Iron Cross

29er Crew 200 years ago, the Iron Cross was a military decoration of the Kingdom of Prussia, and later of Germany during the Napoleonic Wars. The only thing that Iron Cross has to do with the 62 mile bike race that I’m about to tell you about, is that the handmade awards that are given out at the end bear a keen resemblance to the original emblem.

Inspired by the Three Peaks Cyclocross race in England, the Iron Cross race is a 62 mile back-country bike race tailored to the strengths of a Cyclocross bike. Think Ironman Triathalon of Cyclocross, although the “Iron” part of Iron Cross does not come from Ironman. The race venue, Camp Thompson, is within Pine Grove Furnace State Park, a notable iron producing center around the turn of the century and before. So, Iron was pulled from the area’s rich history and reflects the toughness of the event.

This, the X.X.X edition (Oct 10, 2010) of Iron Cross takes you on a variety of terrain including pavement, gravel roads, primitive gravel roads, grassy fields and relatively easy mountain bike style single track. Since I’d been racing my Fisher Superfly Single Speed mountain bike all year for the 100-mile NUE series races, I thought this was the year to try Iron Cross riding a single speed. There’s a lot of pavement in Iron Cross, so  I set up my SuperFly with a fairly big gear: 32×16 and Bontrager XR1 1.9 Expert 29er tires to keep the rolling resistance low. My ride tips the scales at 19.5 pounds, definitely competitive with the average cross bike. I’m ready.

I’m liking my chances for a podium finish with a good ride in the single speed category. Last year’s Iron Cross single speed winner Gunnar Shogren became sick and had to cancel last minute and 2010 NUE single speed champ Gerry Pflug decided to race geared in the Masters category. So with a bit more potential room at the top, I lined up with 22 other single speed riders in a huge field of 225 men for a mass-start cyclocross race. The ladies were starting a minute back in their own wave. There were so many people at the start, I didn’t see any other single speeders.

Bang! Iron Cross starts with a prolog comprised of one lap on a traditional Cyclocross race course on the grassy lawn of Camp Thompson in Gardners, PA near the northern end of the 85,000 acre Michaux State Forest. I thought I’d managed a decent starting spot, but by the time the gun went off, I was at least 6 rows back with 30-40 riders in front of me. I managed to pass a few riders in the prolog death spiral, but really didn’t have a lot of passing room until we exited Camp Thompson.

 

The Death Spiral - Photo courtesy A.E.Landes Photography

 

I managed to get in contact with Justin Pokrivka just as I turned onto the a relatively flat paved hiker/biker path.  Justin was the 2010 single speed winner of the Wilderness 101 mountain bike race. He’s riding a cross bike today. This is one of the many fast sections, so we single speeders are spinning like mad… looking for the wheel of a geared rider to suck. It’s so fast it’s like: 5 strokes at 150rpm, coast… 5 strokes at 150rpm, coast… just don’t loose that wheel! We eventually start to climb and finally the single speeds are on more equal footing to the geared riders. I start to ride through small groups of riders with Justin on my wheel. We trade places a few times and Justin thinks there’s only Harlan Price of Team CF ahead of us on single speed. After several minutes of hard effort, we finally make contact with Harlan, the favorite to win the single speed category today. Things are shaping up well. We’re only 30 minutes in and I’m riding with the leaders, two of single speed endurance mountain biking’s elites. But where are last year’s Iron Cross single speed second and third place finishers Bill Alcorn and Dan Bonora?

Harlan is riding a sweet Indy Fab cross bike with a White Industries eccentric hub to tension the chain. While I usually don’t go around comparing my inches to the inches of other riders, it’s worth noting that where Justin and I are roughly running the same gearing, Harlan is going rather large: 39×17… quite a few more “gear” inches than I’m man enough to run

 

2010 Iron Cross Course

 

Harlan easily latches on as we try to ride through. As we near the top of the climb we’ve caught a fairly large group of geared riders and the terrain once again is encouraging speed. I’m spinning like crazy to try to stay on but end up getting popped. Crap! Both Justin and Harlan managed to catch and ride the wave that just dumped me. Riding by myself, I’m soon caught by John Heffner of Iron City Bikes, another single speeder and Bike Lane rider Mike Buchness who seems to do every single race that I do. Hey bro, good to see ya… again! We work together for several miles of gravel road rollers. Eventually we descend down off the ridge on a paved road and pop out on Wenksville road heading south-west toward the KOM climb and Aid station #1.

