by Zachary Schuster
Badger Prairie County Park in Verona has seen its fair share of memorable cyclocross moments over the years: Jeremy Powers’ first national title in 2012, Katie Compton’s 8th and 9th straight national titles, Travis Gruchow’s 70th place finish at the 2013 nationals, and of course, Andy Swartz’s 3rd place finish in the 2012 Furthercross mudfest. On Sunday Wisconsin cyclocross racers looked to add their names to the list of legends at Badger Prairie Cross (or The Little Bike Race on the Prairie). The bike racing contests hosted by the Five Nines / Motorless Motion team are always great events, and the latest stop on the 2016 Trek WCA Cyclocross Braggin’ Rights series was no different.
Badger Prairie has an extensive network of trails that allow the course designers a nearly infinite number of permutations they can choose from that range from rather hilly to basically the Horribly Hilly Hundreds (so maybe not that hilly). This year the designers opted for a moderately hilly circuit that featured more technical sections near the 3rd Sign Brewery / Cadence Coffee Party Pavilion than past years that really enhanced both the spectating and racing experience. The highlight of this section was an off-camber downhill into a ride/run up interrupted by several logs, and the dominant feature out on the prairie was a brutal climb up the backside of the Nationals Hill up to the water tower that towers, literally, over the park.
The legendary 2012 mudfest left the Five Nines / Motorless Motion team prepared to deal with the overnight storm the Madison area received Saturday evening. The rain gifted the morning riders a slightly muddy track, but the mud eventually tacked up as the racing moved into the afternoon. The overnight rain also brought some unseasonable humidity along with the heat, but after Cross-Shooshko and Jingle Cross, most Wisconsin riders are well-adapted to riding in heat and humidity.
LaVesser Has a Holly-Jolly Birthday
Holly LaVasser (Ben’s Cycle / Milwaukee Bicycle Co.) had a birthday party to attend with her family Sunday night, but before heading out to celebrate she decided to give herself a memorable birthday present with a dominating performance in the Women’s Elite race. LaVesser managed to keep pace with a fast-starting Claire Shurtz (unattached) during the first lap and then claimed the afternoon’s race as her own party during the second lap through the circuit.
For LaVesser, a penchant for sloppy conditions, “I pre-rode the course and I was happy with the conditions. I tend to do well when it’s muddy, so I was pretty excited that there was mud,” and a summer of preparation had her perfectly prepared to ride well on Sunday, “I just wanted to ride as hard as I could up that hill; I’ve been working pretty hard on that throughout my mountain bike season to get better at hills, so I attacked it each time.”
LaVesser’s hard work on the hills this summer paid off as she slowly extended her lead by about 10 seconds per lap the next few times through the circuit before opening up a nearly one minute lead over second place finisher Meredith Peterson “Tyrany” Turany (MadCity Velo) heading into the bell lap. There would be no crying over mechanicals or other mishaps at LaVesser’s party as she cruised through the last lap en route to put the victory cherry on top of the birthday cake that was her Sunday afternoon ride.
Sometimes solid performances can get overshadowed by dominant rides like LaVesser’s, but Meredith Peterson Turany had a little strong ride of her own on the prairie. After LaVesser broke away from the group, Peterson Turany was the next to follow in heading out on her own. In the process, she was able to exact some revenge on third place finisher Julie Phelps (Gryphon Velo Racing), after Phelps took home the top step of the podium in the Women’s Masters race earlier in the morning. Peterson Turany stayed on the gas to keep a healthy grasp on the second podium step. Phelps rounded out the top three and ensured that hijinks would ensue with Peterson Turany and LaVesser during the legendary WCA Womens podium presentation.
