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.