A HUGE thank you to Dan Schrad for this awesome race report from Cross of the North!
This was my first time at this event, though it’s a pretty storied venue, hosting some big UCI races and the state championships a few years ago. It’s located in a big open ranch space adjacent to the Budweiser events center. The course is mostly dirt, with short sections of gravel and long grasses. Last year, I saw pictures of what happens here when it rains – and it is a mud fest. The forecast for Sunday called for a good chance of rain, so I was worried it might be a mess.
Otherwise, the layout featured a wide variety of challenges. There were some challenging off-camber sidehills, a steep run-up that nobody could ride, a switchback maze, and a number of railroad-tie barriers strewn about. And one giant mud puddle right in the middle of it all. There were quite a few elevation changes, with some steep climbs and long straight sections where you could create gaps fairly easily. I felt right at home coming from mountain biking on this course. It did seem long, but it was fun an varied enough that the laps seemed to tick by faster than they were. A great job overall to the course setters and the organizing body.
This was the first race of the year that FELT like fall. It was cool – temps topping out in the 50s, with some intermittent light rain showers. Also, the wind. It varied in speed from “ripping” to “tie the dogs and children down to something heavy”. It was coming out of the Northwest, and the way the course flowed it meant it was mostly a cross-tail or cross-head wind. Made a hard course even harder, and deep-section rims a wrestling match. It also added a feature I hadn’t dealt with previously – blowing course tape. I spent a lot of my time on practice laps unwinding it from my handlebars and restringing it onto the stakes. I saw a number of people with tape tangled into their drivetrain. There had to be 5 guys constantly walking around the course re-taping throughout the day. Kudos to those guys.
The Race (35+ SM3):
Started at 1:30, and the wind was bad, but everything was staying dry. I was freezing at the starting line wearing only arm warmers with my skin suit. Others were in jackets and vests, and I was envious. But it warmed up pretty quick once we were off the line. This was my first time this year with enough call-up points to get into the front row, and man, was it nice. I filed in 5th wheel out of the gate as we went ripping through the off-camber dirt and grass upper section of the course. Pace was fast for sure, and within a half lap there were 4 of us with a small gap over another group. The mud was messy but completely ridable. The railroad ties were all bunny-hop height for most in the 3s. There were a series of 3 ties at the top of a climb that forced a dismount, otherwise I was on the bike for the whole lap (aside from the run up in the upper section). 2 laps in, we started to encounter riders from the back of the SM3 field, which helped to form a gap between the front two and myself and another rider. There’s a rant in here somewhere about the way BRAC splits the 3’s – having the 35+ field go in a wave 30 seconds back makes for a mess of a race. But I’ll go into that some other time.
Another lap in, and the rider I was with got away from me on a fast straightaway downhill and through the mud. It was a gap I couldn’t close down. I looked behind me and had a pretty big gap on the rest of the field, so I settled in and rode alone for the remainder of the race. I lost track of the lap count somewhere in there too, and was surprised when I rolled across to the bell lap seemingly only a few laps in. Guess the course was fun and hard enough that it was going by fast. I tried to work on cornering technique – saying “smooth is fast” through the turny sections, and trying to be technically sound on every dismount and bunny hop. Rolled across the finish in 4th, some 45 seconds off 3rd and another minute ahead of 5th. 51:13 was the final time.
I was happy with that – I finally got to feel the speeds at the front of the 3s race. Did better in the mud than I ever had, and ran a technically solid race. Just need to work on being more aggressive at those decisive moments and work on getting the legs to respond to the accelerations. More intervals, more fun. I’ll be back next year for sure Ft. Collins.