The pandemic is far from over, no matter how much we would like it to be. Days are longer, and warmer. Vaccinations are happening at a remarkable pace. But Covid numbers are looking worse, rather than better, because new variants are more contagious and, on the whole, we are less careful than we should be.
"This year we started planning a bit later because the shop has been busy even during the off season," said Sugarbottom Bikes' Nate Kullbom, Race Director for the Lake Macbride Fat Tire Classic next weekend. "There was never really any doubt we would try to hold the event. In races like this, we are talking about wide open spaces with plenty of room to move about, and almost zero spectators. You may have a fairly large group at the start, but by 5-10 minutes in you will have most people riding solo or in very small groups."
To be sure, the very nature of outdoor events makes them easier to do safely. But organizers aren't stopping there. "We moved to online registration only," said Kullbom, "with packet pickup available almost every day at Sugar Bottom Bikes the week preceding the event. Masks or face coverings will be required right up until participants put the power down on the pedals. This is winter fat biking after all, some people may choose to wear a face covering for the entirety of the event just to stay warm!
"The biggest change is an optional start time window of 2 hours to allow people to start whenever they want and avoid a mass start. Registered racers can organize a time for the fast racers to start together if they want. Typically at a race like the Lake Macbride Fat Tire Classic, 70-80% of the participants are just in it for the experience, and not necessarily racing. "
Last year another early season favorite, the Team Red Shamrock Trail Challenge, was one of the first races to go virtual. "We were one of the very first events that dealt with the shut down," says Race Director John Hall. The Red Shamrock Foundation, normally a busy non-profit supporting young cancer survivors, hasn't been active since. "We suspended all activity since then. When we pulled the plug on 2020 events, the 2021 Trail Challenge was always set to be our next event."
The popular trail run, part of the No Coast Trail Series, is set to return for its 10th edition March 27th in Iowa City's Hickory Hill Park. "It was probably in November of 2020 that we started prepping for the event. It takes a lot of time to ramp up to these things and at the time we hoped that COVID would be under control. If not, we also knew that we could do another virtual event.
fewer volunteers, checkpoints, snacks, beer
"We will have the normal precautions of face mask and social distancing, even though it's an outside event. If necessary we'll stagger the start, although I'm hoping we don't have to go that far. For post race food we will have prepackaged food/drink to grab and go. No homemade goodies like in years past."
There will be sacrifices. "We will have fewer volunteers, checkpoints, snacks, beer," said Kullbom. "A crowd favorite is our beer and bacon station, where some riders have been known to spend 2-3 hours just hanging out. Obviously we'll have to forego that sort of thing this year."
Kullbom agrees that racers are receptive, with early registrations for the Lake Macbride Fat Tire Classic out pacing those from last year. "We have had many people express how grateful they are that someone is still willing to do the extra work and actually hold an event."
CRANDIC TT & Night at the Oval
CRANDIC Racing Club is thrilled to present two bike racing series over the summer of 2019, the CRANDIC Time Trial Series at Big Grove Solon and Night at the Oval at Hawkeye Downs in Cedar Rapids. Two very different races that we love dearly.
At first glance these races couldn't seem more different: the time trial is "the race of truth," just you against the clock, while Night at the Oval is track-inspired pack racing at its finest; the TT in Solon is along Sutliff Road, one of the most beautiful and bike-friendly spots in the Corridor, while NatO is in industrial Cedar Rapids at Hawkeye Downs, a race track typically reserved for cars, go-cart, semi trailers, and the like. Despite their differences, a closer look at these two races reveals both their similarities and the reasons that we love them so.
A great place to start
In their own ways both races are perfect for beginners. Hawkeye Downs is a big, wide track without so much as a corner, so NatO riders have all the space they could want as they practice pack riding and racing techniques. On the other hand, in a TT riders start at set intervals, nearing each other only to pass, so beginners can go all out without worrying about bumping elbows or touching wheels.
Just as important, both series are mid-week, informal events that are welcoming to beginners but hard enough to challenged even seasoned racers.
Simple, but never easy
Every wanna-be racer has ridden a time trial. The minute we feel competitive on a bike we test our strength on a set course by timing ourselves. A time trial, simple as that. What makes it hard is concentrating, pacing, and wanting to go faster next time.
While at Night at the Oval each race is different, they mostly come down to a sprint. But the nuances of drafting other riders, finding the right position, and timing the jump to perfection make every sprint different, and every sprint a challenge.
