Keep pink or green on my right?

The interesting course design left even riders sometimes wondering if they were coming or going.by Tim Graham.

Cowbells are something that have become synonymous with cyclocross. The inaugural Spectacross, was held at the perfect venue: the New Jersey State Fair, where there were cowbells a plenty. However, most of these cowbells were attached to, well, cows. Regardless, Spectacross provided excellent racing and a plethora of interesting post-race and pre-race activities.

The rain of Friday gave way to clear skies on Saturday. The Novice Men took to the course early, quickly realizing that the slippery conditions from the night before had been replaced with peanut butter mud that sucked all speed and ate equipment. However, as the race progressed, the course began to dry and speeds began to increase. The course would dry throughout the day and provide a very fast surface as the later fields attacked the course. Veering even slightly off the established lines though, could put racers in ankle deep mud, and those conditions decided many racers’ fates throughout the day.

While the weather and power outages forced some last-minute course changes (including abandoning the planned run-up over the junked car), there were still plenty of challenges for riders. The course combined short, twisty sections and with long straightaways that allowed power riders to stretch their legs. Berms in the grass section posed interesting problems once they were rutted and slick, while the barriers in the sheep pens forced at least one dismount per lap. Many riders took other optional dismounts as they misjudged lines and took out various course markers. The course sections in the arena provided so many turns and twists that at times even the announcers, with a full view of the action, seemed to lose track of who was coming and going.

The Elite Men’s race, the Spectacross Be Seen, Be Heard State Fair 50, saw many of the same protagonists from the previous night’s Cyclocross Magazine’s Friday Night Sprints. Ben Popper (HRS-Rock Lobster) attacked early, but mechanical problems relegated him to fifth on the night. Alec Donahue (Spooky-NCC-Kenda) stacked it hard with three laps to go and seemed to be out of the running, a disappointment after suffering mechanical problems the night before. The battle at the front was between Jonny Bold (Corner Cycles) and Jared Nieter (Haymarket Bicycles) through most of the race, and it appeared the two were set to fight it out for the win. But a surprising recovery and late surge by Donahue saw him exact revenge for his mechanical problems Friday night, and he found vindication with a close win at the line.

Donahue, Bold and the other racers were pleased with their efforts and happy to be part of such an ambitious inaugural event. Donahue commented, “State fairs and cyclocross are a great combination!” just before heading off to scour the fair for a celebratory turkey leg. Bold was impressed with the event, complimenting the commitment of the promoter to put on such a well-run event. Both Donahue and Bold, as well as many other racers that Cyclocross Magazine spoke to are already planning on coming back next year for another edition of Spectacross.

During the lull between the three sessions of racing on Saturday, spectators and competitors had the entire fair for entertainment. Yet some of the most amazing sights of the fair were right there on the Spectacross grounds.  The speed trials competition offered amazing feats, highlighted by demonstrations by Matt Gilman, the world’s top blind trials rider. The stunts and obstacles involved in the trials competition were one of the few things involving a bike that made even cyclocross racers seem a little closer to normal.

Deidre Winfield raced four races at Spectacross

Going all in: Deidre Winfield raced four races at Spectacross

The main event of the evening session, billed as the Battle of the Sexes, saw the Elite Women and Juniors take to the course together. Cam Mancuso (Death Row Velo) quickly established himself as the early winner as he rode off to a commanding lead. Behind Mancuso some of the most exciting racing of the weekend was going on as Deidre Winfield (C3 – Athletes Serving Athletes) and Arley Kemmerer (Hub Racing) battled throughout the race. Zach Bender (GS Park Ridge – Team Cycles) stayed with Kemmerer and Winfield for the first few laps before dropping back to fourth. Kemmerer held Winfield’s wheel most of the race, but was unable to come around, leaving Winfield to take the win.

Winfield, who competed in four races over the two days, was among the racers impressed with the event and relished the muddy, sloppy conditions. “Ken [Getchell] put on an awesome, pro event,” exclaimed Winfield, saying that she found it a great way to get in some early ‘cross efforts.

Kemmerer echoed the sentiment of other racers about the success of the event, finding it a great break from the monotony of all the crits she’s been competing in. She’s motivated to help spread the word about Spectacross to get even more riders and spectators out for the next edition, which she is already looking forward to racing.

