“You don’t know the power of the Dark Side.”

Baltimore, MD, USA: The Charm City Cyclocross cast a dark complexion on the MAC Series, on Sunday, September 21. Not only did the C3-Sollay.com team and their distinctive black skinsuits dominate the Elite powered by SRAM events, they also organized and promoted the event with such unyielding efficiency that it would not have been out of place to have heard Darth Vader on the PA system proclaiming, “You don’t know the power of the Dark Side!” 457 individuals, counting for 465 entries, competed in the event without a hiccup. The total would have been higher, but for three classes being closed to additional entries upon reaching the field limit of 100 riders that was put in place for safety purposes on a course that featured fast asphalt start and finish sections. Overall, riders reported that the course was generally faster than the previous day’s MAC opener in Fogelsville Pennsylvania. Not only was the terrain in Baltimore’s Druid Hill Park somewhat flatter (the previous day’s race was held on the side of a mountain), but the racers reported that the grass surface that made up the majority of the course was less “grabby” than the Pennsylvania course, though the Kris Auer-designed layout still contained some very technical sections.

The Elite Women powered by SRAM saw nearly the same line-up as the previous day’s MAC opener, except for the absence of Saturday’s runner-up Maureen Bruno-Roy. Twenty-five Elite Women charged up the road with Hub Racing’s Arley Kemmerer taking the holeshot ahead of Dee Dee “Grasshopper” Winfield (Velo Bella/Kona), Kristin Gavin (Human Zoom/Pabst Blue Ribbon), and Beth “The Major” Mason (C3-Sollay.com). The previous day’s winner, C3-Sollay.com’s Laura Van Gilder, elected to take a safe, relatively relaxed start instead of unleashing her fearsome road sprinting ability on the asphalt prologue section. But Van Gilder started passing riders like she was on a motorcycle as soon as the course hit the grass. By the time they came to the barriers near the end of the first lap, Van Gilder had the lead ahead of Winfield and Kemmerer. Nikki Thiemann, in her first year of Elite competition, took over from her Human Zoom/Pabst Blue Ribbon teammate Gavin in the lead group.

By the second lap it was clear that this would be a two woman race between Van Gilder, the highest profile racer to ever wear the black C3-Sollay.com jersey, and Winfield, who had burst into national prominence at this very race three years previously when she beat Georgia Gould for the win shortly after giving birth to her first child. This year, shortly after giving birth to her second child, Winfield was trying to play giant-killer at Charm City again. But Van Gilder has been full of surprises in this young cyclocross season. Despite this being only her first weekend of serious cyclocross racing, she already had one UCI win and the MAC point lead in her pocket. Then came the biggest surprise of all. The finish at Charm City is a paved park road that starts uphill, before making a ninety-degree right turn to a flat finish– exactly like the criterium sprints that Van Gelder has made a career out of winning. But instead of relying on her legendary road sprint, Van Gelder used her cyclocross skills to lead the vastly more experienced Winfield across the final barriers and control her opponent in the finish section. “I didn’t want to take the chance of washing out on the asphalt,” said Van Gilder in her podium interview, sounding like a cyclocross veteran. Score one for the “dark side”.

A short time later, the MAC Elite Men powered by SRAM took to the Charm City course for their second race of the year, and right off the start the leader was Wes Schempf, wearing the black uniform of C3-Sollay.com. Schempf, who finished third in the MAC season standings last year, was followed by Steve “Steevo” Cummings (Indiana Regional Medical Center). The top 11 riders were still nose-to-tail as they entered the brutal Under Armor Sand Pit in front of the Adventures for the Cure charity beer garden and the BBQ vendor. But by the second lap, the race had taken a turn for the dark side as Schempf, Andy Wulfkuhle, and new acquisition Michael Gallagher led a C3-Solay 1-2-3 at the front of the field, with a stubborn Cummings hanging in and a previously unknown rider sneaking his way up the field in a pink jersey. Dan Langlois of Circle A Cyclocross, was such an unknown that the race announcers resorted to asking anyone who knew anything about him to come forward. Eventually, Schempf and Gallegher rode off the front, working together to build an insurmountable lead and guarantee yet another Elite win for C3-Sollay.com, while Wulfkuhle and Langlois engaged in a tactical race for third. Meanwhile, Cummings (who had earlier been dropped) started a relentless pursuit back into contention, eventually making contact with two laps to go. On the last lap, new daddy Mike Gallagher rode off Schempf’s wheel to take his first MAC powered by SRAM Elite win, with Indiana Regional Medical Center’s “Steevo” Cummings narrowly outsprinting Wulfkuhle to avoid a C3-Sollay.com sweep of the podium.

Earlier in the day, 15 year-old phenom Jeff Bahnson (Secret Henry’s/Van Dessel Factory) won his second consecutive Men’s category 2/3/4 race ahead of 99 other adult competitors, offering a new hope of a superstar in the making. Keeping Bahnson honest was his Secret Henry’s teammate, and former elite road racer making a return to competitive cycling, Rob Collins. Collins took Bahnson to the line only to be outsprinted by the Junior 15-16 National Champion, who has a perfect score against adult competition this year. Having less trouble was Westwood Velo’s Roger Aspholm, who utterly dominated a deep, 52 rider Elite Masters field.

The next MAC powered by SRAM weekend of racing takes place on October 18 & 19 with the running of Delaware’s legendary UCI C-1 Cyclocross at Granogue and suburban Philadelphia’s UCI C-2 Wissahickon Cyclocross.