Monday, October 8, 2012

Iron Cross 2012, Race!

Race website
Race results (in ew! format, lol) 
My Strava data Video 

Iron Cross 2012 has been my Fall target race since doing Hilly Billy Roubaix 2012.  Hilly Billy showed me that I really enjoy ultracross because it plays to my adventurous side, and tests the limits.
Iron Cross 2012 was the final race of the American Ultracross Championship Series and is the queen stage (if u will) of the series.  That means deeper fields and hotter paces.

My Setup:
For nutrition I continue to go with Cerasport for hydration and Probar nutrition.  This is a no-brainer.  I also carry water and tools in my Camelbak Rogue.
For equipment I tried the Backcountry Research - Awesome Strap  for the first time.  It totally works (take the time to adjust it correctly) and I recommend no one uses a saddle bag ever again (man i hate saddle bags!).  If you are worried about your stuff coming loose and falling all over the place, well stop worrying.  Get the right awesome strap for the location that you want (stem, seat post, seat rails, etc.) and go Awesome.  Also, watch this video because its fun Awesome Strap baseball bat test.

I continue to ride tubeless on my Stans Alpha 340 Comp wheels.

For tires I chose Schwalbe Marathon Mondial, Double Defense, 700x35 at 570 grams, because I would rather take a weight penalty and have the extra flat protection.  The width is perfect for ultracross.  And the tread is great in dry conditions, gravel, and is even decent in wet conditions.  I would call it a winner if you're looking for some lower-risk ultracross racing.  But if you are willing to risk flatting for the chance to go a few minutes faster, then go with something lighter but with the same volume like the Stans Raven 700x35 at 360 grams.  I found this article enticing me to go to a lighter tire for my next ultracross experience (maybe all of 2013 to give them a fair shot).
In review:
1) they will last thousands of miles.
2) they are lighter (570 grams) than the bomb-proof continental cx plus (800 grams)
3) they are very flat resistant (gotta be the "Double Defense" version)
4) they seem to air up tubeless pretty easily on my Stans wheels.
5) the tread is very good on road, gravel, dry trails, and even decent on wet trails.

I am still using TRP CX8.4 linear pull brakes because cantilevers are rubbish and i can't afford to upgrade my cx bike to have disc brakes.  But I talked to someone with a Cannondale SuperX and I wanted it ;)

The weather:
Man, all week the weather reports worsened.  20% chance of rain and 53, then 40% chance of rain and 50, by Friday it was 80% chance of rain and 45.  The race directors sent out a doom-gloom/hypothermia email that was begging racers to be ready and encouraged them to even carry a Mylar blanket in case of an emergency.  Wowzer.  I was nervous.  I don't do well in cold/wet conditions.  Just like my tire selection, I decided I would rather play things safe, and take a speed penalty to be ready.  I wore an O2 Cycling Rain Jacket under my jersey.  Which worked pretty well despite NO RAIN!  Lol, I could feel the wind tugging on me a little so I focused on drafting during descents as often as possible.

The Race:
I lined-up front.  I wanted to try to go with the lead group.  Pat and Sug were up there, so why not?  It was pretty cold at the start and i was a little shaky.  Some of those shakes were nerves/excitement.  Garth Prosser(?), Gerry Pflug, are all up here.  That's cool ;)
The initial pace went out pretty hot.  It felt a lot like a 1 hour cyclocross race except a little less sprinty.  The first four-ish miles are on bike paths between 2 parks and so its gravel, a little sand, and some road.  A bit sketchy and I liked it a lot.  I could feel that I was a little above my limit but was happy to be following Gerry's wheel (see video)   

Early lead group:

As we approached the first cat 3 climb from mile 7 to 10, Piney Mountain Ridge Rd Climb, I hoped I could continue on with the leaders but that was a dream.  So I cut my early losses and decided to fall back.  Several of us kinda spread out behind the leaders throughout the climb and these would all form the eventual chase group.  Our organization out on the roads with rolling hills wasn't the best but we worked together.  I felt like one of the stronger of the bunch so I was happy with this group.  But in hindsight, when I was pulling i was doing a very bad job of pacing myself.  I go too hard for too long.  Then drop back in the group until the legs come to life and go again.  It was stupid excitement and just poor pacing.

Chase group being led by the eventual single speed winner.  Yes I am drafting on a single speed (43x18 on these climbs!):

The chase group whittled down to about 4 of us as we approached the Lippencote descent.  I felt pretty burnt by this point but hoped the descending would rebuild the legs.  I made sure to lead my group into Lippencote so that i could pick my lines in the technical trails.  I climbed the initial part well and then started descending.  I felt comfortable and didn't push it.  Then I see Pat with a flat and a little later I see Adam with a flat as well.  Damn, this trail took both AFC top contenders... out of contention.  Adam's flat kinda fixed itself via Stans liquid and some C02 so we continued out of the descent together.  I sprinted to grab the wheel of a roadie-looking rider that had a small gap on us... the legs responded with a resounding "I DON'T THINK SO!"  Hmmm, I'm not bouncing back as quickly as I had hoped.
Adam, the SS leader, and the roadie went on ahead as a group.  I rode moderately until I could catch a draft on the rider behind me.  We drilled some downhill (legs were coming back) but again I think I'm drilling too hard when I pull.  Bad pacing again.  On the Milesburg Rd climb at mile 28 I decide that its time ride my own race.  No more chasing people.  I've put too much hurt'n on myself and it's still too early in the race.  I climbed strongly and consistently (should have just ridden this way from the start) and prepared for the mighty WigWam.

