What's a little dirt, anyway?

While most University of Washington students crammed for midterms last weekend, senior Shannon Mallory donned a helmet at a Swiss airfield as she prepared for the UCI Cyclo-Cross World Championships. The Bellingham native was one of three Americans competing in the Women’s U-23 (under 23) category of the heavy-duty bike race held this year at Dübendorf Airport.

Mallory, who races with the Northwest Women’s Cyclo-Cross Project in Seattle, finished 27th overall at the international event. She did so under brutal conditions: Rainfall the previous day had turned the dirt course into a muddy bog, and racers had to shoulder their bikes to run up “flyovers,” constructed hills as tall 50 feet.

“Whenever I crossed the finish line, I just was like, ‘Oh, I can actually breathe now,’” Mallory said. “I don’t have to keep on banging my head against this course.”

And she meant that literally. At some point in the race, she went “head over handlebars” and front-flipped over her bike. As serious as the fall sounds, Mallory continued on, though she wasn’t the first to take the plunge: A Spanish rider wiped out earlier in the race.

The physically demanding nature of cyclocross, or “steeple chasing,” stems from its history. The sport is the love-child of mountain biking and cross-country cycling, originating in Europe in the early 1900s. Cyclists would race toward a landmark, climbing fences and crossing rivers along the way. In 1950, the first Cyclo-Cross World Championships were held in Paris and have since migrated to a host of European countries.

Mallory’s personal history with the sport began when she was just 10 years old. She learned on a hand-me-down bike and attended her first race with her father and her best friend, whom she ended up beating in the sprint finish.

Her road to this year’s World Championships was particularly significant—not only was she representing the Pacific Northwest on Team USA, but she also celebrated right at home as she clinched her third-place qualification spot in the USA Cycling Cyclo-Cross National Championships, held just a few miles away in Lakewood, Washington.

“I had my entire family [at Nationals],” Mallory said. “It was so cool to be racing and always having someone yelling your name.”

With experience at the World Championships under her belt, Mallory hopes to continue training and eventually return within the next couple years—this time as an elite racer. She just has to survive her midterm tomorrow.

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