The other story of the afternoon was the Trek Superfly Women’s Ride of the Day turned in by Caitlin Neuman (Brazen Dropouts) in the Cat 3 race. Despite starting after the Elite Women, Neuman finished the race as the unofficial third place rider. The afternoon honorific did not come easy though, as Neuman engaged in a two-woman slugfest with Amanda Mack (Trek Midwest) for well over half the race before getting a small gap at the barriers near the 3rd Sign Brewery / Cadence Coffee Party Pavilion that she then turned into her unofficial third place finish. Neuman has had a very successful 2016 campaign, starting the season in Cat 4 and now finding herself holding her own with the great women riders of the WCA.
Blodgett and Stein … Kind of Rhymes with Van der Poel and Van Aert
With an epic rivalry between Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert brewing across the pond, David Blodgett (Great Dane Velo Club) and Tyler Stein (L5 Racing) appear to be doing their best to mimic the Europeans with some epic battles of their own in Wisconsin’s single-speed category. After Stein conquered The Hill en route to the title at last week’s Pumpkin Cross, Blodgett exacted his revenge by powering through the course at Badger Prairie and triumphing in Sunday’s single-speed tilt.
Early on in the race a guest from Minnesota was anything but Minnesota Nice, as Drew Wilson (Milltown Cycles) got off to a blazing start heading into the first trip up the hill. Blodgett and Stein were able to withstand the early onslaught and break out to a small lead the second time past the Party Pavilion. The two appeared destined for a two-man showdown as they stayed with one another over the course of the next two laps.
Said Blodgett about Wilson’s hot start, “Tyler and I kind of caught up with [Wilson] on the climb and passed him. I let Tyler languish on the front for about a lap, just kind of watching his lines, and I figured I could take him with a little cornering skills. I passed him, actually, going into the hole shot on the second full lap and just kept the power on from there.”
It took until the fourth trip through the circuit before Blodgett could shed Stein from his wheel. He eventually broke away to make the two-man show a one-man party. Unlike last week where The Hill was the decisive factor in the race, it was actually the more technical sections that suited Blodgett on Sunday afternoon. “Funny enough, today I felt like I was making hay on accelerations out of corners. The lines here, I feel like I know the lines here, even though I don’t. Because it’s such a familiar course, it’s easy to remember the lines, and I was able to come out of the corners hot and I think that’s where I made a lot of time.”
Despite losing Blodgett as the race progressed, Stein still turned in a solid second place performance. He would later get the smallest of doses of revenge on Blodgett in the Elite Mens race by topping Blodgett with an 8th place overall finish, but this reporter thinks it is safe to say that the two men had the single-speed race circled on the day’s calendar as the race that counts.
The battle for third place got increasingly interesting before climaxing in one of the most exciting finishes of the afternoon (spoiler alert, there is another exciting finish coming up!). Benjamin Knox (Revolution Cycles) established himself in third position after Blodgett and Stein broke away at the end of the second lap. As Knox kept chugging along in third, Alex Bedinghaus (Trek Midwest), a single-speed newb, slowly worked his way from sixth to fourth place on his unique cyclo-mountain bike whip.
The Badger Prairie Cross course was set up such that riders made a hard right turn off the grass onto the tarmac for a finishing sprint of about 100 yards (or 50 fathoms for those of you who measure distances in olde English units). Bedinghaus was able to attach himself to Knox’s wheel heading into the final turn and actually appeared to briefly get the jump on Knox at the outset of the ensuing sprint. Any cyclo-coach will teach riders that it is best to be the first rider through the final corner, and in this case, that proved to be sage advice as Knox was able to react to Bedinghaus’s early jump and come across the line just ahead of his competitor.
One of the reasons single-speed as really flourished as a cyclocross category in Wisconsin and across the country is the laid-back, friendly atmosphere it engenders. In a post-race interview, Blodgett issued the call for more riders to throw their hats into the single-speed ring and come join the single-speed festivities, “If the likes of TBraun get their fitness going and come out later this year, we will see what happens … We gotta get TBraun out here racing.”
