by Jared Nelson
The Halloween weekend marked the end of the 2011 Montana Cyclocross Series. While for many the highlight of the season was Rolling Thunder the weekend before, the turnout for the final weekend in Bozeman was nothing short of impressive. With the MuleCross and State Championship titles on the line, the competition was intense on courses that required a good mix of technical riding skill and fitness. Montana Velo strongman Frank Gonzalez commented that these two races fit well within the Montana Series as a whole which has seen better race promotion and improved courses. “We are raising the game in Montana,” said Gonzalez.
MuleCross has become a regional favorite for its festive atmosphere and offerings of prize money to not only race winners, but to the best costumed racers. Costumes this year did not disappoint and included a roller derby team, Angus Young from AC/DC, a B-52 complete with propellers, a dinosaur and numerous other notable outfits. “Even though it was a costume race, we showed up ready to race full-on!” noted women’s state champion Lisa Curry. Pairing MuleCross with the State Championship was a new endeavor bringing Team Muleterro together with the GAS/Intinsik Cycling Team in what appeared to be a very successful and fun weekend. With so much on the line in Sunday’s race, racing was even more intense, and several course features encouraged lots of great crowd participation.
Women Go Strong and Deep
On both days, a veritable who’s who of MT Women’s Cyclocross toed the line. Perennial favorite Lisa Curry stated, “It is nice to know that the cards have not been dealt when you show up to the line this year. This is the deepest field, with the most women at the front that I have seen in Montana. It makes it fun to race!” Among the women in the mix this year are MontanaCyclocross.com’s Lindsy Campbell and Muleterro’s Julie Zickovich, both known for their punchy, aggressive style. In addition, there were a few “sophomores” to the sport, Ingrid Lovitt (Hellgate Cyclery) and Anna Jo Dingman (Cycleution), who have shown significant improvements this year by taking wins throughout the season.
From the gun on Saturday, Zickovich jumped off the line, taking the holeshot and maintaining a lead much of the first lap stating that she was ready to show her best form of the year. Curry put in a dig before a technical section that contained several berm turns and a series of “whoops” establishing a gap that would stay steady for much of the race. Zickovich and Dingman tried to bridge up, but Curry proved too powerful. This brought about a battle for second where Zickovich was able to establish a small gap that Dingman closed down until midway through the final lap when Dingman was able to get around and maintain a very slim margin to the line. Overall, the top three women were separated by less than 30 seconds.
Sunday had a similar scenario play out with Campbell taking the hole shot and establishing a small lead through the first half lap before Curry took control. Zickovich and Dingman began where they left off on Saturday, locking horns in an impressive battle out of almost every corner. They went through corners side-by-side bumping elbows, reminiscent of the epic showdown between Villeneuve and Arnoux in the 1979 French Grand Prix. At the end of the second lap, Dingman made a big move to pass Zickovich on the finish straight, but crashed in the subsequent corner. At this point, Zickovich made the bridge up to Campbell who was riding in second place then Lovitt and Dingman joined to form a group of four. All four seemed to be trading punches, while trying to put some pressure on Curry in the lead.
Then with two laps to go, it blew apart when a mishap on a run-over section caused Zickovich to drop her chain and allowed Dingman to spring free of the group. Campbell tried to go with, but a small gap had formed that she wasn’t quite able to close. Dingman had Curry in her sights and it appeared that she might make the bridge until she overcooked a corner and a slide out took her out of contention for the win. Through all this, Curry kept calm and rode an impressive last lap to win with Dingman and Campbell second and third, respectively. After the race, Anna Jo Dingman stated, “It’s really fun to be in the mix with such a competitive field in my own backyard. Several of us have some UCI races later this year and this level of competition really helps us all. I realize I still have so much to learn about this crazy, fun sport!”
The Men Please the Crowd
While most of the Men’s 1/2/3 field chose not to start MuleCross in costume, Montana points leader John Curry arrived at the line the spitting image of Angus Young complete with AC/DC rocking from his bike. Like his wife, Lisa, once the gun went off, it was business time. Unfortunately, an early flat led to John running most of the first lap to get a wheel change, effectively ending his chance of a podium place. However, there was not a shortage of strong men to make for an exciting race. Through the start-finish line after the first lap, Frank Gonzalez led Missoula Bike Work’s Bob Presta with GAS/Intrinsik’s Brad Morgan a very short distance behind. Gonzalez shortly thereafter established a small gap that he slowly built upon through the rest of the race leaving Presta to chase with Morgan just behind. Gonzalez rolled in to take the win, his second MuleCross title in as many years, with Presta and Morgan second and third, respectively. Gonzalez admitted, “I was firing and felt great today!“
One of the best stories in the 2011 Montana Cyclocross series, Montana Velo’s 15-year-old Landen Beckner, finished fourth. Beckner spent much of his summer riding and racing his bike in preparation for this cyclocross season. Part of his routine included building barriers and other obstacles in his yard to improve his skills. In addition, he was able to partake in Geoff Proctor’s Cyclocross Camp in Helena this summer (article here). “The camp was lots of fun and I learned a ton with the daily routine of core work, skills work and longer afternoon rides,” said Beckner. Beckner has put these skills to good use and has been a threat all season, finishing on the Mens 1/2/3 podium several times. “Landen’s made some solid progress in his first full season of bike racing,” said Proctor. “[He is] like a sponge, just soaking up the experience and gaining those technical skills that cyclocross demands.”
Sunday’s race brought a few more contenders out to race. On the line with Gonzales, Presta, Morgan, Beckner and Curry were Hellgate Cyclery’s Toby Meierbachtol, and Montana Velo’s Scott Herzig. After a flat the day before, Curry jumped to grab the holeshot. Meierbachtol and Presta were not going down without a fight and the three gained a small lead on Gonzalez. Beckner and Herzig got off to slower starts and worked their way through the field. As Beckner was working his way up to Gonzales in fourth, he unfortunately rolled his rear tire on one of the berm turns and had to run quite a distance to get a spare.
Meanwhile, the battle up front was fierce with all three admitting it was fastest and easiest to be on the front as there were not many opportunities for drafting. Presta unfortunately had a flat and dropped off to change bikes at the midpoint of the race leaving the other two to duke it out, with Gonzalez just on the other side of a small gap. Curry managed a dig that gapped Meierbachtol, who then overcooked a corner resulting in his rear derailleur going into his back wheel. That moved Gonzalez up to second and within sight of the win until a crash with a lap and half to go gave Curry a comfortable margin for his first outright State Championship win.
Aside from the excitement at the front of the race, many of the racers put on a show for the crowd over a technical dirt wall the racers crossed several times each lap. Alex Lussier of the GAS/Instrinsik Cycling Team was the crowd favorite for not only gaining a lot of air off the headwall portion, but for also riding a set of stairs back up and over the wall. Several of the other racers began to follow suit much to the enjoyment of the crowd. “I helped design the course,” said Curry, “but I did not get a chance to ride it much before the race. It was really a lot of fun!”
Complete race and series results for all categories may be found at: www.montanacycling.net
Additional images may be found at: www.frigidlight.com