It's hard to believe that this year's Cannonball Cross is only the race's third edition, that just two years could make the event such a staple in Iowa's cyclocross season. How does that even happen?
For starters, Cannonball Cross offers a challenging course at a truly gorgeous venue. Its two days of racing are well organized, in a central location, and draw talent from around the upper Midwest. It helps, too, that it's over Labor Day Weekend -- two weeks before Iowa cyclocross had begun previously -- and started the year that Jingle Cross became a World Cup race and moved from December to September. Thanks to Cannonball Cross, Iowa's cyclocross season gets off like a shot.
"Yes, we originally chose Labor Day weekend because Jingle Cross was moving to mid-September," confirmed Race Director Dave Delperdang. "We needed a couple of races before then to help get Iowa and Minnesota racers ready for Jingle Cross." As Spin Devo's Brooke Bailey put it, "Everyone wants to know how they stack up in the early season."
For CRANDIC Racing's Kirschen Seah the Mason City race is a favorite. "Cannonball Cross has an evolving course with a mix of terrains (pavement, light gravel, and grass), descents, climbs, wicked off-cambers, and new last year -- stairs and a flyover! It's beginner and spectator friendly, and most importantly, it's fun!"
"Cannonball Cross offers two days (September 1 & 2) of challenging cyclocross in Mason City’s East Park," said Delperdang. "Since we are in northern Iowa, we typically draw many Iowa and Minnesota racers with a few more from bordering states." That level of competition has attracted new-comers and national champions alike from throughout Iowa and Minnesota, but also South Dakota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin.
Cannonball is especially popular among juniors. Last year it drew more boys and girls than any Iowa race besides Jingle Cross. "We offer free registration to first time CX’ers and to all of our SPIN/Spin Devo Team," said Bailey. "This year we will offer free junior registration to any team.
"So, when a junior has a chance to race a pretty great race for free and Mom or Dad or Aunt or Grandpa would like to try a free CX race as a first timer, then Boom! You’ve got a day of family fun! Bait, set, hook to the cyclocross scene. We’ve seen this in our own crew and we will have five new SPIN families join our race this year. How great is that?"
Bailey, a member of Cannonball Cross' six-person race committee, explained that "Devo is pretty active in the race itself. We ask kids and parents to volunteer as part of the expectations of being on the team. We like that the kids are hands on with setting up the course and the inner workings of the race so that they appreciate what it takes."
Beautiful East Park, in the center of Mason City, has been home to cyclocross practices for ten years. "I started going eight years ago," said Delperdang. "We had some large branches we would drag out of the trees for barriers and then put them back after practice for the following week. We had two to six people showing up each week. The following year I built some portable barricades, and we used flags to help mark the course. Then we had up to 12 people showing up. Since we started putting on Cannonball Cross our practices have been grown to 12 to 30 each week."
Before, between, and after races there's plenty to do in Mason City. "Mason City Brewery and Fat Hill Brewery are both downtown, so not far from the park," said Delperdang. And while you're downtown stop by the Historic Park Inn, the last operating Frank Lloyd Wright Hotel, and check out the 1910 Grille or 1910 Lounge in the hotel. "Favorite restaurants include Lorado's Restaurant, The Quarry (both have outdoor sitting) and Thai Bistro & Sushi Bar (all have vegetarian options)."
If you want to camp for the weekend, head to the MacNider Campgrounds: a very nice, family-friendly site just across the river from East Park. There's even a walking bridge for easy access.
Mason City is just over two and a half hours of driving from Iowa City, and just over two from Cedar Rapids. Cannonball Cross is more than worth the trip.
Cyclocross is coming -- and sooner than you might think. Of course, Mason City's Cannonball Cross kicks off the Iowa Cyclocross Series on Labor Day weekend. But the week before, Saturday August 25, BikeIowa is treating us to a very special bonus race in Newton. The Intergalactic Cyclocross Championships will bring cyclocross to Maytag Park for the first time in ten years.
"Maytag Park gives everything," BikeIowa's Rob Versteegh said. "Hills, flats, pavement, lots of trees, spirited run-ups. Maytag park is a beloved venue that we get lots of requests to use again."
Thanks to Julie Goodman and Paul Varnum for some fun photos!
There are many skills essential to cyclocross that you won't learn in any other cycling discipline. Remounting your bike, for example, is about as peculiar to cyclocross as the hand sling is to track cycling. This is all the more reason that (cyclocross) practice makes perfect: no matter how strong you are on a bike, if you're slow over barriers, meager in muddy turns, and uncomfortable shouldering your bike you'll likely lose to less "fit" 'cross racers with better skills.
To make cyclocross practice more effective and more fun many racers across Iowa have joined in group practices, at a local park or a dedicated 'cross course, for drills and practice races or "hot laps." All it takes is space, a few cones, and some friends.
"We start off the season with a beginner's clinic and then have 10 practices which takes us to the end of October and daylight savings. We set up a different course each week. The course is minimally flagged and includes 1-2 sets of portable barriers.
"Practice starts with a few warm-up laps. Then we all line-up and give an update on the upcoming CX Races and a spot for post-practice refreshments. After that we mass start like a race which quickly breaks up into groups. You can race/ride as many laps as you want. Some folks will break out and work on barriers, mounts/dismounts, etc.
"Back in the day, we would get 20-30 folks to come out. Now, early-season practices bring 100-150 tapering down to 50-75 toward the season's end. Many who show up don't race, but are there for fitness and skills building and the camaraderie of other cyclists."
Practices in Mason City are in beautiful East Park, the home of Cannonball Cross. SPIN DEVO's Brooke Bailey explained, "We have an 'adult Spin Racing' Wednesday night practice and a SPIN DEVO Thursday night practice. Beginners are welcome at both.
"We especially encourage beginners to participate in DEVO practice because we do a lot of skills and drills work -- cornering, off camber, lifting front wheel, mounts and dismounts, hill riding, and running -- then end with a couple of laps.
"Our Wednesday night practice is hot laps on a rough course set up with flags and trees and a few barriers. Our DEVO kids are invited to this as well."
Practices at Tondro Pray in Cedar Falls started last year, mostly with hot laps around the dedicated cyclocross course. Dave Roll, from Cedar Valley Vélo Ride Guide, explains that "this year we'll try and structure more training. We are planning classes for dismounts
In Cedar Rapids, CRCX throws down a course at Daniels Park each Wednesday evening. Riders of all levels are welcome, and more often than not they'll find others at a similar pace. Hot laps can be competitive but the atmosphere is always friendly and fun. And as if that isn't cool enough, Goldfinch Cyclery will be there to sweeten the deal. "We'll have our fleet of youth CX bikes on site and available for any youngster 8-12 years old," says Logan Orcutt.
In the Iowa City area, CRANDIC Racing Club is practicing Wednesday evenings at Coralville Creekside Cross. We'll have a course marked each week for hot laps, but we'll also set up cones for drills and we look forward to helping beginners.
"I attended a cyclocross clinic at Creekside last season and it really helped me refine my skills, and allowed me to practice things I often neglect, like group starts," said CRANDIC's Steve Tygrett. "There was a great turn out and I think it inspired people to either try their first race, or increase the amount of races they were doing."
There is always a chance that we'll mix things up a little -- hit Woodpecker Trail next door or some other local park, or even head up to CR to join friends at Daniels Park. For the latest plans or weather warnings, look for word on CRANDIC's FB group or sign up for our newsletter.