This weekend I competed in a unique "cyclocross" race know as Iron Cross. It is unique because it is much longer than a typical 45 minute to one hour cross race and is also one big loop rather than a multiple lap event. The race actually does start/finish on a real grass cross course with barriers and cross course making tape and all, but that is the only thing it has similar to a standard cross race. After leaving the starting area, the course uses a combination of single track trails, hiking trails, paved roads, gravel roads and rough fire roads to complete the large loop around Michaux State Forest. This variety makes for very interesting and challenging 62 mile race course.
I haven't done this race in quite a while because I have concentrated more on doing typical cross races for the past few years, but I decided it would be fun to give IC a try again this year. The course is definitely a lot more cross bike friendly than it was the first time I did the race and I would certainly say that a cross bike is the fastest bike choice overall, but certain rocky and technical sections on this course definitely had me second guessing the use of a cross bike over a mtb.
When I first decided to do this race a few weeks back, I had initially planned to use My Salsa Mamasita at the race because of the old memories I had of doing this race. But, after talking with others doing the race this year and reading on the Iron Cross Website that the use of a MTB is kind of discouraged (though they are allowed in the race), I decided to use my Salsa Ti La Cruz instead. Additionally, since I have been riding my La Cruz more than my Mamasita lately, I figured the Ti La Cruz would probably feel better to me anyway.
The beginning part of the race was going just as I had hoped and my Ti La Cruz was riding beautifully. I almost forgot it was a cross bike because it had such a smooth and predictable ride quality to it even on the technical sections of the course. The race started well for me when I was able to get away with four other riders on the first big gravel road climb. From this point, we all pretty much stuck together until the long and steep Wigwam run-up. Basically, Wigwam is probably a mile long hiking trail going straight up to a ridge top. I shouldered my Ti La Cruz at the bottom of the long hike/run and by the top had put myself into first place overall. I was eventually caught by two other riders behind me on the gravel fireroads after Wigwam and we joined forces to work together. I couldn't see anyone else behind us and things were looking good. After a fairly technical section of trail past checkpoint two, one of the riders in our group of three lost contact with us. At this point, we had about about 40 miles of the race completed and just over 20 miles to go. I was feeling very confident with my ride and thought at this point that I might be able to take the win.
Unfortunately, my good ride soon came to an early end when I got a flat rear tire on a fast gravel road descent. I rushed to do a quick tire change and was back on my bike before another rider was able to pass me. I rode for about 200 yards and my rear tire blew out again. I wasn't sure what caused the tube to go so quickly, so I looked and felt the tire more closely on this second repair. I then tried to fill the tube with my CO2, but my tube value was too short to allow a compete air fill. I actually had to walk for a short while before another rider offered to give me a CO2 to use. This second fill gave me enough air to get me into checkpoint 3. I wasn't comfortable with the low amount of air in my tire because I knew more technical sections were up ahead, so I used a pump at the checkpoint to fill me tire to a higher pressure. I also picked up another tube and CO2 canister just in case I got another flat.
Well, my "just in case" was about a mile up the hill from checkpoint 3 when my rear tire blew out again. I immediately did my third tire change of the day and was about to put the wheel back on my bike when the tube/tire blew up in my hand. Completely frustrated and with no other options for repair, I rode my flat tire bike back down the hill to checkpoint 3 to do my fourth tire repair of the day. During my ride back to the checkpoint, I started to think that maybe I should just get a ride back to the starting area rather than continue with the race, but I instead decided that it would be better to make the most of the beautiful day and trails by continuing to ride the course. Luckily, the guys at the checkpoint had a spare tire and tube there for me to use and get me on my way again.
Of course after doing this many tire repairs, I was pretty far behind and out of contention for a good finish. I continued riding hard anyway, though, to get in a good workout and because I was having so much fun out on the course. By the time I came into the finish, I had managed to put myself into the top 40 overall out of 240 riders or so. I was pretty happy with this finish after having the issues that I did and was also very happy with how well my Salsa rode over the diverse conditions out on the course.
Interestingly enough, I found out after finishing Iron Cross that I will be racing on Stan's NoTubes Wheels for the remainder of this cross season and for 2011. I bet if I would have had a pair of the new ZTR Alpha 340 Rims set-up with tubeless cross tires for this race, I probably would not have had the tire issues that I did. Oh well, I guess this means I will have to try my luck at Iron Cross again next year with the Salsa Ti La Cruz and a pair of tubeless Stan's Wheels.
Happy Trails, Gerry