Monthly Archives: January 2013

2012 Iron Cross X Ultracross Race

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It’s been quite awhile since the end of Iron Cross 2012. I didn’t feel like writing about the race after the event because I felt as though my writing skill couldn’t do the experience justice; the uniqueness and beauty of my words and sentences would be no match for the challenge of the terrain and the scenic views earned in the saddle of that October day.

I won’t give a play by play of my race. Considering I was riding at the backend of the race and was often by myself or with a very small group, I don’t have any stories of strategic break ways, or attacks and chasing them down.

At the risk of cheapening the value of the Iron Cross experience, I would love to share a few personal memories.

-Eating at Cafe Bruges in Carlisle the night before. What better meal than frites with homemade ketchup and mayonnaise along with a beer sampler at a Belgian redtaraunt before a ‘cross race!
-Camping in a tent the night before the race. It’s pretty cool to be sleeping a few hundred yards from the start/finish line. It was also a very cool atmosphere to wake up to a bustling ‘Crossville in the parking lot in the morning.
-Pre-Walking some of the course in the pitch dark with my mom the night before the race.
-The doomsday pre-race email threatening rain, ice, and certain hypothermia!
-Falling at the very very end of the sand beach section of the “prologue” and hearing the sand grind in my derailleur.
-Super support at the aid stations. It was like a Sonic in the middle if the woods. They took my specific order and delivered it, making sure I save every bit of my energy for pushing the pedals. One volunteer even asked me how many scoops of HEED I wanted in my bottle.
-The huge orchard on the first road section. It seemed like a drove for miles through orchard which covered the entire hollow. Residents even had apple trees in their yards.
-Surprise when a volunteer at one of the course turns told me only 7 people were in front of me. I was arguing with him as I ride downhill because I thought it couldn’t be right! I didn’t realize how few racers were doing the half course. The shock turned to motivation for a top 10 after a few minutes of dismissing the possibility of the 50k peleton taking a wrong turn en masse leaving me in the top 10.
-The run up the powerline. I actually felt bad for the dude that cut the weeds up the trail! I was thinking it would take hours to cut the narrow trail with power equipment where clearly no trail existed before. And it was as loose and rocky as a trip on a Greek cruise ship.
-Possible delerium about 2/3 of the way through the race. At an aid station, I asked if there was in fact 5-7 miles to go in the race (based on my cycling computer). They told me I was about half way! A few seconds later, I started driving back up the road I came from. They yelled I was going the wrong way, so I turned around and took the wrong crossroad again. Exhausting all possibilities, I finally got on the right route. A few minutes later, I could swear I was stung by a bee (but I don’t think I was). This was the woodsy trail section, so at this point I was nervous I had impaired cognition from the physical and mental effort and was lost on the trail. It was a huge win each time I found another trail marker!
-Almost wrecking one of the leaders. I was on a singletrack downhill. As soon as I heard the guy, I pulled off the trail. He was flying chasing down the leaders. My wide girth blocked his view, so he didn’t see the giant downed tree in front of me. He barely stopped in time! I can remember the squealing of his cantis and a few profanities (not directed at me, buy rather at his near demise). On a related note, when the guy that won the 100k passed me, he was going so fast, the moto following him had trouble keeping up!
-Some of the very fast and long downhills were on very loose gravel. Although it was dangerous to go fast, it was even more dangerous to brake or change your line. Some sections deep in the woods were freshly graveled and piles of loose gravel, and deep equipment tracks. Confidence and good balance on the bike really helped in these sections.
-Wicked Wash was set up in the finish area and cleaned all finisher bikes for free. I didn’t believe the bike they brought back was my bike. It was so clean, I didn’t recognize the deepness of the blue paint.
-Immediately upon finishing, I was already excited for next year!

As far as logistics, I think the match up between a ‘cross bike and a mtb is pretty even. Even on the singletrack, I never felt as though I was pushing the ‘cross bike passed it’s limits. If anything, I would think a ‘cross bike may be an advantage because if the lower weight on the carry ups. Of course, you can build a light hardtail, but it’s just as easy to build a lighter ‘cross bike. I think the shape of most mtb front triangles would hinder carrying the bike, as well.

