Airing it out copy.jpg Thanks in part to Seattle’s Star Crrossed race, night races are popping up around the country. With the Bay Area Super Prestige race at Sierra Point on November 15th, the SoCal Spooky Night Race this Saturday, and last weekend’s Rolling Thunder race in Montana, night ‘cross is catching on. We received this report on Montana’s nightime ‘cross race (and party):

By Shaun Radley, Photos by Alex Gallego

Missoula, MT isn’t exactly known as a hotbed for cyclocross. However, for the last three years, a group of young aspiring racers have put on a unique race that rivals any event in the country for craziness, excitement, and down home cross racing. It’s called Rolling Thunder, and this past weekend the beer was flowing and the Montana Stars came out. Local bike race celebrities Sam Schultz and Geoff Proctor headlined the event’s start list. Also scheduled to race was Sam Krieg, a Idaho racer who frequents the national scene.

The day started off with clouds and rain, just the way we like it. The first major event of the day was the ladies race. The winner took home a brand new Kona Major Jake frame and fork. The competition was hot between Kona Velo Bella rider Erika Krumpleman and Team Delphine rider Amy Frykman. In an impressive show of strength Frykman took the victory and the new frame.

The mood was set for the main event. The National Anthem was sung and the men’s elite riders started to mill around the start area. The sun went down and the construction lights went up. Fans lined the startline two deep to root for their favorite racer. Montana cyclocross racing is a bit like Belguim racing. The towns are so far apart in Montana that fans and racers are loyal to their cities and racers. The chief official gave the nod and the announcer asked for silence amongst the crowd. The DJ played AC/DC’s Hells Bells and the crowd started getting amped. The announcer gave the call up for the first two rows. Big Montana names like Proctor, Schultz, Curry, Gonzalez, and Krieg all on the starting line looking nervous. The course is well lit in places, but has plenty of dark spots……..this isn’t Star Crossed, this is Montana. The course came complete with a BMX style whoop section, banked corner, and baseball stadium riding.

The start was crazy, flash bulbs were going off everywhere. Fans sprinted to the other side of the course as racers powered through the stadium. Yagermeister and Kettle House Cold Smoke was everywhere, people were getting rowdy. The run-up was littered with the University of Montana lacrosse team and Missoula Bicycle Works employees. They came well prepared with a grill, bells, and rowdiness. Spectators were in your face throughout the BMX section and into the run-up. People were begging racers to take beers and shots, cheering their favorite rider on with all their might.

The race came down to a four way battle between Schultz, Krieg, and locals racers John Curry and Frank Gonzalez. Midway through the race Schultz lost contact with the group on his mountain bike and Krieg put the hammer down to drop Curry and Gonzalez. Krieg rode faster and faster each lap and fed off the crowd noise. He wanted the first prize, a complete Felt FX35 cyclocross bike. Curry and Gonzalez formed a Montana alliance and took turns chasing down Krieg. Meanwhile, Schultz was doubling up jumps on the whoop section and hopping barriers. Fans were loosing their mind for the Subaru Gary Fisher rider. He was putting on a show. One last time around the course, the order was Krieg, Gonzalez, Curry, and Schultz. Smooth as butter, Sam Krieg rode in as the 2008 Rolling Thunder champion and new owner of Felt CX bike.

Meanwhile, I could hear fans yelling on the back of the course, and I knew only one thing could be happening. Schultz was catching second and third. He hopped the barriers one last time just to put finishing touches on the evening. And in the end, around the last turn came non other then Sammy Schultz. He passed both local Montana boys in the last lap to steal second from Gonzalez, and Curry. Cyclocross legend Geoff Proctor recovered from mechanicals to finish 7th. Fans mobbed racers as they crossed the finish line. On the podium Sam Krieg was elated, he kissed the podium girls and popped the champagne. No one left the podium presenation as folks hooted and hollered late into the night. Sam Krieg had this to say about the event, “great race, definitely worth the drive…I wish all cross races were as well run, and had half the atmosphere you guys provided. Killer venue. No doubt that the MT crew can race cross… I am sure 2009 will be scary fast…I just started training for 2009 Rolling Thunder.”

Reflecting back on the race it reminded me of what some of the bigger North American races must have looked like before there were rules, regulations, and major sponsors. There was no huge payout, and racers were just happy to be in front of huge rowdy crowds. It was competitive but that wasn’t the focus. It was like being at a good concert or going out for a big night at the bars with your buddies. There was just enough organization to remind you that you were at a race. Folks are jazzed about next year, talking about taking the race to the next level and making Missoula a hotbed for cyclocross. That would be great, but the uniquess and free-spirited vibe that makes Rolling Thunder what it is can never be taken away. That is what’s at the heart of all cyclocross races. It’s not about putting places on the map, it’s about getting folks racing and having a good time.