By Bill Schieken, Cyclocross Editor
DCCX presented by The Family Bike Shop and Whole Foods took place October 25 at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington, D.C. Over 500 racers were treated to a course featuring power sections, technical bits and a whole lot of close contact with beer- and frites-fueled spectators. This is the third year that the DCMTB crew has organized the DCCX event. Its success in drawing great sponsors and fielding large categories has made it a date many in the Mid-Atlantic have circled on their calendar.
Although they will be the first to tell you that the event could not happen without a ton of generous support from the ‘cross community, Matt Donahue and Marc Gwadz, as race promoters, do most of the heavy lifting for DCCX. Asked about how they came up with the idea to host a race in D.C., Donahue explained it in a way anybody that has ever raced ‘cross can relate. “When I first got into 'cross, about 4 years ago, I started looking around at various parks and open spaces differently. I would ask myself ‘could a cross course fit there? How would that off-camber berm work in a course?’"
Donahue lives literally across the street from the DCCX course and walks his dog along the fence surrounding the AFRH grounds several times a day. “Three summers ago I thought a great 'cross course must be hidden in that space. After some meetings with the [AFRH] and some rallying cries to the team we were off on the DCCX kick and have repeated it three times now.”
The DCMTB team is rooted in mountain biking, a culture that values the fun of an event at least as much as the racing itself. The promoters said that emulating the party spirit of a European or big U.S. race was a primary goal.
“Marc and I have worked long and hard to adjust the course to wrap around the ‘venue’ and create the atmosphere that makes that central point so exciting.” Donahue said. “We wanted it to be crowded, loud, and electric.” He added that of all cycling events, 'cross is probably the most spectator friendly. “There are lots of small battles, the speed is such that you can really get up in people’s faces and cheer them on as a spectator. The cheering section coming into the downhill and then up through the barriers is electrifying to me, as a racer and as a spectator,” Donahue said. “Add in some beer, frites, Dutch pancakes and a crowd … it can't be beat.”
One aspect of the event that Gwadz and Donahue are especially proud is the increased number of women racers. “We made it a priority to encourage more women to race,” Gwadz said. “Our DC-Chix women's skills clinics and regular co-ed clinics certainly helped, but we got a big boost when Arley Kemmerer [guest instructor at DC-Chix] asked if we would be willing to host a clinic on site.” Giving these women, most of whom never raced, a chance to practice on the actual race course removes a lot of the nervousness and intimidation any new ‘cross racer feels before their first event.
Kemmerer (Hub Racing), who took home first prize in the women’s elite field, said the clinic may have been the highlight of her weekend. “The clinic was awesome! I think I enjoyed the race reports from the women who never did cyclocross before more than I enjoyed my victory,” she said. “We had about 17 women turn out on Saturday, despite the impending downpours. They stuck through the session in the absolute pouring rain, and enjoyed it!” Kemmerer was glad Gwadz gave her the opportunity to run the clinic and hopes to help organize similar events in the future.
Kemmerer made it look easy.
With the clinic and the added attention to the women’s fields, DCCX ended up with 68 pre-registered women, an extremely large field for a MABRA race. These numbers are especially important because DCCX makes a point of offering equal cash payouts for the men and women fields and as Gwadz explains, “having a big and talented elite women's field is key if we are going to ask sponsors to put up cash for that race.”
In that elite women’s field, Kemmerer took full advantage of the extra recon she was able to get while leading Saturday’s clinic. It did not take her long to establish herself at the front of the field and eventually ride away from the competition.“I went into this race aiming to win,” Kemmerer said.”I thought I had a good shot at it, but I didn't let myself get too carried away with that notion, because, as always, this is cyclocross, and anything can happen.”
Kemmerer said that she wanted to have a strong start, and made sure that she took the cleanest line possible through the prologue section. “The course hits you pretty hard from the start, so I was definitely pretty winded right from the gun. I've been battling some breathing issues this season, so it was important for me to relax and settle in.”
The primary pursuers were Lenore Pipes (unattached) and Julie Kuliecza (Alan North America Cycling). Kemmerer said that she was surprised to find Lenore and Julie on her wheel going up the finish stretch on the first lap. “At this point, I focused on keeping a steady high pace. I didn't want to push myself too far into the red to try and drop anyone that early in the race, so I decided to settle in and see how long they would hang on me,” Kemmerer added.
“Lenore has shown her strength in a few road races this season. I know she can pull some crazy stuff out of her hat from time to time, so I didn't want to play it too risky. I zipped through the barriers pretty quick the first time through, which gave me a few seconds' advantage. I decided to ramp up the pace just a bit more, and that was it, I had shaken myself free,” Kemmerer explained.
From that point on she focused on riding a steady pace. “I wanted to either ride the same time each lap, or just slightly faster than the lap prior—it is a good test of strength. I had someone in the pit shouting my lap times to me.”
The eventual battle for second place stood out as one of the most exciting moments of the day. The two pursuers did not let off the gas for a second on the final lap. In the end, it came down to a full-on two-up sprint through lapped riders. Kuliecza pipped Pipes at the line to take second place.
The Men’s elite race saw Ryan DeWald (Battley Harley Davidson-Sonoma) battle the front runners for most of the race before separating from the group to take the win. Dewald said that he hit the first turn in third place behind Dave Weaver (Alan North America Cycling). After seeing that Weaver’s teammate Greg Wittwer was also at the front, DeWald put in a hard move to take the first lap prime and keep the pressure on to establish a front group.
“We took turns working the front when one of the Haymarket guys [Joe Dombrowski] fumbled,” DeWald said. “Greg put in a hard move and I reciprocated to try and stay away.” Wittwer managed to claw his way back and Dombrowski also recovered to join the pair at the front.
Once Wittwer took the lead position and Dombrowski settled in, DeWald made his move. “I was feeling fresh so I put down my final effort going through the pit out into the fields where I could open up,” he said. “There was three to go on the lap card so I just slowly opened up a gap. I had all the turns dialed in and just stayed as smooth as I could.” By the time it was over, DeWald had established a significant gap over the trailing pair, easily taking the win.Dombrowski, who turned 18 this year, held on for second place and Wittwer finished the race in third.
- Greg Wittwer’s father, Fred Wittwer (Alan North America Cycling) took first place in the Masters 55+ field. Wittwer is a former-U.S. National Cyclocross age group champion.
- The Rohr family also had a parent-child duo on the podium. Keith Rohr (Adventures for the Cure) placed third in the Masters 3/4 race and his daughter Avy (Adventures for the Cure) took the top spot in the junior girls 10-14 category.
- Sam O’Keefe (C3-Athletes Serving Athletes) gave the Men’s 3/4 field a break this week opting to compete in Louisville. Paul Rades (Artemis) took advantage of O’Keefe’s absence and topped the podium.
- Dave Fuentes (Battley Harley Davidson-Sonoma) continued his recent hot-streak in the Men’s Elite Masters field and Jay Morali (C3-Athletes Serving Athletes) bested a competitive Masters 3/4 field to win his first race in that category.
The MABRA series takes another break next weekend. But that does not mean there isn’t a ‘cross race taking place near you. The All Hallows ‘Cross, presented by Patuxent Velo, takes place this Saturday in Hughesville, Maryland. It is about an hour’s drive from D.C. and a great way to kick off your Halloween festivities.
More on All Hallows 'Cross here, including new pictures of the race-through-barn.
photo credits: Bill Schieken.
GamJams Cyclocross Editor Bill Schieken races for Route1Velo/Arrow Bicycle. He is also the editor of In The Crosshairs.