Although the true origins of cyclocross are a little murky, one story is that road racers in Europe would race each other from town to town to stay in shape during the winter; cutting thru fields, over fences, and thru the woods kept bike handling skills sharp, while portaging the bike thru non-rideable sections was a form of cross training.
While the run-ups, sand pits, and foot-tall barriers of today’s ‘cross scene bear little resemblance to those early races, Pennsylvania’s Iron Cross is an exception. Billed as North America’s Longest Cyclocross Race, it has a reputation for killer distance, brutal climbs, and enough course variety to test the best bikes (and bike handling skills).
This year, only 4 TBL’ers signed up for this particular punishment: Buchness, Dong-T, JoeP, and me. The race began at Camp Thompson, deep in Michaux State Forest. The organizers staged the women and men separately, with the women started 1:40 after the men. Which meant that the last time I saw my team-mates was during the race meeting. Buh bye boys, have fun storming the castle!
The course begins like a typical cross race: a gravel road prologue, some barriers, a little run up, a giant Spiral of Death, and then the pack heads out into Michaux State Forest. The race is divided into four “Sektors:” the first features a couple of rolling climbs and a long road section, culminating in the KOM/QOM at Checkpoint 1. After a (relatively) easy ridge ride, all resemblance to a “normal” race ends. The Lippencott trail descent is loose, rocky, and steep, with innocent-looking logs that hide a muddy ditch on the far side. After braving most of the descent I got a little wigged out and walked the final steep wash out.
More gravel, a little trail, a picturesque field, and then….the Wigwam climb. Loosely defined as a “run-up”, it’s really more of a crawl up. Climbing up the side of a mountain, I found myself clinging to small pine trees as I tried to find a more comfortable way to hold my bike (there wasn’t one).
After Wigwam, the fun isn’t over, there’s an equally brutal climb just ahead: a long field of boulders that heads up the 4th checkpoint.
Many, many thanks to the volunteers who stood in the sun all day to hand us water and Fig Newtons.
Another ridge ride, then a long road section…. An elephant is standing by the side of the road … and there’s another, and another. Wow, this has got to be the best hallucination I’ve EVER had.
The Hogshead climb begins at checkpoint 3 and goes on….well, just about forever. It’s not technical, but it’s steep and just never seems to end. It’s a relief to turn off into some classic Michaux singletrack (classic=looks like it was cut yesterday.)
Woo hoo!… racing toward home…pretty sure I violated the speed limit more than once. Right turn into camp, 2 more barriers (I hear a certain team member may have had some trouble with these! ) and DONE! 62 miles, 6500 feet of climbing, 5:54 race time.