Spooky Cross has been scaring Iowa bike racers for over a decade now. First in Cumming, then in Urbandale, most recently in Altoona. The location has changed but the formula has remained the same: frightful speed, fierce competition, spooky costumes, and fun.
Again this year Spooky has found a new home, and it might be its best venue yet. Race director Justin Guiter (Zealous Racing) explained, "We have a new venue from years past. The new course has more of a mix of terrain than what we used to have. It is on the side of a hill along a creek, so it offers more elevation, too. There are opportunities for run ups we haven't had in the past. And there are off-camber sections that will challenge your handling skills wet or dry. We've also sprinkled in some fast flat sections for recovery or to open up the stable and let the horses run."
Kerrie Bernstein (Zealous Racing) got to ride the course while checking out the new prospect. "The new course is more challenging technically. It's a super fun and fast ride, but if it's muddy be prepared to run and carry your bike.
"There is a steep run up that could be crazy if it rains. And the off camber section is tough; there is a chance you could slip down into the creek that runs along side it." (Guiter assures us that "we have nylon fencing along that section so – hopefully – no one makes it into the creek." But we'll see...)
The new venue at the Altoona Campus (similar to a YMCA) is just southwest of the Altoona Aquatic Center where the race has been held most recently. According to Guiter, "It's different than [the Aquatic Center] as there we had a small area we were trying to get as creative as possible with, whereas this has a lot of potential to do whatever we want to in the future. In the past we did a good job of adding small sections each year and building on our success from previous courses. At the new venue we hope to still have some of our well known features and touches added to appeal to both roadies and mountain bikers.
"Unfortunately, the decision to change venues was not left to us. The City of Altoona planned to build a new City Hall/Police Station in the area we've used in recent years. We knew this day was coming, we just didn't know when. We found out by riding to the course the week prior to our scheduled course work day; there were construction stakes in the ground labeling where to grade and such. The next Monday ground was broke and we were officially without a venue.
"Altoona has been incredibly supportive of bike racing over the years, especially cyclocross, with both Spooky Cross and the Iowa State Cyclocross Championships only about two miles away. The city worked with us and gave us some options. After a few email exchanges and off-road excursions by foot, bike, and truck, we landed on this new venue as a good fit with a lot of potential, possibly more potential than our previous venue. Again, the City was very supportive of what we presented to them for the new venue."
The course will be quite different Saturday and Sunday "to keep you on your toes." Some parts will run in reverse but new sections will be added to give the two days a very different feel. "There are opportunities for different run-up's for each course, but those are still to be determined. At this point, one course seems a little easier and faster than the other, but I'll let you be the judge of which is which."
Saturday will include the 2-lap costume race again this year, explained Guiter. "That seemed to be a hit last year and will hopefully have another good turnout this year. The course will be condensed from the full Saturday lap to make it more fun for those that have a more ... uncomfortable costume. We're also looking at adding a kid's course that would consist of a small taped off course at the venue for those little ones that are running balance bikes." Juniors and youths race for free both days.
"Parking may be confusing as the meat and potatoes of the course are on the southside of the Altoona Campus," according to Guiter. "Parking will be available at a bar, the Brewhouse No. 25, about 100 yards from the venue, a Church with a large parking lot, and the Altoona Campus. We'll post signs, but it may still be a bit of a challenge as it is a new venue and parking is not in plain site like our old venue."
Spooky Cross' catchet and proximity to Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas promise a level of competition not seen in eastern Iowa aside from Jingle Cross. Its new home at the Altoona Campus is under two hours from Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. And remember, Zealous Racing's scary weekend of cyclocross benefits JDRF.
Saturday morning the Altoona Fire Department will host an all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast. At the venue itself food will be available both days from Big Acai Bowls and Willie's BBQ.
This weekend is the second edition of BIKEIOWA's two-day race at Des Moine's Sands Volleyball Club. Last year's premiere of The Grand drew over 170 racers, at least that many spectators, and some truly world class hecklers. For year two BIKEIOWA warns us to expect the unexpected.
In 2017 mother nature dumped an inch of rain on the course just after the races Saturday. The first races Sunday started out a little sloppy, but the sandy ground tacked up nicely for the rest of the day. This year Sands has seen it's share of flooding -- it was completely under water in July -- but with a dry week in the forecast the course is good to go.
Amenities include indoor restrooms, outdoor showers, bike wash, parking, seating, and heated tents/overhangs. Sands is right on the bike trail and close to a bike shop, but it's NOT dog friendly, so leave Doggo at home this weekend.
Food trucks this year will include:
Last year the course was about 1.7 miles long and included some long power sections and a mix of tight and twisty turns in the woods. Des Moines' central location and BIKEIOWA's reputation for throwing a good party helped draw racers from Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas, of course, but also from Utah, Connecticut, Washington, Texas, and Mississippi. The level of competition did not disappoint.
