Kona Team Makes Michaux Its Own As Applegate and McCauley Ride To Wins At Volkswagen Iron Cross III|
October 16, 2005
As reported by Mike Kuhn of VisitPA.com
A few minutes less than four hours is all it took Andy Applegate of the Easton/Kona cyclocross team to put his stamp of authority on the 2005 Volkswagen Iron Cross race this past Sunday. Applegate left a field of talented riders in his wake in his convincing victory in America's longest cyclocross race and, in the process, wiped out two years of disappointment and close calls. Overcoming a huge early race setback, CCA/Kona's Cara McCauley took the win in the women's Iron Cross.
The rugged Volkswagen Iron Cross III course consisted of a massive, clockwise 62-mile lap in and around Michaux State Forest in South Central Pennsylvania. The loop consisted of miles of paved road, fireroad, singletrack, doubletrack, gravel trails, run-ups, and a traditional grass cyclocross course to begin and end the race. These were not easy miles as racers faced over 6,000 feet of climbing during the race.
An up-front place on the starting grid turned out to be more important than one might expect for a suffer-fest lasting up to six hours. With a lap of the Iron Cross Lite MABRA series cyclocross course to complete and 112 eager racers on the line, by the time the first riders veered off to start the main, 62-mile lap, gaps had already formed that would play a significant role in the day's results.
Distanced in the early going were riders like Garth Prosser and Rob Lichtenwalner of Team Cannondale and Pittsburgh's T.J. Platt riding for Dirty Harry's. More surprising was the fact that Applegate put this one away early by bridging up to an attack led by Jim Swigart (Cycle Center Racing) on the Pine Grove hiker/biker path less than one mile into the race. Swigart hung on for a few minutes and was then swallowed by a group of eight riders on the paved climb of Bendersville Road, just minutes into the course. Meanwhile, Applegate just kept on keeping on and slowly rode out of sight. There was little panic in the group of eight chasers, which included Ray Adams and Mike Kuhn (both VisitPA.com, with Kuhn being one of the promoters of Iron Cross III), Nate Deibert (PezCyclingNews/Evolution), Mike Keefer (Gettysburg Bicycle), Swigart, and Les Leach (Wissahickon Cyclery) amongst others, due to the distance and difficulty of the race and the knowledge that Applegate had come to grief in previous editions in the course's technical sections.
The group of eight split up on the ensuing dirt climb up Slate Quarry Road with Deibert throwing in a fakey flat tire attack tactic to split the group. Topping out first were Adams and Deibert with Kuhn and Swigart next over the top. A long descent and a series of difficult paved rollers along Wenksville Road (part of the Nutcracker Road Race course) allowed the group to come back together, with Applegate still up the road, and it was joined by more riders from behind including Andy Gorski (North Hills Velo/Viner) and George Ganoung (US Armed Forces). This group hit the KOM climb of Shippensburg Road a little less than one hour into the race with Applegate almost two minutes up the road and thus the easy winner of the KOM prize. On this climb, Adams slowly rode off the front of the group and was joined by an aggressive Swigart. Deibert was next to attempt a gap toward the top of the climb and Kuhn dug deep to hang on knowing that a group of crossers working together could distance itself before the feared Lippencote Trail descent where mountain bikers would have a distinct advantage over their skinny tired competitors. Gorski came with Kuhn and Deibert and slowly these three bridged to Adams and Swigart and made a train of five rolling across Piney Mountain Ridge Road.
With the mountain bikers distanced and knowing the difficulty of the descent, Kuhn came by Deibert and Adams just as Lippencote crested and by the end of the mile-long singletrack had carved out a gap of almost 30 seconds while offering his teammate Adams a line to follow through the technical sections. At the intersection with Route 234, Kuhn sat up to wait for his teammate knowing that the next paved section of course into Caledonia State Park could be a place to solidify the attack through teamwork. Deibert and Gorski were next through the trees and were working together 20 seconds in arrears of the VisitPA.com duo though they were slowly losing ground.
Ahead, Applegate was breathing a sigh of relief as Lippencote Trail had been his undoing in years past. This year he was two minutes up on the chasers and blasted through this difficult section with nary a problem, showing his early attack to be a perfect tactic for the day.
