Another Iron Cross is in the books and what a spectacular day it was! The folks at YBR must have a direct line to Mother Nature because in the three years I've done this race, the weather has been perfect. Brisk morning air and bluebird skies greeted DKEG and I as we pulled into the parking lot. We were running a little behind schedule and quickly kitted up in order to get David registered. Once we got up there David realized he left his wallet in the car and one of the MBM guys hooked him up with some quick cash. I spied a few familiar faces while listening to the pre-race meeting. JoeP, Stephen Whal and Dan "the kid" Atkins were a couple notables in the sea of lycra.
Stephen and Joe have been here before and this was The Kids first IC. We all line up with the sub 5 hour group and hope we are not being too optimistic. At this point I notice Joe is sporting a shiny new carbon fiber Ridley...with gears! Oh, the humanity. I knew he had succumbed to the dark side (roadie), but, I thought he'd at least keep it real for the IC. I guess not. He would eventually regret this decision, more on that later. We're given the go and have to wait until our section of mass started to move. On the road we pick off people and continue the do the same on the course. A sand pit had been added to the cross course this year as well as a few new hairpin turns. The Vortex of Death was still there and I spied a big smile on The Kid as we spiraled around. Another hairpin to reverse direction and we would soon be spat out onto the road and the pace lines.
Joe, Dan and Stephen all pass me as they jumped on some fast moving trains. I settled in with a couple guys and we worked together with a pace more in-line for the days effort. I caught back up with Joe at the big sandpit and nearly t-boned him when he stopped. Back on the road the hill climbing begins and I start catching people from the fast moving trains. They'll catch me again on the flats, but, for now, I'm pushing the pace. I catch up to Dan on another climb, he's looking good and riding smart. A tap and some words of encouragement and I'm back on the hunt. I push hard on the climbs and the single-track. This is where I have to race. Geared for the hills, I get too spun out on the flats and need to make time when possible. About this time Dan from EWR and I are climbing together and I tell him about the Lippencott trail. He's running fat tires and I yield as we enter the single-track knowing he is about to drop the hammer. I don't see him again until the finish were he earned 3rd in SS. Gunnar took the top spot in SS again, the man is a machine!
Lippencott is a great section of trail and one that usually provides the most amusement for me. Tight, rocky single-track that rewards those who take chances and ride aggressively. There weren't as many roadies for me to yell at this year, but, I did get to pass a few who didn't know you could hop a 6" tree on a bike. Always fun! The loose rocky descent was a blast and I got a couple whoots from the spectators. This section is so fun, but, far too short and we were quickly ejected back onto the road and pace lines.
Rolling hills and spectacular scenery help to make these road sections from being too monotonous. I'd get dropped from one group and jump on another for a brief respite before falling off. This was the theme during a long stretch in the flats. I did hook up with one guy and we worked together up to the reservoir. From there the road gave way to double track and I needed to shed the gillet before the "run up". Using the term "run up" is actually quite amusing when you consider this section. It's damn near class 3 climbing while shouldering your bike. Very tough and very long. You top out briefly, ride over to another climb and shoulder your bike up a rock strewn boulder field that snakes it way up a utility cut-through. I topped of the water at this aid station, grabbed a couple Fig Newton's and rolled on down the road.
Somewhere around mile 40ish I catch up to Stephen while climbing. The legs are burning and I've been fighting micro cramps on and off for some time. The next length of gravel road is steep and sustained and I have to pop off every so often to walk. It's hard to stay on top of the gear at this point and I start to loose spots to the geared riders now. I don't loose much, though, as they are suffering as well and grind out the steep pitches at a snail's pace. Once things ease up a bit I'm back on and work each section 25 yards at a time. Head down, turn the cranks over, rinse and repeat. Not looking ahead gives me an obtainable goal that, strung together, gets me to the top and the end of this climb. I know I won't encounter any more climbs like this for the day and focus on pushing as hard as my tired legs will allow. Stephen and I are back riding together and we enter the double-track as a team. The dirt sections are a blast and we are railing through the woods whenever possible. The deer fence section had been replaced with some freshly cut single track that was very technical. A pair of riders in front of us hopped off in several spots to carry their bikes. Stephen and I just stayed in the drops and plowed through roots, rocks and streams like we were rolling on fat tires. At one point he says "I bet your smiling back there", "ear to ear" was my reply. This IS the Iron Cross to me. Doing silly things on skinny tires. Not sure why, but, it just wouldn't be a race in Michaux if you didn't ride on trail that was cut yesterday.
We pop out on the road briefly before being pumped back into the trails. At times we were pushing a scary pace and I had a couple close calls with some big ass rocks. Never deviate from the line when you're on someone's tire, sometimes it's not very wide. We grunt our way through the last bit of trail and the final run up. From here there's a little more gravel and then some fast asphalt to the finish. Stephen passes is his big ring and I go aero hoping to keep him in sight. A few rolling hills and we are on the final stretch before the camp entrance. He has about 30 seconds on me at this point and I spin as much as possible hoping to close the gap. He's not in my class, but, it'd be fun to push a little and make him nervous. However, that won't happen today. The last bit of gravel road and into the CX course. One last time through the sand pits and the final barrier. I cross the line with a 4:39:33, grab my finisher socks and lock in 6th place for the single speed class.
While eating my burrito I hear my name called over the PA. Apparently they are giving away "door" prizes and I won a cool Cannondale messenger bag. The built in laptop sleeve works well as an insulated beer sleeve. I found this out when I changed and had to get some beers for when David finished. On my way back JoeP is sitting next to Gina looking rather dejected. His fancy full carbon Ridley (the one I spoke of earlier....with all those gears) had some problems throughout the day. He threw his chain off the big ring a couple times, had a flat or two and THEN ripped the derailleur hanger off the bike. I remembering reading "you never regret bringing your single speed" somewhere. Words to live by. David had a great day, finished the race on his single speed and came in with a 5:37. Not bad for a guy who was lining up rides back to the finish the day before. Stephen pulled a fast 4:39:03 and Dan "The Kid" Atkins popped his cherry and came in sub 5 with a 4:56. Nicely done!