CARLISLE, PENNSYLVANIA – One hundred kilometers of “cyclocross.” It sounds odd. It sounded even stranger 10 years ago when 50 riders lined up for the first edition of an event that has become a cult classic. Those 100k included long ascents through the exploding fall colors of Pennsylvania’s Cumberland Valley, choice pieces of Michaux State Forest singletrack that has made the region famous for technical riding (or infamous depending on your point of view), white knuckle descents around loose off-camber dirt road turns littered with sharp fletchets of shale and a heart and leg-breaking mind-bender of a “run-up” that at times was best navigated by grabbing the next birch and hauling yourself and your bike a few feet higher.
Those same course features are set to challenge racers at the US UltraCross Series Finals at the 10th Anniversary Edition of NoTubes’ Iron Cross.
This first US “ultracross,” a term that had yet to be coined, was created after a story in Wilcockson’s World of Cycling introduced the 3 Peaks Cyclo-Cross, the long running UK event that takes cyclocross riders across the hills and dales of the Yorkshire countryside, to the Iron Cross promoters. “We were out on a ride talking about this great story and how it we should do something like that here in PA,” relates IC founder Mike Kuhn. “When we launched this event, Iron Cross was the only thing like it at the time. To now be the finals of five race US UltraCX Series and see these other events get off the ground and spread the fun has been fantastic.”
Since the first Iron Cross in 2002 ultra-cross and monster-cross style races such as Southern Cross, Hilly Billy Roubaix, Three Peaks USA, and Barry Roubaix (which along with NoTubes Iron Cross make up the US Ultracross Series) Pisgah’s and Viriginia’s Monster Cross events and Crusher in the Tushar have launched their own unique versions of this still emerging branch of the sport. These events mix the group riding tactics and attacking nature of road racing on long climbs and fast gravel roads with technical sections that offer opportunities for mountain bike racers to shine on trails you’d find in any good off road race. Most classic ultracross events include a get-off or two and a chance to shoulder the bike for a minutes-long ascent up some crazy section – the term “run-up” being loosely applied in ultracross events. “A major trait of ultracross is that there aren’t really rules on what is included or left out. The similarity between events is that they mix in a whole lot of different on and off-road challenges over a big single-lap course,” offered Kuhn. “Put that together and you end up with events in which there is no clear choice on the best bike to ride and that’s part of the draw and part of the fun.”
Iron Cross has gained a reputation as being ever so slightly skewed to cyclocross bikes, though bike choice had much to do with the operator’s ability. “It just depends how comfortable you are in the rocks and roots.” offered Kuhn, “Most of this course is very fast and much better suited to a cyclocross rig, but the bits we throw in to test your skills will test you.”
Iron Cross also has a long history of heckling riders on mountain bikes and almost every year threatens to ban the fat tired cousins, but it is all in good fun says Kuhn. “Yes, we have a little fun at the expense of rider on mountain bikes; that only if you ride a ’cross bike are you tough enough. But really all these events are about a good time and we don’t care what you ride.” And the start of Iron Cross highlights year after year that there is still much room for interpretation of the best bike for the event. Stock ’cross rigs, 29ers converted with rigid forks, mountain bikes out of the box and various frankenbikes all stake out space on the line. “But, we do think there is a little something special to the experience if you choose the ’cross rig.” the promoter added.
Ultracross races bring new and different experiences for participants and offer an opportunity to take ’cross bikes off the manicured lawns of county parks and out for an adventure. A ‘This is Point A. Over there is Point B. Let’s find the most fun way to get there!’ sort of feel emanates from the events. Iron Cross has led the pack for ten years and is ready to throw a big party to celebrate the end of their first decade of ultracross.
On Sunday, October 7, 2012 not far from Carlisle, PA, NoTubes Iron Cross will offer up 100 kilometers and 6500 feet of climbing for those ready for the challenge. A 50K option is available. The post race celebration at the Iron Masters Mansion at Pine Grove Furnace State Park will culminate with the awarding of the US UltraCross Series Titles.