The Wisconsin CX Series presented by Trek Bicycles moved its way south from Manitowoc to the village of Grafton for one of the long-running races of the Wisconsin series. Grafton Pumpkin Cross has been held at Lime Kiln Park for over a decade now and is considered one of the top courses in Wisconsin’s series thanks to its challenging elevation change, technical sections and thoughtful course design by the host Belgianwerkx hosts.
It may come as a surprise, but podium finishers receive a small commemorative pumpkin for their efforts that winners use of dispose of in due time. They definitely never end up moldy and rotten on the shelf nine months later. Nope, never.
After bone-dry conditions in the month of September *cough* Trek CX Cup *cough*. No, literally, *cough,* it was really dusty there.
After bone-dry conditions in the month of September, rain finally descended upon southern Wisconsin during the week leading up to Pumpkin Cross. Many ’cross racers have been there. The forecast shows rain for the weekend, so people post it on social media. Pictures of past mudders get posted. Everyone gets excited for REAL CYCLOCROSS CONDITIONS.
After a week of build-up and heavy rainfall on Thursday night, the course was … surprisingly intact. Much of Lime Kiln Park is grass, and grass is very good at absorbing water, especially when it has been dry for so long. Needless to say, most of the course was tacky, but still very grippy and not very muddy.
There was still hope, however, with scattered thunderstorms forecast throughout the afternoon.
Isermann Wins for Psimet for Second Straight Year
Last year, Sydney Guagliardo (Psimet) headed up from Chicago and won the Women’s Elite race at Pumpkin Cross. This year, her teammate Katie Isermann (Psimet) was looking to make it two years in a row for the black and orange-clad team.
After the race, Isermann said she was hoping to race against this year’s dominant Wisconsin force Erin Feldhausen (Trek Midwest), but Feldhausen was away for the weekend. To achieve her goal, Isermann would have to repel challenges from some of Wisconsin’s top young riders to earn her golden pumpkin.
Isermann started the race with a sense of urgency, grabbing the holeshot and then leading the field to the first climb of the Kill’n Hill. Get it? Lime Kiln Park, Kill’n Hill? Heckle Hill is pretty derivative at this point, so we will roll with it.
“I normally start hard,” said Isermann. “I’m used to racing in big fields down in Illinois. In our 1/2/3 races the last few years there would always be like 30 women, so you definitely have to stay at the front.”
The hill is the key feature at Pumpkin Cross and it is a very steep climb. Certainly steep enough and long enough to be a decisive feature on the course.
After the first trip up the hill, the Women’s field began to splinter and Isermann, Caitlin Neuman (Brazen Dropouts) and Emily Nordahl (Team Wheel and Sprocket) rode to the front.
The next trip around the course, Isermann and Neuman pulled away from Nordahl, and it was now a two-woman race for first. Neuman is one of the young stars of Wisconsin cycling who has made a meteoric rise through the ranks of Wisconsin cyclocross.
In just her second race of the season, she was giving one of the stars of the Chicago scene all she could handle.
Neuman’s challenge to Isermann could only last so long. By the third lap she dropped back to Nordahl, while Isermann was free to ride solo at the front.
“I was on the front most of the race,” said Isermann. “The first lap one of the girls passed me the first time up the little mudder hill and stayed in front of me. I drafted off her on purpose because it’s really windy today and when I felt good I passed her again. I expected us to battle back and forth and slowly I got away from her.”
Once Isermann freed herself of Neuman, she would not be challenged. After the race, she said the win was the biggest of her career thus far.
Behind Isermann, Nordahl again found herself in a battle for second. During the fourth trip up the steep hill, Nordahl and Neuman were wheel-to-wheel, but at the top of the hill through several corners leading into the fast descent, Nordahl opened up a gap on her rival.
Nordahl spends her summer doing a lot of mountain biking, so she was able to use the descent to exploit the gap she opened up. Neuman was unable to catch back up and Nordahl took home second for the second straight week.
Neuman finished third, Holly Lavesser (Neff Cycle Service) came back strong after a slow start in her first cyclocross race of the season to finish fourth and Heidi Beck (Milwaukee Bicycle Co. / Ben’s Cycles) rounded out the top five.
