The 1963 US Cyclocross National Championships

My first experiences with cyclocross happened in the midwest during the mid-1980s. One of them was an October race on the Ellis farm near Freeport, Il. The guy behind that race was Tyger Johnson, owner of a bike shop in the small town of Dakota, Il. I saw Tyger off and on at races over the years. He was a rider to be respected at the criteriums that dominated the schedule at the time. Later I would see him at time trials with his fully faired Lightning F-40. It was quite an experience to be passed by him in the Lightning.

Later I comprised a listing of every US national champion in cyclocross, beginning with the first race in 1975 in Berkeley, CA. Later I heard that the 1975 race was not the first, that there had been an earlier series of races that been discontinued, and that several of those early national championships had been won by Tyger.

Tyger's shop is in the phone book, so I called him. He confirmed that yes, there had been national championship cyclocross races starting with a 1963 race in Palos Park, Il. These championships continued until 1969, after that they stopped and were eventually forgotten.

Because of the historic nature of these events I asked Tyger if he could provide some documentation about the races. This is all stuff that he was gracious enough to send me. It tells a story from a time when bike racing was much more underground than it is now, when Greg Lemond was just a toddler and Lance Armstrong was still years from being born.

Before The Race

Newspaper clipping from the Chicago Tribune listing riders to watch. Lots of historic figures show up. Schwinn's presence in Chicago meant that the
midwest produced it's share of top riders.
ABLA President Otto Eisele has a message in the race program praising the sponsoring club, the South Chicago Wheelmen.The Amateur Bicycle League of America was the governing body of the sport. In 1975 the ABLA became the United States Cycling Federation, the forerunner of today's USA Cycling.

A photocopied picture from Tyger's scrapbook. Riders are dismounting even though there is no barrier in the picture. Perhaps noted framebuilder and rider Oscar Watsyn is enforcing a mandatory run section, I don't know.

The Race And Reports

Theo Kron is shown here presenting Tyger with his national champion's medal after the race. Kron passed away in January, 2009. The Kron family had a high profile in the midwest for many years. Theo Kron worked as a mechanic at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Tyger worked at a dairy in Rockford, Il and had entered his first bike race that spring. He caught the bug and eventually rode for the US team in the 1975 World Cyclocross Championships.
An article in the Staten Island Transcript, probably planted by someone in the ABLA's office in New York. Top placings are listed here, The podium was Johnson, Kron, and Tom Veitenhaus of Milwaukee.

4th place is not listed but 5th was Willi Kron.

John Hood took 6th. Hood was one of the co-founders of the Moline Criterium along wth Roger Delange and his brother Rene.  The Moline Crit, relocated to Rock island in 1997 and retitled the Quad Cities Criterum, at 43 years is about the 3rd longest continuously organized race in the usa.

A Junior race is mentioned but is lost after the jump.
Ever wonder what a national championship medal looks like? The ABLA used to hand out these:

23 year old Tyger Johnson poses with the 1st place trophy. Good thing he's young and strong, it's pretty big.
This one is worth a read. It was too big for the scanner so I took a picture of it. The article is from the Rockford Labor News. The quality is not the best but fans of old bikes can tell that Tyger rode a Schwinn. Which isn't a shocker, I guess.

Included are details of his training regimen, which consisted of regular sessions at Rockford's Blackhawk Park, a multi-state summer vacation tour, commuting to work, and lots of racing.

He also relates a story about hitting a piece of wood in the road while drafting a truck and eating it at high speed... "the next few days were really pain- filled". This is good stuff.


Cyclocross in the press...

Sports Illustrated runs a 'Faces in the Crowd' feature where they highlight outstanding athletic achievements by ordinary people. In the Nov 11, 1963 issue that was Leroy Johnson.

After The Race

National Championships in Cyclocross were conducted from 1963-1969 in the Midwest. The winners were as follows:

  • 1963 Palo Park, IL - Leroy Tyger Johnson, IL
  • 1964 Palo Park, IL - Herman Kron, IL
  • 1965 Palo Park, IL - Herman Kron, IL
  • 1966 Palo Park, IL - Leroy Tyger Johnson, IL
  • 1967 Florissant, MO -Leroy Tyger Johnson, IL
  • 1968 Florissant, MO - Mike Carnahan, MO
  • 1969 Palo Park, IL - John Howard, MO
After 1969 the event was discontinued and the results forgotten. Cyclocross as a national championship event was revived in by the USCF in 1975 and has continued unbroken since then.

