race past, carrying their hopes and fears at full speed.

And yet, for all the theatricality of race day, some of the greatest arenas in this uniquely testing cycle sport are little more than local football fields, public parks or dilapidated running tracks. Which, for one or two energy-sapping days a year, are transformed, ringing to the echoes of screaming crowds and panting riders, the clang and hum of machinery, the watery blast of power washers and the clink of empty beer bottles.

Each year, these places, the windswept sands of Koksijde in Flanders, or the dusty trails of Gloucester, Massachusetts, feature in the minds of riders and fans for just 48 hours. When the cross circus rolls out of town, however, the communities that inhabit these places return to their daily lives again. These locations are, without exception, hard places, characterised variously by struggling industry or extremes of weather. The people that live in these locations are hardy, too, and every bit as passionate as the fans that line the velodrome in Roubaix, or trek up mountains in the Nobeyama Prefecture in Japan.

Photographer Ben Ingham visited these settings for Rapha, these Theatres of Cross, to capture their respective characters. In these places, for one autumn or winter weekend, cyclocross racers must endure for an hour or two; for some of those who call them home, the race goes on.