The conditions were doing their best to put everyone in the Christmas spirit. © Bart Nave

The conditions were doing their best to put everyone in the Christmas spirit. © Bart Nave

Tennessee’s Mud, Sweat and Gears series finished up this past weekend. Here we have race reports for both MSG#5 in Bristol, Tennessee and MSG#6, the series finale and blowout bash.

by Dwayne Letterman

MSG #5 dawned cold and snowy with a couple of inches on the ground and big fat flakes falling. This weekend we were back at our third and most scenic venue, Steele Creek Park, in Bristol, Tennessee. Being in the southern Appalachian mountains, the weather is hard to predict and with usually mild temps and lack of precipitation over the past few years, I wondered how the snow would affect turnout. We soon found out that due to the good ‘cross base MSG has grown over the past six years, what would have turned people away in those early days couldn’t stop another big turnout for upper-east Tennessee with 120 entries. It’s getting late in the season but folks are just as enthusiastic about cross as they were way back in October at Domtar Park in Kingsport.

The “Lynskey Helix” was the main feature of the course for MSG #5. The spiral has been a centerpiece of this MSG course for three years running and this year’s version was a four-lane spiral with a diameter of 100′ . The Helix was a dizzying experience, with racers coming into it with a lot of speed. The constant turning of the radius caused a little disorientation by the time riders reached the center. The course had another sweet surprise back in the pine woods, a hill that had always been rideable for most folks had turned into a slip n’ slide incline that was rideable only by a few. By the time the Pros took the field, the entire course had been turned into mud by the churned up snow, looking like the fields of the Koppenberg Cross. This was a heavy course: a mudder’s dream and the clean skinsuit hipster’s nightmare!

The largest field of the day was the CX 4 men with 41 riders taking the start. MSG #5 also saw the return of CX 4 series points leader and MSG sponsor Jeff Carlson. Jeff missed MSG#4 due to an unfortunate incident with a gate pole at MSG#3. The crash left Jeff with a separated shoulder and in danger of losing his points lead. Any doubts about Jeff’s condition were quickly put to rest as Jeff’s skills as a mudder – and shear strength – opened up an unclosable gap, giving him his third MSG win so far this season.

The Women’s 1/2/3 race has featured a close battle between Deb Sweeney Whitmore of BMW/Bianchi and host club rider Kim Bishop of Tri Cities Road Club. This battle is being waged by two very strong women, Deb being extremely experienced and Kim, in her third year, seeing the fruits of her labor come to fruition.  Only 29 points separate these two, so it’s coming down to the wire in the women’s race.

Andy Applegate at MSG 5. © Bart Nave

Andy Applegate at MSG 5. © Bart Nave

In the Pro 1/2 ranks’ race winner Bradford Perely had a great ride in the sweet dark mud, but the real battle was between series founder Eric Wondergem of Hup United and Noah Niwinski of Boone Velo. Eric is holding on to a narrow lead of just 14 points going into the MSG series final. The Pro race also saw the return of another MSG cross stalwart and sponsor, Andy Applegate. Andy hadn’t been seen at MSG since the first race weekend way back in October due to that pesky swine flu. Andy showed his skill as a master of cyclocross racing by placing second in the Pro race.

The weather is definitely playing a role in the selection this year at MSG. Used to racing hard packed grass for the majority of races over the past several seasons, the power guys are losing ground to the dirty mudders. Bike handling skills and the mental toughness to endure the elements is giving a leg up to more technical riders. It’s going to be a grand finale December 12th at Steele Creek Park. Seems like October 3rd was a long time ago but, as with each year, I can’t believe it’s over. Good times.

The finale will be awesome with a pot luck dinner featuring homemade chili and the giveaway of a Lynskey cross frame, a Redline Conquest Pro frame and boatloads of other prizes from our awesome sponsors. If you are within driving distance, get to Bristol for the Mud, Sweat and Gears 2009 season ending blowout!

Photo Gallery

MSG Series Finale: The World is Turning

The weather was a factor again in the finale of the 2009 MSG Cyclocross series. The previous week’s snow left lots of ruts in the earth which, at 19 degrees, became frozen ruts. The men and women Cat 4’s kicked off at 10:30 to the sound of a train engine horn! The frozen ground made for a very fast course that was somewhat treacherous in rutted sections. This was the day for the bike handlers with 37 turns over the distance of 1.56 miles.  There was never any doubt who the winner was going to be after one lap as Jeff Carlson took a commanding lead, eventually winning the race and clinching the overall in the CX4’s (I smell an upgrade). As temps warmed toward the afternoon’s Pro race, the ruts began to soften and collapse making for slick and tricky corners and one of the best races I’ve witnessed all season.

The highlight of the day was the three-up battle in the Pro race between Andy Applegate, Eric Wondergem and Mike Stewart. Andy, a seasoned Cyclocross vet, soon grabbed the lead and was joined by Mike Stewart, who is only in his second year racing cross. They opened a gap of about 20 seconds that looked impossible to cross. However, the advantage started to tumble once Wondergem dialed in the turns  and learned where he could use his Treefarm-like power. Over the course of two laps of the 60 minute race, Wondergem had joined the leaders. The three settled in with Applegate setting a high tempo and, with four laps to go, Wondergem launched a sinew-stretching attack and was off the front by 10 seconds.

The pain was evident on Wondergem’s face as he tried to hold on to his lead, but Applegate used his experience to slowly real him back, pulling a red-lined Stewart with him. Wondergem dangled of the back by a couple of bike lengths as Applegate drove hard. It looked like the all-or-nothing attack had netted Wondergem a goose egg. Applegate continued to put pressure on both Wondergem and Stewart through all the twists and turns, seemingly taking control of the race. The last lap proved to be the strategic one. As Wondergem dangled off the back he was slowly recovering and when they hit the climb for the last time Wondergem attacked again. This time Stewart popped and faded out of contention leaving Applegate struggling to hang on to Wondergem. Wondergem pulled out another 10 second lead coming off the top of the course through the final maze of turns, taking the win and solidifying his lead in the series. Applegate rolled in 10 seconds back and received a deserving round of applause as did Stewart for his impressive third place.

We always do something special for the last race of the series and this year we had our first ever Chilly Chili Challenge! Five different kinds of chili showed up and were ravenously devoured along with chips and drinks. With high temps only in the 30’s, the chili was a big hit. Being the final race also meant overall awards. This year saw the return of the Shelton Pittman trophies for the overall winner in eight of the MSG categories. These are handmade by Shelton from old bike parts and this year included a high wheeler, a wind chime (that actually chimed) and a rose made completely of chain and gears, truly works of art.

It’s hard to believe another MSG series has come and past. As always I feel both relief and sadness: relief that the hours of work are over, but sad that cross season is nearing the end for 2009-2010. We still have the Tennessee State Championship Weekend to organize for January 30-31, but  I won’t see a lot of the folks that race MSG again until next fall. ‘Cross is like Christmas; it only comes once a year and once it’s over, it’s a real let down.