The Beacon Lake Sunset ... enjoy if you're not too tired from racing.

Beacon Lake ... enjoy the view if you're not too tired from racing.

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania — It’s fitting that the infamous Jersey double header of Beacon and HPCX usually fall on Halloween weekend because both courses leave riders feeling like the pedaling dead.


For the eleventh year, promoter Wade Hess and the crew of Cape Atlantic Cycling have fashioned a course so frightening that even the legendary Jersey Devil wouldn’t dare surface.  Due to the year’s record-setting rainfall, the course has evolved to accommodate deteriorating conditions, including a vanished lake.

Mother Nature sent Beacon an early Halloween trick by washing away Sunset Lake, a large body of water adjacent to the beach run. The result?  Sand. Mysteriously moved sand to new parts of the course, providing no treat for the racers.

Although Beacon has been dubbed a “crit with sand,” its off-camber turns, gnarly descent to the beach and tricky right turn into the barriers curse those who dare to question its cyclocross credibility.

While Beacon doesn’t possess MAC cousin Granogue’s insane climbs or single track, it does include a beach run that makes the most diehard Gidgets and Moondoggys swear off the beach.  Adding insult to sandy chamois, racers must hoist themselves up a two-foot curb while the Amphitheater of Pain looms 50 yards away.

According to Hess,  “This year’s storms brought more sand to the course in areas where there should not be any. In some area’s we have no idea how the sand got there! The course will still be as fast as years past, but more challenging in the extremely fast 90 degree turns due to the added sand.”

While the man-made barriers located after the 180 degree right hander are tough, they’re nothing when compared to the natural barriers that compose the “Amphitheater of Pain, ” a title that suggests a locale where Romans would gather to drink wine and watch lions eat Christians. Racer David Hudson remarked, “I was hoping all the beach sand got washed away and the amphitheater got flattened.”

The Amphitheater of Pain exceeds the Roman games, presenting a scene of cyclocross carnage and spectators swilling potent potables.  Racers must climb steep, uneven steps that challenge even the long-legged.   The bruised shins and occasional face-plants leave racers ready to be horror film extras.

Van Dessel will be at Beacon with demo bikes available for racers to try out.  Interested racers should contact Van Dessel (866 835-5454) prior to the race to reserve a bike.   SRAM will also be on hand to provide neutral support in the pits.

The course resembles an hourglass with the Amphitheater of Pain and beach run nearly contiguous in the center.  Viewing is best from this vantage point as the food vendors also reside here.


Two hours in the other direction, HPCX offers a completely different, but no less challenging, course.

While Beacon’s course winds through the woods and limits viewing, the Highland Park course can be seen nearly in its entirety from several vantage points. Highland Park Hermes and Rutgers University Cycling Team present HPCX and director Craig Callan points to the Rutger’s cyclocrossers’ enthusiasm: “We just couldn’t produce this race without their spirit and energy.  We are very happy to be part of the ECCC collegiate series.”

Marked by numerous off-camber sections and two challenging climbs, this course leaves no room for error.  When wet, the off-camber sections ride like ice; when dry, the twists and turns arrest momentum.

Regardless of the conditions, Beacon and Highland Park can sap your strength and make you feel like a zombie.