Neff Outduels Stelljes in a Battle of the In-Laws
Isaac Neff (Neff Cycle Service) and (Hard) Corey Stelljes (Five Nines / Motorless Motion) have long shared the title of friend and spirited competitor, and after Isaac’s recent marriage to Corey’s sister Meghan, they now also share the title of in-laws. On Sunday, the battle of the in-laws moved from the WORS single-track and spirited Strava rides to the cyclocross circuit at Badger Prairie. Through the first two laps, Neff and Stelljes appeared destined for a memorable battle they would be discussing over the Thanksgiving dinner table, before Neff broke away and took home the victory in Elite Mens race.
The last race of the afternoon started off with Bryan Fosler (801 W. Madison) setting the early tempo by racing out to a fast start through the log ride-up section. A mechanical issue near the long climb brought Fosler’s fast start to an unfortunate halt, and Neff and Stelljes pounced on the opportunity. Spectators near the Party Pavilion could watch Stelljes’s orange POC helmet accelerate away from the field on the climb as his bright helmet and Neff staked out a six second lead by the time they hit the barriers near the end of the first lap.
The race’s winning move came on the third trip up the hill, as Neff deployed his signature bike move to break away from Stelljes and open up a five second gap by the time the riders reached the tower at the top of the climb. “It’s what I’ve done every race for a while now. It does usually take me two or three laps to get comfortable where I am starting to feel good, so I just kind of wanted to give it a little test and see how the legs are feeling. So far that move has been pretty successful, and I guess it was again today.” When asked if his signature move has a name, Neff dubbed it the “Pedal Hard.”
Although Neff was able to extend his lead over Stelljes by about 10 or 15 seconds each of the next two laps, his extensive experience racing against his friend compelled him to keep trying to pick up time. “I know how strong Corey is, and he is one of those riders that you just absolutely cannot count out in a bicycle race. When he’s on a bicycle and he is in a race, you should expect a battle.”
Neff was able to maintain a comfortable 30 to 40 second lead over Stelljes through the last few laps to ride home with his third victory of the 2016 season and his second of the weekend. Neff also took home the top step of the podium at Saturday’s Super Cup race at Humboldt Park in Milwaukee.
As impressive as Neff’s gap over Stelljes was, Hard Corey actually had a bigger gap to the three riders chasing him for third place. Stelljes is no stranger to riding well on the cyclocross course, having taken the top step of the podium at Flyover Silver Creek, and he was able to maintain his strong grip on second place, aided in part by those trips up that long hill where the fall-like hue of his orange helmet let spectators keep easy track of his strength on the hill.
The most intriguing and exciting battle of the afternoon was the competition for third. Kyle Russ (Brazen Dropouts), Bryan Fosler, and Joel Finkeldei (KS Energy / Team Wisconsin) engaged in a spirited three-man group ride that finished in a thrilling sprint finish that perfectly capped off an afternoon of exciting finishes.
After suffering a mechanical halfway through the first lap, Fosler was able to recover and make his way back to the third place Russ by the barrier section at the end of the second lap. As Isaac Neff was making his signature Pedal Hard move up the hill on the third lap, Finkeldei was working his way up to make contact with Russ and Fosler. The three of them then stayed together for about 97% of the remainder of the bike race.
With all the corners, technical features, and power sections, it is rare to see a group of riders stay together for such a long time. Several times through the start finish, Russ appeared to be on the verge of breaking the group apart, but Fosler was able to mirror his attacks and Finkeldei was able to recover any gap on the ensuing grass sections. After being content to sit in third for much of the race, Finkeldei finally took a shot at breaking from the group with two to go by putting in a hard attack in the taped section near the 3rd Sign Brewery / Cadence Coffee Party Pavilion. As with nearly all the attacks from this group, his two companions were able to snuff it out by the time the riders reached the water tower at the top of the climb.