Approaching the WigWam Run-up

Up WigWam I caught Adam and others that I had lost out on the roads.  I never ran, I just hiked faster.  According to Strava I'm the fastest on this segment.  Yay!  I'm tickled to be tops at something (although I would prefer to be the best pedal-er).  It was max heart rate for everyone and boy is it pretty up there ;)
I was getting thirsty heading into aid station 2 and thought we would all be stopping.  Negative, none of my group stopped.  I was surprised but took my time.  The mistake I made here is when the volunteers asked me how many scoops of Heed I wanted "1 or 2".  I'll take "4".  "4!" they say.  "Ya".  So what the hell was I thinking?  Well I'm not familiar with Heed other than drinking it at Hilly Billy.  The stuff tastes horrible.  At Hilly Billy they were digging it out with a teaspoon.  Apparently these guys were using a scooper (i wasn't watching them, i was eating).  I thanked them, jumped on the bike and grabbed my waterbottle.  I take a swig, "UUUuuuuugh!".  This is the nastiest sweetness of all time.  But i don't have much water left in my Camelbak so it'll have to do and I try to convince myself that some how the super sugary grossness is going to help me.  Please race directors, use Cerasport.  Heed is so gross.
So this first half of iron cross has totally shot my legs.  Time to regroup.  I have a lot of descending to do (i think).  So I just ride a comfortable pace.  Then hit some trials that I never rode in my recon.  Its some pretty tough climbing.  The legs are not happy.  I'm constantly looking for ways to cut my losses.  But then Brian Patton shows up.  He and I have become friends, meeting in Potapsco before SugarHill 2012 and keeping in touch via Strava and Facebook.  He told me he was in the hunt for the series win for under 40, having ridden Hilly Billy and Three peaks.  I wanted to help him but doubted I could.  He recommended that I draft on him through these gravel road descents.  I'm happy to oblige.  This helped a ton.  I'll take it too far and say that I was riding on the neon wings of an angel (for a while), Lol.

Thompson Hollow Descent, or maybe the descent after Thompson....i don't know.

After some fun gravel descending we head out on the roads.  Again I think my pacing during pulls was really poor.  I was extra motivated to help Brian try to catch the guy that he was battling for the series.  But it just wasn't any good.  Its like I am trying to go faster via a pace-line instead of trying to go the same speed with less effort.  I'll definitely improve on this in my next pace-line.  Anyway, I gave it almost everything I had out on those roads.  I planned to eek-out the last drops of effort at Hogshead.  As soon as we hit the loooong Hogshead climb Brian went ahead.  I didn't mind too much.  I knew at this point I would finish, and finish pretty well.

Hogshead Road Climb

I got passed by maybe 5 riders on Hogshead.  But made it to the top without cramps or any other problem other than being really tired.  I descended well to aid station 4.  There I ate a peanut butter sandwich which is now a new favorite aid station treat.  Also apple slices (mmmmmmmm PA apples!).  I got some water and headed into the final trails of the race.  I wasn't pushing but riding ok.  There was no one around.  After several miles a guy in a Cycleworks orange kit caught me.  I went with him, excited that we had about 5 miles left, and that I had some one to race.  I let him lead since he was obviously stronger on the pedals at this point.  His technical log hopping skills were pretty bad though.  I gave him some room and used my skills to absorb his efforts.  On a tougher log jump he crashed and I went ahead.  He came back after a while and we hit the run-up, me with a slight gap.  We also closed in on another guy.  This was getting painful but exciting!  After the run-up was a grassy trail climb.  My climbing legs are totally shot and I'm barely staying on the bike but I pedal, pedal, pedal.  I hear Pat come up behind me when he says "AFC!".  I say "finally!" knowing that he must have taken a long time with his flat and partied a bunch at the aid stations to just be catching me now with 3 miles to go.

At the top of the climb we all take beer hand-ups.  Yummy!  The cycleworks rider passes me on the final road section and I just settle in on his draft.  I feel bad racing this way but I decide that I will pretend he is rider 20 and my goal is to be top 20, so I'm going to beat him.  We make the turn to the finish and I take the sprint.  Whew!  That was a fun hard race.  2 thumbs up to the Iron Cross folks.  Their course is really well marked and top notch.

Awesome strap!


  1. man what a great report! I am definitely using your Schwalbe Marathon Mondial, Double Defense, 700x35 next time!!!

  2. GREAT write up! Love the equipment details. :-). Laughed out-loud at the heed story.

    Congrats bro!

  3. Drinking heed is like drinking ammonia. It's the worst. That had to take something out of you during the race.