Hit the road
It may not be the sexiest thing out there these days, but road cycling is the basis of all bike racing. Navigating a cyclocross start is all but impossible without pack riding skills. In the right conditions drafting features even in gravel or mtb racing. Pacing well is essential to any race. And all bike racing disciplines reward fitness won on the road.
Bike racing came from the road. Its most essential skills are still right at home there.
Two series, too fun
CRANDIC is committed to making these races fun for everyone. For the crusty old roadie that's not hard at all: Yell "go" and they're happy, and they'll find plenty of competition at either of these races. For beginners – whether they're new to the road, or to bike racing in general – we say welcome, ride hard and have fun, and let us know if we can help.
We're CRANDIC Racing Club. We love to race.
Ready or not, bike racing season is upon us. It seems late this year, especially after a cold, long winter and with the absence of a few early season favorites like Kent Park and the Hills Spring Classic. Of course, we never stopped racing – with fat bike craziness, gravel races and trail runs, even an early mtb race at Sylvan Island – but now we're getting into the heart of bike racing season, also known as the slow build-up to cyclocross.
Iowa City Cycling Club's Chris Lillig Memorial Cup is just a week away, featuring the Iowa City Road Race and the Old Capital Criterium. It will be interesting to see if this year the traditional "I'm not in shape yet" finally gives way to legions of Zwift zombies soft-pedalling into the sunlight. But even for those of us who hibernate through winter instead, there's no good reason not to toe the line in an effort to race into shape.
The Iowa City Road Race is actually south of town in Kalona, the heart of Amish country. The race stages at the Fairview Mennonite Church, then rolls through one to four hilly 13-mile laps of beautiful farmland. Manure can be a road hazard, especially in wet weather. And races are neutralized for passing horses and buggies, as even the steadiest workhorse can be spooked by large packs of riders. Two waves of races, from 9 and 11:30am, allow for fields of every category and age group, from juniors to masters (including masters women 40+/50+/60+!). This road race is a favorite for a reason, and as long as the weather is good it should not be missed – Just ask those who have raced it in 40˚ rain!
The Old Capital Criterium is a .8-mile six-corner loop around downtown Iowa City's Pentacrest. Each lap – whether 8 or 10 for beginners or 40 for the open race – the 50-foot climb feels steeper, and the subsequent descent faster, until someone gets away or the whole pack sprints to the finish. The day includes a full slate of juniors development races, as well as free kids' races at midday for those 9 and under. Now in it's 42nd year, the Old Capital Crit is still a great rush for racers and spectators alike.
Sign up to race, or sign up to help out. But definitely make it downtown for this classic Iowa City day of bike racing.
Special thanks to Justin Torner Photography for all the retro race photos.
It's finally starting to feel like cyclocross season: days are shorter, I'm nearly recovered from RAGBRAI, and we're counting down with just weeks to go. But before you mothball your road bikes, remember that this coming weekend are Iowa's state championships for both road racing and time trialing. Both of these races are worth the trip just south of Iowa City.
Iowa State Road Race Championship
Saturday is the State Road Race Championship starting and finishing in Riverside. Racers compete over one, two, or three 32 mile laps -- up to 96 miles -- of an exposed and sometimes hilly course.
Each lap offers 600 feet of climbing, with much of that in three 100+foot hills lumped from miles 3 to 13. A few shorter pitches of 3 or 4% pop up in the last few miles before a mile-long descent toward Riverside sets up a flat, then a rise to the sprint finish.
It's easy to imagine an attack breaking away on those early hills, but it'll take a very strong climber to hold off the pack and avoid a sprint finish in Riverside.
The route seems flat, with just two noticeable pitches of about 15 feet -- a rise at about 3 miles in and a drop down to the river just before the turnaround. This could fool you, though, as the entire course is gradually downhill, dropping about 45 feet by the turnaround as the route nears the confluence of the Iowa and Cedar rivers. Mess up that negative split and you'll feel that 45 feet of climbing getting home.
Hope for light winds and pace yourself. Can you go under an hour?
As always, thanks to the Iowa City Cycling Club for these two great events!
"We are excited to be there this Tuesday and this time I will race too. See ya Tuesday!"
Kat Porter, Twisted Spokes
"Love the Oval - I have been going for years. The different race formats are fun and make you think and get your strategy going.
"My favorites are the 'C Race' and points races. NatO gives folks an opportunity to ‘road race’ at a lowered risk level and practice drafting and lead out skills."