Kuhn and Adams would continue to work together through the massive Wigwam Hill run-up where Deibert and Gorski were just behind and Applegate could be seen in the distance on the last of the three run-ups that make up this very difficult section of the course. Through Checkpoint 2, the switching point for the days relay teams, across Milesburn Road, the scenic climb of Gilbert Trail, Ridge Road, and the descent of Thompson Hollow Road, the VisitPA.com duo tried in vain to real in Applegate. Adams waited for Kuhn on the climbs as his pace making on the flats and descents were keeping Adams fresh for a late race surge.
Into Checkpoint 3, Kuhn let his teammate go telling him what to expect through the rest of the course and set his own pace. The last time Kuhn saw Adams in the distance he had already pulled two minutes out of his domestique and was off on a solo hunt of the Easton/Kona rider ahead.
Behind, on Gilbert Road, both Gorski and Deibert were suffering and leg cramps caused a separation between the two with Gorski slowly riding ahead on the climb. Up and over the 20-minute climb of Hogshead and Woodrow Roads and into Checkpoint 3, Applegate had a commanding three-minute lead over Adams with another three back to a suffering Kuhn then one minute to Gorski, who had the VisitPA.com rider in his sights. Deibert was next through Checkpoint 3, followed closely by Platt (who had been picking off riders all day long after missing the front group on the prologue start).
In the ensuing trail sections, Applegate would maintain his lead, Adams would make a wrong turn and then correct his misdoing, Kuhn would be overtaken by Gorski, and Deibert would suffer his first of two flats dropping him from 5th to an eventual 11th place finish. Gorski and Kuhn would come into the final run-up of the day within seconds of each other after Kuhn had stopped to disconnect a dragging rear brake and Gorski's "wooden legs" would barely work off the bike. All that followed was the descent of Route 233 and a rolling mile and a half back to the YMCA's Camp Thompson, the start/finish of Iron Cross III. Kuhn searched the road ahead for Gorski hoping to make contact before the finish line, but Gorski was out of sight. Platt was coming up fast from behind and although Kuhn "felt like I rode the last five miles with my head turned backward" fearing he would be caught rolled in to be informed he had finished third behind Applegate and Adams, with Platt the next through.
But where was Gorski? It turned out Gorski made a slight deviation from the course, but Kuhn and Platt had no doubt the North Hills Velo rider was entitled to a well earned third place overall and conceded him the podium spot. Actually, Kuhn was the only one to take a real hit here since Platt noted that, "It doesn't matter to me, he owes me gas money anyway."
Said Applegate after the race, "It took me three tries but I finally did it! I'm racing 'cross in the 40+ category this year and I feel faster than ever. I know that age will catch up to me eventually, but right now I feel like I'm just getting faster and faster."
Though this race reporter/promoter does not have all the details since he was busy trying to hold off Gorski and riding around with his head on backward, the women's race held some great drama as eventual winner Cara McCauley (CCA/Kona) flatted just off the start lap and was the very last rider on the course after being left behind by the field. Quickly righting her situation, Cara began picking off her competitors and pulled into the lead somewhere near the course's signature feature, the Wigwam Hill run-up. From this point on there was no stopping Cara and she pulled out a five minute win over Mandi Riddle (Vicious Cycles) - who had taken advantage of the earlier situation and went home with the QOM for her ride to the crest of Shippensburg Road.
Both the men's and women's champs rode their Kona cyclocross bikes to victory and in doing so took home the cyclocross bonus which was awarded to any rider to win the event on a 'cross bike. Of note is that in the top five of the men's race, only one rider was on a mountain bike and that steed was a 29er with narrow tires, essentially turning it into a flat bar 'cross bike. This is the first year that cross bikes have dominated the standings and the promoters are very satisfied with the course and are already looking forward to an even better event in October 2006. Full results, photos, and links to more race reports will be available on www.highspeedcycling.com. Volkswagen Iron Cross III has been brought to you by the letters YBR, HSC, and YMCA.
The Iron Cross race was 62+ miles long and featured over 6,000 feet of climbing.