As far as food and hydration, the aid stations are well stocked with many options and are spaced well. I only carried one bottle, and had no problems between fill ups.

I don’t think tire choice is as critical as I thought it would be. I raced on 35mm Speedmax tires, but I think my 30mm Hutchinson mud tires, or 35 mm hybrid type tires would have been fine as well.

Can’t wait to start training for Iron Cross XI in 2013.

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2012-2013 Central PA Cyclocross Series

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Series Overview

The discipline of cyclocross has experienced an explosion in America the last few years. The Central PA Cyclocross Series has brought the two wheeled tractor pulling-like Belgian sport to Montour County. The series consists of three races in the months of November, December, and January. The organizer uses a super secret and complex algorithm to determine the series winner (its admitting complex as some folks can race the beginner class one race, and the open class in another). The complexity of the calculation doesn’t concern me, as I am never anywhere close to the podium! This year, only the Boneshaker race was part of the River Town Race Series (last year all three races were part of the RTRS in additon to a bonus for competing in all three).

Boneshaker

This is the first race in the series and takes place at Hess Field. I would describe this course as a condensed Ultracross type of course in regards to terrain mix. It contained tame single track and fast gravel sections. The highlight of the course is likely the large creek crossing. The course is mostly rideable on a ‘cross bike, except for 1 or 2 run ups. In comparison to the other two races in the series, the Boneshaker contained little open field section.

Meaty Beaty

This race takes place on a combination of Riverside Adventure Company land, public road, and an open field owned by a local company. This is more of a prototypical ‘cross course with a large field section with twisty turns. There is also a long straight paved road section tieing the field section to the RAC section, which is more dirt track, off camber turns, and rock gardens; you can say this section has more spice. The highlights of this course include a very thin strip of dirt jutting out into the river before turning back in towards the mainland for a muddy and steep run up (the strip was known as “heart break ridge”).

Fire and Ice

With a night time race in January, the weather can have a huge effect on the course and the race. This year, it was very balmy. The heat melted (most) of the snow, creating a mud fest. I don’t know how a cross bike would have worked if the heat wave didn’t hit, melting the now but this is a moot point. Since the river rose covering heart break ridge, a ledge was cut from the river bank to complete this section of the course. With the melting snow, this ledge turned into peanut butter and was almost unridable. I would say the highlight of this course was not necessarily a feature, but rather the darkness. Most of the course boundry was lit, and there were a few large bonfires on course here and there. I can’t forget to mention the flaming ramps that were optional on course. Most racers used headlamps, bar mounted lights, or a combination. I think next year there should be a competition for “best lit bike”!

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Summary

I have read many cycling magazines saying cyclocross is a great way to get into bike racing. Wrecks are way less painful since its a softer landing than asphalt, and the terrain isn’t nearly as techincal as a mountain bike race. Additionally, ‘cross is known for a much more relaxed atmophere as opposed to other disciplines. I think the Central PA Cyclocross Series is even more relaxed than most ‘cross races. As far as equipment, I would estimate about 40-50% of participants use ‘cross bikes. Many use old rigid fork MTBs, and some even use full ‘sussers. I have even seen a few pure road bikes with thin nobbies or even fat bikes. Basically, you can bring anything with two wheels and give her a go.

Free pizza and a keg of beer was provided for post race celebration. The deck to the RAC was open for spectators. It offers a decent viewpoint over looking the river side of the course. I would recommend stopping before you get to the venue if you need to use a restroom as the RAC has been under construction for the last two years. Although there are toilets inside, they aren’t exactly pristine, comfortable, nor functional. But hey, its a local ‘cross race, not the Tour de France. The organizer provided a tee-shirt early in the series, then an iron on patch to represent each individual race. I also wanted to point out the entry fees are very reasonable, some may even say cheap. Of course, being a ‘cross race, hoses were provided post race to clean up your bike.

I would very highly recommend this series. It was a lot of fun to do all the races in the series since racers become familiar and you can gauge each individual performance against guys you were riding with in previous races. Its great we can all pretend we are Belgian for a few hours each year!

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