Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Iron Cross 2012

Well, I did my last endurance race for 2012, the incredibly awesome Notubes Iron Cross US Ultracross Series Race in Pennsylvania's beautiful Michaux State forest this past Sunday.  Leading up to the race, I was a little worried about what the weather was going to be like on race day.  Early in the week, cold temperatures in the upper 40's and rain was in the forecast, so I decided on using my Salsa Mamasita 29er MTB instead of a cross bike.  This would be my first attempt at doing Iron Cross on a MTB and I was curious to see how the course rode with a more technically stable and comfortable ride.

Of course, when I actually plan for things to be bad, nothing bad actually occurs.  And, this rule held true for Iron Cross.  Instead of getting the nasty weather given in the advanced forecast, the trails were dry and the temperatures were not as cold as expected.  I was so happy about not having crappy weather the day of the race that I didn't even give my bike choice another thought on race day.  But, since I only brought my MTB with me, I really didn't have another choice and couldn't have switched bikes before the race anyway.

The Iron Cross Race uses a mix of paved roads, gravel roads, single track trails and just about everything else in-between these riding surfaces to make this race more interesting than any other ultracross race I've done.  There are sections that are absolutely better for a MTB, but the road sections and all the climbing are definitely better and faster with a cross bike.  If the trails would have been a muddy mess, there is no question a MTB would be the fastest choice on this course.  But, with the course being in very good shape on race day, I think a cross bike would have been a better choice for me this year, especially with one of the most technical trails towards the end of the course being removed this year.  With that said, however, four of the top five overall finishers this year were on 29ers and three of those bikes had suspension forks.

My Salsa Mamasite IC race bike.
I made the most of my 29er on race day.  I knew my bike would not be the fastest on the paved sections of the course, but I also knew the bike would allow for me to bomb the most technical descent on the course, the Lippencote Trail.  Knowing the course well from my previous attempts at it, I made it a priority to be the first into this section and by the bottom of the trail, I had gained the overall lead in the race.  Another rider exited the trail a few seconds later and we were able to work together on the fast road sections and maintain our lead until the bottom of the long Wigwam Run-up.  Garth Prosser pushed out a huge effort to bridge-up to us by this point.

With Garth and me being tied in series points, I knew he was the one and only rider I had to beat for the day.  I immediately jumped onto his pace when he caught me on Wigwam and by the top of the long run-up, I had actually put a few seconds between us and crested this crazy-long run-up in first place overall.  We grouped back together after the checkpoint and rode all the fast gravel and road sections together leading to checkpoint #3.  During this time, two under forty riders, Aaron Snyder and Adam Farabaugh (2012 USAC U23 Criterium Champion), bridged-up to us.  Since I was more concerned about beating Garth than I was with the under 40 kids, I tried to conserve as much energy as possible by doing little work to help our group extend our overall lead.  I knew that I would need it for the final long climb and to have any chance beating Garth's climbing legs.

The final long gravel climb starts immediately after checkpoint #3.  I was hoping to hang with our fast little group up the climb, but also knew the three of them were climbing much better than I was.  So, sure enough, I fell off their pace and had to go into my damage control mode to conserve as much energy as I could for the last section of single track.  I thought that I might be able to regain my lost time in the last few miles of single track, but with the trail not being super technical and with Garth riding so strong, I was unable to catch him before the finish.  By the end of the race, Adam took a commanding victory, Garth was second, Aaron was third and I finished in fourth overall, 2nd 40+ rider.

My time was about 8 minutes faster than last year.  I'm not sure if that was because I used a 29er instead of a cross bike or because I rode most of the last half of the course with a group of riders instead of being alone like I was last year.  Since the weather turned out being a non-issue, I actually think my time would have been even faster this year if I would have used my Salsa Vaya Ti rather than the Mamasita.  When I have a NoTubes tubeless wheelset on my Vaya, it rides technical terrain very well and I know it is also a better bike for climbing, so I'm pretty sure it probably could have saved me a couple of minutes without the day having any of the nasty weather conditions I expected.  Oh well, I guess it is better to be safe than sorry.

I really had a blast racing Iron Cross this year and I'm already excited about doing it again next year.  Zach Adams and Mike Kuhn did an excellent job putting together a perfect race this year and I need to say a big thank you to them and all of the volunteers that made the race an amazing experience.  It would be really cool to have more races like this to do during "cross" season, but I guess it's good to give my body a little break from all the long stuff I do, too.  Well, I guess it's time to say goodbye to my endurance racing season and hello to short, fast cyclocross races.  But, before I say farewell completely, here is a great race recap video of the 2012 NoTubes Iron Cross Race put together by Zach Adams for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy!

Watch more video of Gerry Plug on cyclingdirt.org

Happy Trails....  Gerry