In 1989 Nestor Evancevich took up the case to have those early events recognized. At the time he was the USCF District Representative for Illinois. This is correspondence between Mr. Evancevich and Ernie Seubert, confirming the status of those early races with the USCF.

To: Nestor Evancevich

The attached letter was mentioned at our recent technical commission meeting and I agree that these were Official National Cyclo Cross Championships. While I do not have any written confirmation I was on the board of directors at that time and do recall that they were held with the blessing of the ABL of A. - I also recall their being dropped at a later date but I thought it was about 1970 or 1971-, not certain of this.

Would it be possible for you to check with Herman Kron & Tyger Johnson and see if they still have their medals? I am certain that awards were given and this should be all the proof that we should require. If it meets with your approval, I will personally present this to the technical commission & the board of directors and have the oversight corrected - but please check on the medals.

Handwritten letter from Ernie Seubert to Nestor Evancevich.

Nestor, I have resolved this - The Technical Commission agreed that the names should be listed as Past National Champions - Les Earnest has been advised to do so for the next printing.

The last piece.

A hand written letter from Tyger Johnson to USCF staff, no doubt as part of Nestor's successful effort from the late 80s to have those earlier races recognized as legitimate national championships.

Complete with grammatical errors, straight from the heart.

Dated 11-9-1989

Dear USCF Staff,

Thanks for your interest in cyclo crosses of the past. Here is sort of a round idea of my story.

After the first cyclo cross, October nat'ls at Palos Park, I really got excited. I always liked obstacles of any kind. And from 1963 to 1969 I would quite road racing in August and start training cyclo cross in Rockford, Ill. and during those years I won every cross except some of the nationals, from Ohio to Illinois & Missouri of those I was in. Nationals in 1963 (1st) 64(2nd) 66(1st) 67 (1st) 68 (3rd) 69 (3rd). From 1969 - 1974 there wasn't much crossing in midwest, I rode one.

Then in 1974 or before I heard the USCF had been sending a team to the worlds. So I dedicated my whole year to cross. No road races, just training road events. Then in the fall of 74 I saved what money I could. Quit my job and all the 5 1/2 years of top  seniority went too. Rode 3 midwest cross and won them. Then went to New Jersey and New York for the team try outs. Got 3rd in the first race, and 2nd in the 2nd race. So we went to Switzerland and my goal was to improve the team, which finally did happen for that year.

After being gone 7 weeks, spending 6 weeks in Switzerland, I came home and had to look for another job. I never did start one. A year and a half later I started my own bike business in the back of my home with the sale of three old coaster brake bikes. Have been in business now for 13 years.

But my heart turned upside down at the end of 1975 when, after spending all that money and dedication to the cross team that went to Switzerland, including my job. It was then late 1975. I first found out that someone claimed to have started the first nat'l cross race. And my offical national medals, jerseys and trophies came obsolete. And along with thousands of hours of dedication and jobs. Even in 1968 I quit another job and seniority for 5 months. Also spent all the extra money my wife and I saved. My boy was born during that time I was gone. All for the country, racing, nat'l cycling organization and my club, for the Olympic try outs, which I became very sick two weeks before.

It became very hard to start again after 1975, but I loved the sport. I really didn't care much for nationals anymore. I had even thought of sending the medals and jerseys back to the USCF. That is from the early national crosses. Then from the time I was 35 till 41 I rode my best in crosses. One year I won 10 out of 11 from Ohio to Kansas, That other one was the nationals back then.

Thanks for your interest. I have to say I lost a quite a bit of mine, when a few people can change many years of dedication with a pen.

Even though I'm still cycling and A+B riding, having another trophy doesn't have the same meaning, when the biggest ones were unofficial or not even listed as unofficial in the USCF rule book & results.

Your cycling friend
Tyger Johnson


Cover of the program from the 1968 US Cyclocross Nationals.
Pictured is Tyger Johnson with the winner's jersey and
trophy from nationals the year before.