We make a right on Shippensburg Rd and start climbing back up the ridge, only this time on pavement. I manage to gap Buchness who was having trouble with his front derailleur, but at the top of the climb John Heffner was still with me. We both roll past Aid #1 and ride together silently sucking wheels when we can on geared riders that occasionally pass. We catch and ride with NCVC rider Rob Campbell who beat me last weekend at the AVC cross race. I chat with him a bit. On the gravel road descent just before the first single track of the day, I manage to get a small gap on the others since I wanted to be first into single track… I’m on a mountain bike after all.

 

Your's truly in the singletrack - Photo courtesy A.E.Landes Photography

 

I make the sharp left onto Lippencote trail, probably the most technical rocky single track we encounter all day. Finally in my element, I pass like 8 or 10 riders either walking or dabbing including Rob Lochner of Iron City Bikes who normally rides single speed but is racing a geared cyclocross bike today. I’m riding it all and manage to catch Justin toward the end. We emerge from the trail together and make a right on 234 Buchanan Valley Rd and then another right onto Rt 30 Chambersburg Rd. This is a long paved slightly downhill road section and we are both WAY undergeared. One geared rider catches us and we both jump on. How fortunate! However, we are both just hanging on. Soon more geared riders catch us including Rob Lochner and move to the front and pick up the pace. We’re drafting behind the hurricane.

As a big group, we make the right turn onto Rt 233 and pass the entrance to Caledonia State Park as we turn north-east and start heading back toward the start. We are flying. My heart rate is soaring. Justin and I are dropped. We make the left onto Milesburg Rd which is a gradual gravel road climb up to the Long Pine Run Reservoir. After the reservoir, we make a left onto a short primitive fireroad with a steep climb. Justin hops off which is surprising since he’s as strong as an ox. I manage to clean it with some momentum and some S-turn shenanigans. I keep a small gap on Justin across the grassy field to the base of the Wig Wam Hill Runup. I join in line for the death march up the climb just behind the ten or so geared riders that passed us on the pavement. I get by a couple of riders who seemed pretty exasperated by the Wig Wam experience. I’ve still got a full bottle at the top of Wig Wam, so I ride by Rob Lochner, Mike Laub and several other riders who are stopped to refill at Aid #2.

 

2010 Iron Cross Elevation

 

After Aid #2 we make a left on Forest Rd. Mike Laub, along with another geared rider, catch me pretty quickly.  As we make the hard right onto Stillhouse Hollow road the terrain turns more rolling. After several miles of right-lefts onto different gravel roads, we make a right onto some fairly steep climbing rocky primitive fire road. As Mike and the other geared rider downshift, I’m doing the opposite. I’m standing up digging deep to keep up momentum. By the top of the steepest part I’ve got a pretty good gap and I’m alone again.

I take a left turn onto trail which is new for the 2010 edition. It’s awesome! It’s new, soft, loamy single track trail with a few rocks thrown in and slightly climbing the whole way. It’s perfect for my single speed SuperFly and I’m crushing it. After 2 miles or so I pop out onto Ridge Rd which is gravel. I see two riders about 200 yards up and recognize the light blue tinge of a Team CF jersey. It’s Harlan.

With a fresh surge of adrenaline, I ride super hard to catch Harlan and the other rider. We exchange some friendly chit-chat and begin descending off of the ridge heading north-west out of Michaux State Forest. I glance back and see that Harlan and the other rider don’t seem to care that I’m starting to slip away. Harlan is one of those bike riders without any weakness. He can climb, he has endurance, he can ride ridiculous technical and he can definitely descend. Weird.

As we emerge out of Michaux onto pavement, I’m alone again. I can’t even see them anymore. I’m leading the single speed at this point, but the hardest part of the course is yet to come. I ride by myself holding a gap to just before aid #3 when Harlan and his bud catch back on. When I mentioned that I was surprised it took so long for them to catch me, Strategy was Harlan’s answer. I’d been played. Right then Gerry Pflug joins us from behind. He had already repaired 2 flats and would get two more before the day was out. But he was riding strong and quickly disappeared. As we approached aid #3, I see Gerry who’s looking for a pump. I still had a third of a bottle so why stop for more weight just before the biggest climb of the day? I ride on by aid #3 with Harlan and begin the Hogshead gravel road climb back into Michaux State Forest. Despite the huge gear he’s running, Harlan begins to pull away. 3/4 of the way up I can still see him but he easily has a several minute gap.