In 2016, the first year of Twisted Cross, the Cedar Falls cyclocross race was the same day as Trek's CX Cup in Wisconsin. Not wanting to repeat that conflict again, last year organizers settled for mid-November, but a cold snap brought challenges of its own -- the races were fun, of course, but making a day of it was less inviting.
This year Twisted Spokes secured a sweet new weekend for their two-day cx event, a month earlier on the calendar, on October 13 and 14. What could possibly go wrong? Flooding, that's what. Heavy rains in mid-September put Tondro Pray Bike Park, home to Twisted Cross, completely under water. But despite that and recent threats of even more flooding, the race will go on.
"We've redesigned the course at Tondro Pray and it looks like a million dollars," said Race Director Joel Mason. "New sections, new features, no pinwheel, and a design that should stand up to even more rain. Flood recovery has gone extremely well thanks to an army of volunteers and city employees." Twisted Cross is on -- get up to Cedar Falls this weekend!
There's More to Come
The last few days waiting to hear of Twisted Cross' fate have been a bit meloncholy. By now the biggest spectacles of the year, Trek and Jingle Cross, are but fading memories. On top of that the cancellation of Bobbers (flooding) and the threat to Twisted made it feel like 'cross season is nearly over. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Cyclocross season is what you make of it, of course. Roadies might be content to extend their season a race or two in September. Fair-weather 'crossers will go on for a while longer ... depending. But if you love cyclocross there's no reason not to race through State in early December or even Nationals a couple weeks later. That means your season isn't half over.
Over two months of racing are yet to come after Twisted this weekend. Back to back weekends in Des Moines (The Grand and Spooky), then one day of racing at Coralville Creekside Cross. After that you might have to get creative -- Fulton Star Cross in Minneapolis, maybe? Or if Frosty Cross is too far maybe a Chicago Cross Cup race or two?
It's entirely possible that other Iowa races will surface before State December 1 (Valley Cross, anyone?). If not, though, there are plenty of alternatives in neighboring states. Then after State there's the Midwest Championship in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, just days before the beginning of Nationals December 11-16 in Louisville, Kentucky.
Days get shorter. Temperatures fall. Mud gives way to snow. We have plenty of cyclocross yet to come. Are you ready to race?
Practice races like the Chamois Time CX race last week and the Creekside Midweek Mayhem this Thursday show how low-key, grass roots events can turn out 'cross racers both new and long in the tooth. This weekend and the one after, though, will showcase the other extreme of the cyclocross spectrum as World Cup cyclocross returns to Trek CX Cup in Waterloo, WI and Jingle Cross here in Iowa City, IA.
It's like a bit of European cyclocross in our own back yards -- instead of the participatory sport we know and love, for these two weekends cyclocross is transformed by the spectacle of the very best in the world. There are only nine World Cup races in the 2018-19 season. The first two are here in Waterloo and Iowa City. The best in the world will race here. Watch in awe.
In their own ways both Trek and Jingle Cross are changing the sport. Jaws dropped last year when Jingle Cross, a volunteer effort at Iowa City's Johnson County Fairground, was voted the best World Cup race in the series. The race's focus on fun and commitment to 'cross racing for everyone has won over fans for years -- just ask crowd favorite Helen Wyman.
Both of these races depend heavily on volunteers to make their magic happen. Whether setting up the course, working registration, or serving as crossing guards, anyone can help and have fun doing it. If you're able, consider volunteering before during or after the Trek CX Cup or Jingle Cross.
Unlike their European counterparts, Trek CXCup and Jingle Cross have both maintained healthy schedules of amateur racing alongside their elite and World Cup events. This year Jingle Cross has even returned to its roots with three full days of racing for every amateur category. That means there are races there for you, whatever your age or skill level. Cheer, help, and race!
By now BIKEIOWA has an idea of the course they'll stake out in Des Moine's Stone Park. Some features will be very familiar -- for example, those pine trees that slap your face every lap -- some features might be totally new. Guaranteed, though, line up at Capital City Cross Saturday and you'll find artifacts of races past, ruts in parts of the park we aren't even using, lines etched into the oddest spots.
This Saturday will be more than a practice race. When the lap cards, sponsor banners, and port-o-pottys appear you know the race is on. And when racers from Nebraska, Minnesota, South Dakota, and across Iowa hear "Capital City Cross" they know where they'll want to be.
Register at USACycling, check for the latest at BIKEIOWA, or get nostalgic with our blog from 2017, Capital City Cross is Back. If you can make a weekend of it, check out Relaycross Sunday afternoon.
Relaycross in support of the Urban Bicycle Food Ministry
Relaycross is simple: 2 hours of racing with 4 teammates tagging in and out to pile on as many laps as possible before time runs out. The team with the most laps wins.
The race takes place at Mullets, former home of the beloved Oakley Night Cap and long time sponsor of BIKEIOWA. Relaycross is as serious or leisurely as you want. You can race all out or at a conversational pace. It's all for a good cause.
"Payouts? Yep. High fives, pride and good karma to everyone that enters.