Mario Czarnomski, ICCC
"The Night at the Oval is a fantastic race-like workout that preps you for crits and sprints. Get a good warm up because the intensity is high from the GO!"
The races mainly take place on the 1/2 mile oval, so the terrain is flat and predictable, allowing you to just focus on staying with the pack, and timing your sprint.
"At NatO there are multiple races in a night, which gives you the chance to try out different strategies. If you mess up your first race, just wait 10 minutes and go at it again with a new strategy.
"The best part is the relaxed and friendly atmosphere. While it is competitive, everyone is there to have a good time on their bikes on a Tuesday night."
Victor, Youth Off Road Riders & Goosetown Racing/New Pioneer Food Coop
"It's a great opportunity for kids to get to know their community and to meet new people and share new experiences with them. Especially those that mountain bike often but are trying to get into road racing.
My favorite race is the "Miss and Out," because it's very tense at times and relaxed at other times. I enjoy having to sprint often."
Wayne Fett, Goosetown Racing/New Pioneer Food Coop
"The Oval races help everyone with their race skills no matter how long they've been racing. It also provides an excellent interval or sprint workout."
Rob McKillip, CRANDIC Racing Club
"NatO is the Cliff Notes of bike racing ... just the important bits, none of the long, boring miles. It's a unique chance to try out the strategies you normally only ready about, or see on TV.
"Just try out different strategies, be bold ... if it didn't work, who cares, try something different in the next race, ten minutes later. It's an awesome workout. You will get to hear rates you'll just never see in your basement ... and have way more fun doing it!
'There's an A and B group, so don't have to worry about being slow. Besides, everybody is nice. Also, it's fan friendly -- you can see the entire race, so bring your family. There is no better way to learn to race.
"Come challenge the Snoops in the Granny Gear Race, or Rob in the Big Gear Race ..."
I tried several years to make it to the Fat Tire Frenzy at Beverly Park in Cedar Rapids. I'm not much of a mountain bike racer – I only started riding MTB a few years ago – but Beverly's trails are local favorites so racing there would be almost as familiar as Sugar Bottom. (From Iowa City Beverly Park is only five minutes further away, and its sandy soils often dry out days before Sugar Bottom's.) Having been foiled previously by nagging injuries or conflicting events, this year I was really looking forward to racing at Beverly...when the Fat Tire Frenzy suddenly disappeared.
The schedule for the Iowa Mountain Bike Championship Series (IMBCS) appeared in March without a race listed for Beverly Park. Weeks later a new race was added, the Beverly Boondoggle, with the ominous tag "Marathon MTB Only." What? Again, I'm not much on a mountain bike, so working up the nerve to race trails at all can be a challenge, but a marathon? What was going on?
I decided to ask around. It turns out several factors led to the new Beverly Boondoggle, mostly very positive developments, and in hearing about them I learned about the growing trend toward MTB Marathon as well.
Marathon MTB may seem more popular recently, but endurance MTB is hardly new. According to Bruce Brown, Co-Director of the Iowa Mountain Bike Championship Series, there is a long history of endurance events in mountain biking.
"For years the big trend was 12 and 24 hour events. At some point events started being measured more in miles – 50, 75, or 100 mile measuring sticks for endurance mountain bike races that were point to point or one large loop and became what is known as destination events. Chequamegon 40 in Wisconsin, Dakota Five-0 in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and Leadville 100 in Colorado are examples."
Skills for a fast time trial take practice, but will serve you well in most bike races: any time you're riding alone, of course, and in ways even riding in a pack
"My worst time trials were not been my slowest, but the ones where I knew I caved and didn’t push as hard as I could for the entire distance. The pain of discipline is always less than that of regret."
"Seeing your times get faster as your fitness improves is rewarding, but for me learning to stick with a hard effort and not give up has translated to success at every distance."
Sarah Cooper, race director of the Elkhart TT Series near Des Moines, ultra-distance cyclist, and all around badass, has inspired and informed our efforts since we first dreamt up the CRANDIC TT Series. Imagine how pleased we were when she told us she would race the first CRANDIC TT in May . . . maybe.
This weekend, just days before our race, Sarah will return to Trans Iowa. "A time trial after 340 miles of gravel is profoundly stupid, and I hate saying I’m going to be somewhere and then not making it. But most of my season is stupid. The State Time Trial Championship is the week after a 700 mile brevet. I’ve waved good bye to common sense for 2018. Unless I can’t walk, I should be there."
We look forward to it, Sarah. And good luck this weekend!