Elkridge, Maryland: Clear skies and a revised course layout greeted a large field of racers to the second edition of the Kelly Benefits Strategies Cyclocross at Rockburn. And while the weather was an improvement from last year’s inaugural edition, it was the revised 3.3 km course that drew rave reviews, with many elite riders commenting that it was their favorite course of the year. With a long climb and sections of wooded trail interspersed with typical east-coast technical sections, the course favored no particular kind of rider and lent itself to tactical racing.

In the Women’s race, a three-woman break developed almost from the gun. Defending race champion Betsy Shogren (SoBe/Cannondale), Melanie Swartz (Velo Bella / Kona) and perpetual contender Arley Kemmer (Hub Racing) pulled away decisively and left no doubt that the winner would come from that group. Melanie Swartz, who had won the previous day’s MAC Powered by SRAM race by patiently riding third wheel, was the early animator. All three riders swapped the lead, but Shogren clearly had a preference to stay out front and run her own lines and both Kemmer and Swartz were content to let her. Kemmer attacked out of the sand pit, but the move was quickly covered and the three rode as one toward the finish. Just before the bell, Kemmer crashed when she slid out her front wheel. She recovered quickly, but the 30 meter gap with one lap to go made it a match sprint between Swartz and Shogren. One lap later, Shogren led-out the sprint and won from the front, but the race had probably been won a kilometer earlier and out of sight. “I wanted to attack on the long downhill,” explained Swartz afterward, “but there was a lapped rider there and it was too sketchy to try to pass her like that.” Swartz was actually making ground on race-winner Shogren, “but I ran out of gear.”

Like the Women, the Men’s race came down to a three-rider break and lapped traffic. But there was considerably more drama along the way. Greg Wittwer and Jeff Buckles of ALAN pushed the early pace along with Chris Consoto (Secret Henry’s Racing Team). Wittwer won the first-lap preme, but it took until the middle of the second lap for the first selection to be made as eight riders separated off the front with several more trying to bridge the gap. One rider who did not make it into the break was ‘cross legend Jonny Sundt (Kelly Benefits Strategies/Medifast Pro Team). Up front, the pace was relentless and the formation of the lead group was ever-changing. There were no attacks in the road racing tradition, just a large group in which everyone was on the rivet and trying not to over-ride the technical sections. Eventually, Consoto cracked and Michael Mihalik (Beaver Valley Velo) surged. Meanwhile, Sundt was surging through the field. It wasn’t until Wittwer pulled his cleat out of his right shoe, leaving it imbedded in his egg-beater pedal, that the personality of the race fully emerged as team C3-Sollay.com and former BikeReg.com MABRAcross champion Sean Galegher (Hunt Valley Bicycles / Marathon Roofing) asserted themselves.

C3-Sollay.com teammates Mike Gallagher and Andy Wulfkuhle, wearing the team’s special Halloween edition “Karate Kids Fist of Death” skinsuits, tag-teamed Hunt Valley’s Galegher. C3′s Mike Gallagher was finally able to put in an attack that stuck, leaving Hunt Valley’s Galegher in a conundrum as he wanted to get back to the lead, but he didn’t want his adversary’s teammate, Wulfkuhle, to get a free ride. The Hunt Valley rider attacked Wulfkuhle out of the sand pit, starting a long chase by Wulfkuhle to come back. Meanwhile, Sundt was now up to fourth place and appeared to be closing. On the final, the top three all came back together before the C3-Sollay.com duo gapped Hunt Valley’s Sean Galegher. Heading into one of the final turns, C3′s Mike Gallagher ran into a lapped rider and crashed. Realizing his teammate Wulfkuhle was still in position to take the win, he yelled “Go! Go!” Wulfkuhle went, Gallagher recovered in time to preserve a 1-2 finish for the karate kids, and a totally spent Sean Galegher held on for third with a thirty second gap over Sundt.

After the race, Wulfkuhule revealed that the tone of the race had been set before the end of the short prologue loop that started the race. “When we saw that Jonny Sundt wasn’t there, we just went for it,” he said. When asked if “we” meant he and his teammate Mike Gallagher, Wulfkuhle laughed, “Me, Mike, Sean, Greg – everyone. We all knew who we didn’t want up there!”