After last week’s muddy tease at Grafton Pumpkin Cross, a full week of rainy October weather in the Madison area ensured Wisconsin’s ’cross racers would finally get the REAL CYCLOCROSS CONDITIONS they so desperately craved.
Even better, the weekend featured three muddy days of racing as part of the Fitcherona Cross Ominum sponsored by Team Neff Cycle Service of Madison. Team Neff Cycle Service brought the race at Badger Prairie in Verona, formerly hosted by 5 Nines, and Celtic Cross at McGaw Park in Fitchburg, a production of Erik Jensen and MadCity Velo, together and threw in Wisconsin’s first Friday night race since the last East Troy Twilight Cross in 2014 to form a three-race omnium.
Conditions on both Friday and Saturday were every kind of muddy and gross a cyclocross rider could hope for. The week’s rain continued into Friday night and areas of McGaw Park currently under construction were turned into a Belgian mud pit. Or since the race was formerly known as Celtic Cross, perhaps a scene straight out of the British Isles?
On second though, WHERE WAS THE WINNERS’ KILT THIS YEAR?
Friday night’s mudfest at McGaw Park went to mountain bike-ster Abby Strigel in the Women’s race and in the Men’s race, Joel Finkeldei (Team Neff Cycle Service) edged out Seth Eckert (801 W. Madison) in a thrilling sprint finish. With the nighttime setting and the mud-covered cloth numbers, well, props to the USAC officials for figuring that one out.
Saturday morning’s races at Badger Prairie cleaned up a bit, but a steady downpour during the lunch course inspection period guaranteed the afternoon’s races would be a muddy mess. The venue that twice hosted Nationals did not disappoint.
On Saturday, the Women’s race belonged to Anne Mayer (Trek Midwest), who has been crushing the Wisconsin cyclocross scene since she first moved over from the road last year. The Men’s race was won by Tristan Schouten, who we learned this week is one of cyclocross’s workingman heroes.
No Great Weather in 2017
Sunday’s race was back at McGaw Park in Fitchburg for the bike race formerly known as Celtic Cross.
During its short tenure that began in 2014, Celtic Cross was known for a number of things. One was the perfect late October weather that descended upon the venue just south of Madison for three straight years. That streak was no more after Sunday.
Another was the kilt provided to the winner of each race during the podium presentation. A nice touch, no doubt.
And the third was the sand pit party zone. With the great weather in previous years, the sand pit turned into a scene befitting a beach along the seashore. On Sunday, the scene was at best a cold and gray stretch of sand along the North Atlantic Ocean.
McGaw Park is one of those cyclocross venues that pushes the course designer to their creative best. The park is mostly flat with not much more to work with than the sand pit and a small section of off-cambers. In the past, the course design has made the most of the available features and created a fun party atmosphere aided by the #blessed good weather the event has had. In 2017, course designer Erik Jensen had to call a bit of an audible and follow Friday night’s route as much as possible to limit the damage to the park. The result was a route similar to, but different from, years past.
Feldhausen Bounces Back to Winning Form
On Saturday, Mayer showed up and exerted her will on the Women’s Elite field at Badger Prairie. Her dominance was somewhat surprising given teammate Erin Feldhausen’s (Trek Midwest) supremacy in the Wisconsin races thus far this season and her excellence on hilly courses such as the one in Verona.
Although the course at McGaw Park was flat, Feldhausen returned to form from the opening whistle. She raced to the holeshot and stayed on the gas throughout the entire first lap on the corner-heavy course. Her reward for the effort was a 15-second lead on Caitlin Neuman (Brazen Dropouts) and Holly LaVesser (Team Neff Cycle Service) after the first stanza.
Feldhausen extended her lead to nearly 30 seconds after two laps and early in the affair, it was clear the day belonged to her. Saturday’s struggles were a distant memory and she was back on the top step of the podium. After the race, Feldhausen said the muddy slog through the thick grass on Saturday during the Women's Masters race took its toll, so she opted to focus on just the Elite race on Sunday.
The strategy paid off in spades. The win was Feldhausen’s fifth Elite win of the season thus far.
