Nearly half of the course is situated against the side of a massive hill. The other half? Littered with chincanes and punchy climbs in the deep woods. ©  Brian Boucheron

Nearly half of the course is situated against the side of a massive hill. The other half? Littered with chincanes and punchy climbs in the deep woods. © Brian Boucheron

The Ellison Park Cyclocross Festival p/b Trek is not for the faint of heart, not that any cyclocross event really is, but this one is especially brutal. Located close to the criterium-friendly city of Rochester, NY, Ellison Park has played host to a demanding and soul-sapping race. Two years ago, it was bestowed the honor of the first UCI race of the season, although now it completes a long stretch of Eastern US races that includes Charm City, Gloucester, and Providence.

Because it is nestled in Upstate New York, the Ellison Cyclocross Festival has acted as one of the hidden gems on the UCI calender. Laura Van Gilder has kept it on her schedule, and when we spoke to Zach McDonald last week, he recounted the race as one of his better efforts of the 2013-14 season. This year, its status as a hidden race will change as Ellison has been thrust into the spotlight with a C1 UCI status.

Elite racers around the country who have never experienced the race before, and going to hunt for some attractive UCI points, will be in for a massive wake-up call.

Zach McDonald gets a taste of the brutal runup. On the first day, this is a ride-down rather than a runup, comparible to the sweeping decent at Hoogerheide. © Brian Boucheron

Zach McDonald gets a taste of the brutal run-up. On the first day, this is a ride-down rather than a run-up, comparable to the sweeping decent at Hoogerheide. © Brian Boucheron

Year after year, the announcers refer to half of the course as the Alpe d’Huez, and for a good reason. When you’re not climbing the switchbacks up to the top, it’s because you are descending back and forth like an alpine skier. The rest of the course is littered with punchy climbs, technical passes, and gnarly roots that prevent you from keeping those PSIs too low.

If that was not enough, a signature run-up is being paired with a staircase this year. For the rest of the season, you might be struggling on a power section, but you’ll likely be thinking: It could be worse, I could still be riding up those endless climbs at Ellison.

Betwen uphill and downhill off-camber switchbacks, massive run-ups and descents, Ellison Park is not for the faint of heart. ©  Brian Boucheron

Betwen uphill and downhill off-camber switchbacks, massive run-ups and descents, Ellison Park is not for the faint of heart. © Brian Boucheron

This is the kind of course that should produce a sky-rocketing attrition rate, but the race results are rarely filled with DNFs. The only explanation I could possibly provide is the attitude of the crowd. Unlike the scores of hecklers that hound racers at all the major events, the crowd at Ellison screams and cheers for every rider as if they are winning the World Championship race even if they are well off the leader’s pace and riding their own race.

This year, the races will take place October 11 and 12. I could suggest trying to admire the view from the top of the climbs, but you’ll likely only be thinking of the beer garden at the bottom.

For more information: Ellison Cyclocross Festival’s Website and Registration