After a few more miles of rolling gravel road, Hogshead turns into Woodrow and we climb again topping out right where the Appalachian Trail crosses. A fast and sketchy descent is punctuated by a 90 degree washed out left turn at the bottom of a 40mph stretch. Everyone I’ve talked to has almost wrecked there. It’s right at mile 50.

Alone, I make the right off of Woodrow Rd onto single track. I’m hitting it hard but Harlan is nowhere to be seen. I pop back out on Woodrow right at Aid #4 and stop to fill a bottle. Between aid #4 and the finish, all but the last 6 miles are single track. This is my only chance to catch Harlan so I’m dumping the last of my jet fuel. Twelve miles to go. I can smell the barn.

 

Single Speed Podium

 

During the last bit of single track, I pass two riders fixing flats by the side of the trail. One of them I recognize as Jay Dodge, a geared rider who I don’t think I’ve ever beaten in a race. I ask Jay if he has everything. He nods yes so I keep going.

Eventually we pop out on Ridge Road on the top of the ridge after a fairly long hike-a-bike section. Ridge Rd dumps into 233 where you descend down to Pine Grove Rd and to the finish at Camp Thompson.

 

Men's Open Podium

 

After many years of racing this event on a geared cyclocross bike, I put in my best performance ever on my Super Sweet SuperFly single speed mountain bike. I’m the eleventh finisher across the line at 4:22, 3 minutes behind Harlan and good enough for 2nd place in the single speed category. Sweet! Justin finished 6 minutes later to round out the single speed top three.

In the open, 20-year-old Isaac Enderline from North Carolina overcame a flat right after aid #1 and winning the KOM to pass everyone back to take the win in just over four hours! Nice riding young dude! Adam Farabaugh finished 3 minutes back in second and Cupcake Factory rider legend Mike Keefer finished third at 4:07 on a mountain bike. Awesome. Rob Campbell finished 19th among the open men at 4:39

 

Masters Podium

 

In the Masters, RoanokeOutside.com rider Ron Glowczynski who’s finished 2nd for several years now behind Andy Applegate and is easily the best looking guy at the race finally won with a 4:07 which was third place overall. Nice ride handsome. David Yacobelli finished 2nd in Masters at 4:27 and my friend Mike Laub was 3rd at 4:29. Jay Dodge finished 4th just 20 seconds behind Mike at 4:30 after repairing his late flat. Mike Buchness finished 7th and my fast friend Gerry Pflug finished 9th after a horrendous day of mechanicals. Sorry bro.

 

Woman's Podium

 

In the woman Vicki Barclay of Freeze Thaw Cycles took the win at 4:33! Way to ride my lady friend and way to cap off a great season! Bryna Blanchard and Jenny Ives of CBRC / Team Blutarsky finished 2nd and 3rd at 4:41 and 4:56 respectively to round out the top 3 ladies.

Iron Cross Masters winner from several years Andy Applegate teamed up with his pro-roadie wife Cara to ride the newly formed tandem division. Andy and Cara won the 2010 Leadville 100 tandem category. Several mechanicals, however, prevented them from having the day they were hoping for at the 2010 Iron Cross.

We had a gorgeous weekend. I arrived on Saturday afternoon in time for a little ride, get registered and the free pasta dinner (which was rather awesome I must say). Friends of Pine Grove Furnace State Park provided breakfast Sunday morning for $5. It went without a hitch and consisted of pancakes, sausage and coffee. Perfect! Huge thanks to High Speed Cycling race promoter Mike Kuhn who was the key figure in the original Iron Cross is still improving the race now in it’s 8th go around. Mike took over the promtional reins this year from long time promoter Mark Laser. Thank you Mark for your part in building Iron Cross to what it is today. Thanks to all of the aid station volunteers. You were all very helpful… and friendly! Sorry I didn’t stick around very long to chat. Even though this is not really a mountain bike race, it definately makes my list of Must do races. Registration for Iron Cross IX is already open.

Mark your calendars for Oct 9, 2011. See you there.

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One Response to “Iron Cross”

  1. […] up with a ridged fork and Bontrager XR1 1.9 29er tires set up tubeless. Yes, a mountain bike. I had a decent ride here last year on it running a 2-to-1 gearing setup, placing 2nd to Harlan Price. I’m going with that […]

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