The battle for the remaining podium spots turned out to be a good one. Elite neu-comer Neuman was ahead of LaVesser after one lap and appeared ready to give the mountain bike-ster everything she could handle.
During the second lap, LaVesser pulled past Neuman and then opened up a gap back to the Brazen Dropout rider. As the race entered its middle stages, Neuman’s hold on third was slowly being threatened by Meredith Peterson Tyranny Turany (Team Neff Cycle Service), who was racing in her first Wisconsin CX Series presented by Trek race of the season.
After a slow-ish start, Turany slowly pulled away from Jenny Youngworth (Team Wheel and Sprocket), and then closed the gap to Neuman.
During the fourth of five laps, Peterson Turany caught Neuman near the famed sand pit and then opened up a five-plus second gap. When the riders passed through the barriers at the beginning of the last lap, the two were close enough that third place was by no means decided.
Peterson Turany held off the challenge from Neuman to take third, and LaVesser continued rolling on her way to a second-place finish.
Hoster with the Moster Neff Caps Off Weekend with Win
In the Men’s Elite race, Isaac Neff (Team Neff Cycle Service) traded in his role as hoster with the moster to don his eponymous kit and head to start line to race cyclocross. He was joined by teammate and brother-in-law Corey Stelljes (Team Neff Cycle Service) at the line for a rehash of their battle from Badger Prairie in 2016. Stelljes and Neff have been known to throw down at whatever they are competing at - mountain bike, road, cyclocross, the family game of Charades - so fans are always in for a good battle when the two line up next to each other.
On Saturday, Neff and Stelljes did not disappoint. Instead of waiting until lap two or three as he has done in many of the races thus far this year, Neff went during the first lap and Stelljes went with him.
Behind the two teammates who were a good 20 seconds off the front, The Nicest Man in Cyclocross Kyle Russ (Brazen Dropouts) and Ben Senkerik (Team Extreme) battled for third while Joel Finkeldei (Team Neff Cycle Service) vied to add his name to that conversation.
Stelljes’ challenge to Neff would be short-lived and when his brother-in-law started to pull away at the sand pit during the second lap, perhaps Stelljes was thinking about getting revenge during the family Thanksgiving Cribbage tournament. Neff opened up a five-second gap in the wooded section along the backside of the course, and Stelljes appeared hard-pressed to reel him in.
Once Neff gets a gap, he has consistently shown it is difficult to bring him back. Stelljes learned this first-hand on Sunday. Neff was gone, and Stelljes was left to take the moniker of best of the rest in Sunday’s field.
The win was Neff’s fifth of the season.
As was the case in the Women’s Elite race, the battle to watch was the one for third. In the third lap, Finkeldei closed the gap to Senkerik and Russ and after that trip around the circuit, the three riders were together.
During the next few laps, Senkerik tried to force the issue in the group of three. During lap three he put in a small attack opened up a gap to the other two, but the effort was brought back and midway through the race, the group was three again.
In close races like the one going on for third, the smallest mistake can make the biggest difference. During the sixth lap, Finkeldei hit a course stake while ripping through the sand pit and was momentarily held up. Senkerik was ahead of him at the time, and the Team Extreme rider used his rival’s hesitation to open up a small gap.
Although Finkeldei was held up, he still put the pressure on Russ and after six laps, he sat in fourth, about seven seconds behind Senkerik. The race for third was by no means decided.
Senkerik kept his lead between four and seven seconds, and as the riders pulled around the far part of the course heading into the bell lap, it appeared Finkeldei might have what it takes to close the narrow gap and turn the last lap into a barn-burner.
Senkerik, however, had other plans. He had enough left in the tank to repel Finkeldei’s challenge and grab third place for the afternoon. Finkeldei finished fourth and Matt Riley (Team Wisconsin) came charging back to round out the top five.
What's on Tap with the Hop Garden
Next up for the Wisconsin CX Series presented by Trek is the first-ever GP Jo Vanderaffe on Saturday and the Battle of Waterloo in, of all places, Waterloo on Sunday.
Saturday's race is bringing cyclocross back to Mitchell Park for the first race there since the 2012 Cross the Domes, and Sunday's race at Fireman's Park in Waterloo has become a series mainstay on the opposite side of the small town from Trek World Headquarters.