by John Proppe
MORGANTOWN, WEST VIRGINIA – Banjo music greeted racers as they crested seemly endless steep gravel climbs on course at American Ultra Cross Championship Series race number two – Hilly Billy Roubaix.
The race, in its third year, is a mixed terrain race taking riders over 72 hilly miles of gravel, dirt, and Jeep roads starting just outside of Morgantown, West Virginia at Mylan Park, and looping north into the Appalachian foothills into southern Pennsylvania.
Hilly Billy Roubaix takes pride on taking place entirely on West Virginia “state roads,” according to the promoter J.R. Petsko. Coming from my first hand experience participating in the race, to call some of these abominations “roads” would be a stretch. Jeep trail – sure. Two-track — great. But roads are a stretch.
These so-called roads brought equipment choice to the forefront of every racer’s mind. On the start line, there was a even distribution of 29er mountain bikes and cyclocross bikes, but there were some outliers on full-suspension, road bikes, fat bikes, and even a randonneuring bike equipped with full fenders and dynamo lighting.
Men’s overall winner, Garth Prosser (Specialized), was able to make the decisive move at aide station three, 58 miles into the race.
When asked about where he got away, Prosser said, “I was climbing into aide station three, riding tempo. When I got to the top of the climb, Thom (of CyclingDirt fame) looked at me and said, ‘Hey man, you’ve got a gap.’ I kept going at my pace and was able to finish the rest of the race solo.”
A slight blow to the diehard cyclocross fans out there, Prosser was pleased with his choice of a hard tail 29er, and said that he enjoyed the low gears to spin up some of the more steep and loose climbs on the day.
Gerry Pflug (Salsa SPK) and Todd Latocha (Pathfinder WV) rounded out the podium on the day.
In the women’s race, the battle was on from the gun between New England strongwoman Crystal Anthony, and Team CF’s Nikki Thiemann.
Anthony took the lead early, but Thiemann kept her within striking distance until the second aid station, where Anthony launched an attack that would see her finishing solo, a solid 4:30 ahead of Thiemann.
Anthony and Thiemann’s strong efforts netted them both top twenty placings in the overall standings for the series. Morgantown’s own Betsy Shogren (Pathfinder WV) finished third.
Perennial West Virginia favorite and cyclocrosser Gunnar Shogren took the top step of the singlespeed podium, finishing in a category record-setting 4:30:03. He celebrated by doing a kegstand.
Roger Masse took second in the men’s SS race, with Bernie Shiao following in third.
When asked about the future of the Hilly Billy Roubaix and the UltraCross series, promoter J.R. Petsko predicts that 300+ riders will take to the backroads of Morgantown in 2013.
As a first time participant in the race, I can see why racers are taken by the format. It’s a very low pressure, race-what-you-brought affair. The course was well-marshalled (thank you volunteers!) and the aid stations well-stocked.
If you’re a cyclocross racer looking for something to pass the long summer months, dust off your low gears, bottle cages, big tires, and ability to suffer, and check out an UltraCross race.