"Pre registration and online fees? Nope! Day of only.
"Do I need a license you ask? Hell no! This is a charity race people. So please grab your donations and join us on September 16th at Mullets. Registration opens at 12:00pm and closes at 1:00pm."
This year Relaycross will be racing for the Urban Bicycle Food Ministry.
The Urban Bicycle Food Ministry is a grass-roots non-profit organization that feeds the homeless in Des Moines. Check out Relaycross at BIKEIOWA.
by Tara Coady
Sooo, I thought I'd do a race report from this weekend now.
I raced at Cannonball CX this weekend for the first time. The race has been going on for the last couple of years, but I was recovering from breast cancer surgery the first year, and I had a bad cold last year. Then this year, I finally got to race it. Yea!
It was a little muddy when we first got there, and I am a big scaredy cat, so there were several things I was afraid to ride. I pre-rode the course a few times and found the guts to ride a couple of the things I was initially afraid of, but not all.
There was a great group of women riders, with some strong talent from Minneapolis. There were also a lot of new Spin Devo women who were fun and strong too.
Now, I'm going to talk about the things I love about CX. Because, let's face it, I am never going to win the Cyclocross Olympics, or very many races at all for that matter. So people have asked me why I do it? Cannonball CX was a prime example of why I race cyclocross.
Like I said before, I am, as John likes to say, an overly cautious old woman. I have to fight myself again and again to get up the courage to do certain things. Riding down steep hills in muddy conditions is one of those things.
When I first rode the course, I was terrified to ride down the big, muddy hill. Every time after that on my pre-ride, I would think I could do it, and I would stare and stare down from the top of it for what seemed like three hours before I finally wussed-out and walked/slid down it with my bike in hand.
I started out the race okay and passed a couple of people before I got to said big hill, which I walked down. I was the only woman in the whole filed who walked down it. And because I walked it, everyone passed me and I was in last place of ALL the categories of women. I decided right then that if every other woman could ride down that hill, then I could too.
So, when I got to it on the next lap, I took a deep breath, sucked down my "what-ifs," and rode down it. Holy cow! It was so easy. Seriously. No problem at all. Derrrrr.
Then I spent the rest of the race trying to catch the other women. I passed some and the rest of them were way ahead of me. I even got lapped by a couple of them too. Which is fine by me, because it makes my race shorter and I am still in pretty crappy shape.
Toward the end of the race, I took a $2 bill hand-up, put it between my teeth, and came into the finish looking classy as hell...Or whatever.
I get so many things by riding cyclocross. I'm not winning many races, but I am conquering my fears, and taking myself out of my comfort zone, and meeting really fun people, and playing outside, and most importantly, I'm finding that I'm able to ignore (at least some of the) voices in my head that scream "I can't" at me.
It's also a double bonus that I have a partner/husband who likes to ride bikes in the mud as much as I do.
So, after FINALLY getting to race Cannonball CX, I rate it a raging success for me...By my rules anyway.
Reprinted from Tara's blog, Churlish Figure.
"Dirty Wooden Shoe is one of my favorite 'cross races of the season," said Darian Nagle-Gamm of Iowa City Cycling Club, "I love everything about the course. It has challenging topography and great features such as the "Dutch Letters" ... which might be my favorite cross feature of all time. It also has a nice, flowy recovery zone down the hill weaving between trees that is really fun to ride."
Dirty Wooden Shoe, September 8 & 9, is set on the south shores of Lake Red Rock between Pella and Knoxville. At first glance the wide open, grassy course might not seem particularly technical. But even aside from the beloved Dutch letters, Dirty Wooden Shoe will be sure to test our skills. “Our course has long, power-sucking straights as well as tight, twisty, and technical sections," said Race Director Jacob Oyen of Pella Bike Racing.
Not far past the start a steep off camber 180 will slow all but the bravest riders. Half a lap later a 4x4 turns an otherwise modest uphill into a run-up for anyone unwilling to chance a bunny hop. Just after that, a twisty section ends with another tight off camber turn that betrays foibles nearly every lap. The course has developed over the years to make good use of every slope or natural obstacle. Organizers add some unique man-made barriers as well.
The race itself is challenging and fun, and it's worth remembering with some Dutch-themed prizes. "The wooden shoe awards are also a nice touch," said Darian, "paying homage to the early Dutch settlers. I've never won a coveted wooden shoe, but that doesn't stop me from coming back and trying every year!
"This year I booked an Airbnb so that I can stay overnight and enjoy the area," Darian said. "I want to check out Peace Tree Brewery and take the kids to hang out and enjoy beautiful Lake Red Rock and the surrounding recreation areas."
With both Dirty Wooden Shoe and his work on the Iowa Cyclocross Series, Oyen is always working to promote and grow the sport. At this year's race, a classic for anyone new to 'cross, beginning women and juniors race for just $15 and don't pay a late fee. Everyone else should register online to avoid a $10 hike for day-of registration.
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.