What's Cool In Road Cycling

CX Worlds: Painting A Water Colored Worlds

PEZ SEz: A few weeks before the Cyclocross Worlds in Belgium – I received an email from PEZ-Fan Rick Potestio – with unique proposition – one I’ve not heard before.  As a massive CX fan, Rick was on his  was to attend the 2023 CX Worlds, and intended to paint the action in watercolors.  He reached out to PEZ to see if we could help with media credentials, and I was all in – this idea fit perfectly with our penchant for presenting stories you won’t see anywhere else.  Here’s the result, and Rick’s account of his first time painting the CX Worlds in watercolors.

Rick: I started painting races a few years ago as a stunt to promote that year’s CX Crusade theme “The Art of Cyclocross”.  As background: each year we propose to our board a theme that will underly our marketing and messaging.  In addition to the racing we create accessory activities such as our annual Team Competition in order to give the whole community more ways to participate and compete.  In that particular year, we tasked the teams to express cyclocross with a different art form each week – painting, sculpture, poetry, performance, music, etc.  Each week we judged the teams and awarded a venue flag to the team with the best production.  I got out there and started drawing… it was a clownish attempt at first, but soon I was not only enjoying it but also developing a technique and way to engage (short of racing) that was significant and fun.

Racers started asking to buy the works, and my posts on instagram (@cyclosketch) received a lot of likes. So I thought, why not try to make something of this? Could I actually establish myself as a part of the scene?  I’m inspired by Greig Leach’s work and thought I might be able to capture cyclocross much as he does road racing. Our media is essentially the same- a sharpie and watercolor. Based on his videos, I think he’s painting in the studio from photographs.  I’m dedicated to painting the action and atmosphere live… so my work is much more gestural and suggestive… each painting must be complete in accordance with lap times.

Painting the Worlds
What an experience!  My goal in painting cyclocross racing is to convey the energy, speed, and beauty of the racers and the sport. The context, course and spectators are equally important as they form the basis and reason for the events.

Donning the vest and credentials of a UCI Media Pass was an honor.   When I nervously staked out a position at the top of the Stairway to Heaven, the photographers jockeying for position looked at me quixotically as I had no cameras slung around my neck. Sideways glances turned to stares as I unpacked my stool, paper, paints and brushes. I felt awkward but at this point I was committed.

As racer’s charged up the stairs, I found that some photographers were placing me in their frames…. that made me more nervous, but gave me a measure of confidence in the overall endeavor. Being in the zone reserved for media changed my perspective as a spectator but with my act of painting, I found that I had become part of the scene and action itself.

Saturday dawned under low gray skies delivering a heavy mist reminiscent of the Pacific Northwest. Unfortunately, the humidity soaked my paper, hence the ink pens would not register and the watercolors bled uncontrollably. Later in the day it was drier, but a very cold wind made for other challenges.  Sunday was far better with moments of sun.

I instantly realized with the first lap of the first race that capturing the action was going to be far more difficult than it had been at my home race series, the Cyclocross Crusade. The course was designed for speed even in the worst conditions.  But the racers were so unbelievably fast that I was seriously pressed to sketch them.  It’s critical that I capture the riders and their relative positions in the moment they pass by. I tried to shoot a photo as they approached; sketch their form gesturally; and then record their numbers. I used the rest of the lap to complete the painting.

Reviewing the work, I see potential. It was a learning experience that I will build upon.  My passion for the sport has taken on a new dimension and I can’t wait for this coming season!

Race Notes
The photographer pool is large – I’m sure many of them are well known to each other. I was the new guy… but missing the cameras and gear they didn’t take me seriously.  But once they saw me working, I had an instant rapport with them. I was surprised by the overwhelming acceptance. Down time between races was spent hanging out and talking. I traded contact info and hope to be able to sustain relationships.

Overall, I was blown away by the skill and speed with which the racers handled the deeply rutted, muddy and off-camber sections in the woods… most of this area was inaccessible to the spectators, so seeing this is a matter of watching the videos – the drone was amazing. There’s no sense of hesitation or lack of control in these racers (all of them ).

I was also impressed by the fan adulation for Felipe Nystrom Spencer. The entire crowd would let out a huge roar as he rode by. After the race, he mingled with the fans, signing autographs and getting in photos….he races the Cyclocross Crusade race series, so he’s a well known local here in Portland, but he’s a celebrity in Europe.

I was frustrated in the Women’s Elite race as the  weather made painting difficult and I tried to capture the sections in the woods. I think the work could have been better. It was much harder than I anticipated to capture enough detail such that one could distinguish the racers…each has a distinctive character to their physique and position on the bike… but the differences are pretty subtle and difficult to catch in real time. Between now and next season I’ll be practice sketching from a lot of photos.

Going forward, I hope to be able to paint other US races and of course the major European and World Cup races –  it would be wonderful to live in Belgium or the Netherlands during ‘cross season. That would constitute a huge commitment and expense, but if I get good enough, it may be viable!


Thanks to Sherry Schwenderlauf for the photos or Rick in action.

Rick Potestio is an architect, painter and cyclist who founded the Cyclocross Crusade Race Series.  Find him at Instagram @cyclosketch
email: [email protected]




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