Spectacross provided a great outlet for the frustrated cyclocrosser looking to get in some early race time. But thanks to the placement of the races, even when the competition was over the fun didn’t stop. The fair provided action between races for the racers, their families, and fans. Many racers, including Deidre Winfield along with her husband and two children, took advantage to enjoy the festivities. Awareness of the sport also grew, as a consistent flow of curious spectators entering the venue couldn’t help but stop and figure out what the big commotion was about. With crowds along the fences, it appeared there were a lot of folks eager to see what cyclocross was all about.

After the racing action, Cyclocross Magazine caught up with promoter Ken Getchell. Despite the unpredictable weather and stress of putting on a first-time event, Getchell was pleased. He said, “Artistically, the race was a great success.” And while the perfectionist in him may have hoped for a larger racer turn out, the attendees all seemed to agree that the unique event was a hit.

As the crew was breaking down the course, word came through that the fair management was impressed with the enthusiasm of the racers and is already interested in having the event return next year. Many of the racers are already planning on being there. Photos and promoter’s press release below.

Photo Gallery:

Press release:

August 3, 2009; Conshohocken, PA, USA:  Riders from three countries and 12 states came to rural northern New Jersey to race cyclocross as part of the New Jersey State Fair on July 31 and August 1.  Racers at the inaugural New Jersey State Fair SpectaCross put on such a good show that the track wasn’t even broken down before Fair management extended an invitation for another two day event at the 2010 fair.  Word spread quickly, and the owner of 400 acres nearby tracked down SpectaCross management the following day with a request that they produce a mountain bike race on his property.

If the weekend could be summed up in one word, that word would be “mud”.  “Who knew you could have classic cyclocross weather in July?” said event producer Ken Getchell.  Friday’s slimy “Bear Grease” mud led to one of the most spectacular and entertaining crashes in cycling history when Jennifer Franko lost her front wheel just prior to the large puddle (actually more like a small lake) in the middle of the flood-lit arena in the Novice race.  Franko went over her handlebars and slid on her belly about 15 yards through the puddle, spending a good portion of the slide completely submerged.  The heavy weather led to several power outages on set-up day, making it impossible for organizers to complete the ramps necessary for the planned run-up over a junked car that was placed in the middle of the arena just for the occasion.  But despite the tight confines, racers had no problem finding passing opportunities.

The event began with the “Cyclocross Magazine Friday Night Cyclocross Sprints”, a series of 30 minute races under the floodlights.  Jonny Bold (Corner Cycle) of Marstons Mills Massachusetts won an intense battle with Chicago’s Ben Popper (HRC / Rock Lobster) and Minnesota’s Jesse Reints (Penn Cycle / Nature Valley). Alec Donohue was a principal protagonist early on, but broke a derailleur.  In the “B-Main” that combine Women, Juniors and Amateur men, junior racer Gunnar Bergy (C3-Athletes Serving Athletes) took a commanding win ahead of fellow junior rider Cam Mancuso (Deathrow Velo).  Kevin Wahilla and Deidra Winfield finished third and fourth overall and claim, respectively, the recognition of best Amateur Man and Elite Woman.

Saturday’s races featured stickier mud, a slightly longer course – and revenge.  Alec Donohue came back from his disappointment the previous night to win the Chip Baker Trophy that was awarded to the Winner of the SpectaSport Be See Be Heard State Fair 50.  Bold and Rients seemed to have problems recovering from the previous night’s effort, and Popper was somewhat inconsistent.  But the revelation was Virginia’s Jared Nieters (Haymarket Bicycles/Trakkers) riding well above his seeding to finish second.  Neiters and Donohue swapped the lead throughout the race and it appeared to be coming down to a sprint finish before Donohue was able to gain a five length lead on the last quarter lap.

In the Speed Trials competition, riders came from as far away as Vancouver to compete, and had many of the cross racers and crews distracted by the incredible display of bike handling.  In particular, blind rider Matt Gillman wowed the fair crowd with a series of trials exhibitions.  Results for the trials will follow later.

The New Jersey State Fair SpectaCross featured several innovations.  All riders in every class were seeded and called up according to their ranking on CrossResults.com.  That common ranking system allowed riders who would normally have been competing in separate classes to have a “fair” start in the combined classes that saw men, women and juniors competing against each other for overall prizes.  Keeping track of it all, and allowing the races to be run without pulling lapped riders, despite the incredibly short track was chip timing by All Sports Events.  Results were routinely posted with 5 minutes of the finish of the race.  But the most visible innovation was the course itself.  About half the course was held in the confines of a tractor pull arena, and it was lined with brightly-colored fabric tubes rather than the traditional caution tape.  The effect was stunning and made the arena look like a motocross course.  Even employees from the Fair commented that the course lining looked professional.