Flats Take Their Toll in Men’s Race, Neff Wins Again
After a relatively small Men’s Elite field last week in Manitowoc, there was a bit more buzz in the air in Grafton on Saturday as the race approached.
Isaac Neff (Neff Cycle Service), who won the first two races of the year and whose losses in the past two years have come against Steve Chainel, Wout van Aert, Brian Matter and Mathieu van der Poel, was back to race again, the mountain bike stars Cole House and Pete Karinen (Broken Spoke Racing) were present, Manitowoc winner Tristan Schouten made good on his promise to race again soon, Alex Martin (Revolution Cycles) returned to cyclocross, Bryan Fosler (801 W. Madison) was in the mix and even Scott Daubert (Trek Cyclocross Collective) brought his high-flying show to Pumpkin Cross.
The tl;dr is a good race was likely at hand.
The start of the race did not disappoint. When the field hit the Kill’n Hill for the first time, the heads of Wisconsin state exploded up the ascent with reckless abandon. Karinen led the way as Neff, Schouten and House followed. Like a climb on the fast local group ride, it was survival of the fittest.
Those who did survive were Schouten, Neff, Fosler, House and Joel Finkeldei (Neff Cycle Service). Karinen suffered a flat near the end of the first lap and was forced to withdraw from the race.
Two-thirds of the way through the second lap, Schouten and Neff split from the rest of the group. Schouten has been on good form thus far this year, and he looked ready to give Neff his toughest test of the season. Well, toughest test besides that Van der Poel guy.
Behind Neff and Schouten, House broke away from the other two riders and the selection for the afternoon appeared to be set. House has raced well against the large fields in Chicago this season, and it would be a tall order for Fosler or Finkeldei to close the gap to the mountain bike star.
At the end of the third lap, Schouten made it clear that he came to Grafton to give Neff a challenge. He took a small lead through the start/finish straight and forced Neff to chase him down. Would Schouten finally be able to knock off the rider who has been nearly invincible in Wisconsin racing the past two years?
Unfortunately for Schouten and this race report, the answer was no. Schouten suffered a flat tire during the fourth lap and was forced to slow roll to the pits. The two were off the front by 10+ seconds, so after the flat, Neff was gone.
“We were having a good battle,” said Neff. “It’s a bummer he flatted. I think we could have duked it out. I had just made a key mistake, but that’s bike racing. I couldn’t make it up the little ride-up, run-up and he had a gap on me, so who knows what would have happened.”
Everyone moved up a spot after Schouten’s unfortunate flat, and nothing really changed for the rest of the race. House took over the second position, Fosler broke away from Finkeldei to move into third and Schouten had to chase his way back through the field. He would eventually finish fifth.
Flat tires were a common theme after Schouten’s mechanical. Both Neff and Fosler also suffered flats, one in the technical section in the woods behind the lime kilns and another elsewhere.
The win was Neff’s fourth of the season.
After the race, as the rain started to fall, Neff said he wishes it had rained a bit earlier, sort of. “The cyclocrosser and the bike racer in me wishes we could have ridden in the rain, but the neutral support mechanic and the mechanic in me is glad the bikes are not all muddy,” he said.
Conditions during the two Elite races were gray and drab, but little precipitation fell. Almost on cue, the heavens opened up right before the last race of the afternoon, and by the end of 45 minutes, there was enough slipping and sliding to make the anticipation of ’cross weather somewhat worth it.
What’s On Tap
This weekend is a big one in Wisconsin cyclocross. Team Neff Cycle Service has joined forces with the bike racers formerly known as MadCity Velo to combine the race at Badger Prairie with Celtic Cross to form the Fitcherona Omnium. Racing starts Friday night under the lights at McGaw Park in Fitchburg, continues at Badger Prairie on Saturday and culminates with Celtic Cross on Sunday.
Weather in the Madison area has been miserable and rainy, so Wisconsin’s cyclocrossers may finally get the mudder they have been coveting. Stay tuned.
Photo Gallery: 2017 Grafton Pumpkin Cross