By Bill Schieken, Cyclocross Editor
When you are in charge of an established cyclocross event, one of the annual challenges is deciding whether to keep the course the same or make some tweaks to keep things fresh. Rarely do you have to start from scratch and create an entirely new course. But that is what Squadra Coppi was faced with for this year’s Tacchino Ciclocross after learning that their old venue would not be available come race day.
Finding a new venue that offered the je ne sais quoi that makes a random lot of dirt, trees and grass a “Tacchino Course” turned out to be a formidable challenge. Race Director Jim McNeely had his eyes on Rosaryville state park as an ideal venue and was ultimately successful in convincing the Rosaryville Conservancy, Mid-Atlantic Off Road Enthusiasts and various equestrian groups that hosting a cyclocross race on the grounds would be a just and noble cause.
“We are extremely grateful that all the stakeholders agreed to let us have a race there,” McNeely said. “Rosaryville is a gem of a park close to D.C. that is as nice as it is because it is very well cared for by its stakeholders.”
Designing a course is not as simple as throwing down some stakes, stringing some tape, and calling it a day. “The goal was to make riders handle and corner if they had the skills, not to force them to stop and then turn,” McNeely said. The organizers also wanted to make sure that the race spent a lot of time around the central pavilion so that spectators buying food and listening to live music, provided by funk band “Gallons to Ounces,” could see more of the action.
When it came time to race, the new course did not disappoint. For that matter, neither did the day. After a few weeks of muddy conditions on the ‘cross circuit, it was a pleasant surprise for racers to be battling it out in full sunshine and seventy degree temperatures. The official line may be that 'cross racers want muddy, cold, miserable, Belgie-like weather. But secretly they are as happy as anybody to have a nice day every once in a while.
The men’s elite race featured a battle between three of the strongest teams in the Mid-Atlantic and an established party crasher from Pittsburgh, Pa. Right out of the gates, Andy Wulfkuhle (C3-Athletes Serving Athletes) set a hard tempo at the front and split the field. After a couple laps, it was clear that the winner would come from a group of eight that included Joe Dombrowski and Jared Nieters (Haymarket Bicycles/Home Visit), Dave Weaver and Greg Wittwer (Alan North America Cycling), C3’s Wulfkuhle and Wes Schempf, Steve Cummings (Indiana Regional Medical Center) and Adam Driscoll (Adventures for the Cure).
Wulfkuhle stayed at the front for the first third of the race before being dislodged by attacks from Nieters and Weaver. The size of the group and the nature of the course meant that team tactics were going to play a big part in the outcome.
"Wes and Andy took turns attacking and blocking, as Jared and I took turns covering, and counter-attacking," Haymarket's eighteen year old powerhouse, Joe Dombrowski explained. "These hard accelerations brought down the initially large group, to a few smaller groups."
With four laps to go, Wulfkuhle had dropped back and Schempf was about to call it a day. The lead group was Nieters, Cummings, and Dombrowski. "I ramped up the pace, and Jared played the role of teammate, and sat on," Dombrowski said. "I managed to keep the gap, and Steevo [Cummings] put in an awesome ride and nipped Jared at the line for second."
In the Women's elite race, Dee Dee Winfield (C3-Athletes Serving Athletes) took control of a strong field early and powered to a convincing win. It was so convincing that she had time for a couple packaged meat hand-ups from the coveted Suitcase of Sausage that contained enough meat products to provide several premes for each racing category.
Despite the sizable margin of victory, Winfield was not confident the course was going to work in her favor. Echoing most racers that went before her, Winfield said that the course flowed really well but didn't provide a lot of recovery. "After coming off the start when you enter the woods, the ground was a touch mushy and just seemed to suck the life out of the legs. It hurt for sure," she said. "I used to really enjoy such courses because I was much more of a roadie, but now I feel like I am competing against people with more fitness, bigger engines, or both, so these types of courses tend to make me a bit nervous."
As far as race strategy goes, Winfield's was fairly straight forward. "I tried to stay on the gas the whole time to help prepare me for the races [USGP Mercer Cup] next weekend." Originally planning on taking the weekend off, Winfield took advantage of the race location to see family and catch up with friends. "The races were close to where my brother lives and so I thought it would be nice to do some more local events, which I really enjoy because I get to see friends that I may not have seen in a while, hang out with the team some, and hopefully keep the legs in check."
Jennifer Maxwell (ATAC Sportswear p/b Bike Rack DC) followed Winfield across the line to finish second and Katrina Dowidchuk (Deep Blue) slotted in for third.
The men's masters elite race saw a familiar name finish on the top step of the podium. In his second full season of 'cross Dave Fuentes (Battley Harley Davidson/Sonoma) is putting his big engine to good use and collecting a slew of first place finishes. Fuentes thought the smooth flow of the course meant there would be a group of around six together at the end. By the bell lap there were only four and once the attacks started that dwindled down to two.
Gerry Pflug took the lead going into the barriers and Fuentes let him set the tempo to see what the SPK/Speedgoat rider had left. "His tempo was not too hard and when we hit the grass section coming back to the pavilion, I could see his shoulders rocking, so I attacked," Fuentes recounted. "It was enough to gain a gap and I was able to hold it to the line." Evan Ellicott (Bike Doctor/Bayside Velo) followed in the leading pair for third place.
The MABRA Cyclocross series heads to Charlottesville, Virginia this Sunday for the fourth edition of Urban Cross at Ix. The race winds around an out-of-commission silk factory near downtown Charlottesville. Lots of elevation changes, industrial detritus and a stairway to nowhere await the Mid-Atlantic's 'cross contingent.
photo credits: Bill Schieken.
GamJams Cyclocross Editor Bill Schieken races for Route1Velo/Arrow Bicycle. He is also the editor of In The Crosshairs.