The group finally did break up the last time up the water tower climb. Fosler and Russ created a small three second gap on Finkeldei on the climb, and Fosler headed into the barriers slightly ahead of Russ. After rounding the SRAM neutral support tent and heading toward the final turn, Fosler found himself about a bike length ahead of Russ heading onto the finishing tarmac. The finishing sprint was one for the ages, as Russ was able to erase his deficit and pull ahead of Fosler in the last few feet to take third place by literally inches. Fosler finished the race in fourth, and Finkeldei came across the line with a strong fifth place finish.
An Afternoon of Prairie Good Performances
The Trek Superfly Men’s Ride of the Day award went to Anderson Bortoletto (Lake Area Physical Therapy). In past years, Bortoletto has been known for his prowess on the road and behind the camera lens, but this year he has really broken through on the cyclocross circuit. The victory did not come easy, as he engaged in a three-man battle with Royce Brekon (801 W. Madison) and Josh Fangman (Brazen Dropouts) for much of the 45 minute race. With a lap or two to go, he was finally able to break away from the group and cruise home to his first ever cyclocross victory.
In the Masters 45+ race, Mike Meteyer (Trek Midwest) continued his outstanding 2016 campaign, as he overcame a slow start to take home his 6th victory of the season. Masters legend Scott Daubert (Trek Cyclocross Collective) doesn’t always race WCA races, but when he does, he always gives Wisconsin cycling fans a great show. Sunday was no different, as Daubert treated fans to a few barrier bunny-hops as he cruised to a strong victory in the Masters 35+ race. In a rather impressive feat that any race organizer can relate to, Jason Bleedhorn (Five Nines / Motorless Motion) turned in a strong second place performance in the 35+ race after running around all morning fixing the course and making sure than everything ran smoothly during the event.
Dan Teaters Multi-State Championship Watch
We are well into the 2016 cyclocross season, and as things currently stand, Dan Teaters (Team Wheel and Sprocket) is currently leading both the Wisconsin and Chicago cyclocross series. We are pretty convinced that this has never happened before, and we think it is only appropriate to provide updates on Teaters’s quest to bring home two state championship jerseys in one season. This is especially true because to do so, he is willing to subject himself to Chicago traffic on so many weekends.
With Wisconsin’s second place rider Casey Hildebrandt (The Underground Project) taking the weekend off, Teaters jumped out to a huge lead in the Wisconsin Super Cup standings with a solid second place ride at Humboldt Park Cross on Saturday. He one-upped his Saturday performance by winning his second Chicago Cross Cup race of the season on Sunday at Carpenter Park Cross in Carpentersville, Illinois. With the victory and David Reyes not racing, Teaters unofficially holds a small advantage in the Chicago Cross Cup overall standings.
One of the challenges with going for the interstate double is both the travel and the competing schedules. Nearly all of the Chicago Cross Cup races are on Sundays, and the WCA organizers have done their best to schedule Super Cup races on Saturdays to compliment the Chicago races, but this weekend features two Wisconsin Super Cup races, with Celtic Cross in Fitchburg on Saturday and the Sun Prairie Cup on Sunday. With the Chicago P123 race starting at 1:55pm, perhaps the Brazen Dropouts could do Teaters a solid by moving the Sun Prairie P123 race to 9am, which would allow Teaters enough time to race and then make the two hour drive to Bartlett to race the ABD Sunrise Park race. This reporter is just saying it could be done…
What’s on tap, with Third Sign Brewery
The 2016 Trek WCA Cyclocross series stays in the Madison area for arguably the biggest weekend of the 2016 schedule. Saturday is the rider and fan-favorite Celtic Cross Super Cup at McGaw Park in Fitchburg. Saturday will be the third running of the Celtic Cross race, which has become known for its great weather (come on good weather!), dope DJs, and quintessential WCA cyclocross atmosphere near the sandy Party Pit. Sunday, the Super Cup series moves to Sheehan Park in Sun Prairie for the legendary Sun Prairie Cup hosted by the Brazen Dropouts. The Sun Prairie Cup is known for its tough physical and technical sections as well as the legendary the Party Hill.