Initially, I wasn’t sure whether I’d be up for a cross race just a couple days after finishing 4 Skyway Classic crit races in a row. My partner Thomas and I had planned on playing it by ear and waiting as long as possible to pre-register for Screw City Cyclocross: Return to the Hills. We thought pre-reg was open up until the night before, but we realized too late that it had closed in the morning. We decided that we’d still go and reg day-of, regardless of the bad weather predicted. Neither of us had never done a 1 hour CX race before and it sounded fun. Why not do a CX race to take advantage of the crappy weather?
The day started out with the temperature hovering around freezing (32F) and actively precipitating. Our drive out ended up being rather treacherous. What started as rain in Chicago turned to sleet about halfway to Rockford. Moments after realizing that we were driving on ice and slush, we saw multiple cars lose control and spin out, with some ending up in the ditches on the side of the highways. Luckily, the roads got better as we got closer to Rockford, even though the snow continued for the next several hours.
We arrived later than planned, but it wasn’t an issue. With very few people there, there was plenty of close parking available and the race organizers were laid back. Registration was at a table inside a truck trailer. Riders were huddling inside to keep warm and chat. When we told the guy at registration that we were day-of registrants, he was surprised and delighted! After registering for the Men & Women 1/2/3/4 Race, we got our bibs. These turned out to be unused bibs from the Rockford Triathlon, ha!
In the parking lot, I greeted Molly – the only other female I saw besides my BFF Bikes Racing teammate Kris. I’d met Molly last week when we went head-to-head at the finish line of Skyway race #1. While chatting with her at Skyway, I discovered that she does some fat biking and even did a snowshoeing / fat biking duathlon, so I wasn’t surprised that she was doing 2 Screw City races!
I put on the same gear that I’d been wearing to every [cold] race this past month: a merino cap under my helmet, merino mid-weight long sleeve base layer with a normal jersey over that, normal bibs with thermal tights over, mid-weight socks, CX/MTN shoes with toe covers, and lobster gloves with hand warmers inside. At the last minute, another racer offered me his spare balaclava so I swapped my cap out with that for more face coverage. I felt very cold prior to the start and worried it wouldn’t be enough, but it turned out to be just fine.
Thomas and I didn’t have time to warm up or pre-ride before race start. There were maybe 12-14 people, the only two women being Kris and I. We staged two abreast, with Thomas and I at the rear (the price you pay for day-of). They gave us the 30 second warning, then blew the whistle a few seconds later. Everyone blasted ahead of me. I figured I’d probably be doing my own race, trailing behind everyone for the next hour. I didn’t mind though, it would give me a chance to work on my handling skills. It was nice being able to choose my own lines everywhere – the course was generally narrow. Plus there was a chance some people would DNF or burn themselves out while I continued at a steady pace.
The race was set at a snow park primarily used for skiing and zip-lining. This made for a really awesome cyclocross course! The course itself was actually quite short, about 5 minutes per lap, but it had everything! Grass, mud, snow, ice, gravel, puddles, pavement, and maybe even a bit of sand. There were buildings and bridges, hills and forests, twists and off-camber turns, low grades and steep climbs, and they even added a small lumber barrier.
The course was definitely more technical than fast. I found myself having more cardio energy than usual, but not being able to go faster due to my handling abilities and the constant terrain changes. There were a few times that I couldn’t stop my rear wheel from spinning while climbing slippery hills and ended up having to get off the bike, but I managed not to fall or crash. At one point, I also had to clean off my glasses to see, which they warned us about at the starting line 🙂
At the beginning of Lap 2, there was a moment when I suddenly couldn’t pedal anymore. It wasn’t just mud and gunk, something had seized up. I got off the bike and found out my cassette had eaten a good amount of felled course tape. I couldn’t take the rear wheel off – it’s thru-axle and I didn’t have tools on me. I did my best to quickly pick out the tape and get back on the bike. Immediately, my chain dropped. I popped the chain back on and tried again. Nope, the chain went off again. So I took the time to take off my gloves, dig through the spokes, and get the remaining tape out, waving to the other riders as they lapped me. Never had another issue for the rest of the race.
The worst part of the course was this short section of packed down snow and ice. It was painfully and erratically bumpy and got worse as the race went on. The best part of the course was this winding downhill after the lumber barrier. With each new lap, I felt more confident in my handling and zipped down that hill, taking all the twists without braking. I grinned widely as I sprayed mud everywhere and dodged the overhanging tree branches.
The few spectators that were out there shouted encouragement from the sidelines as well as the zip-line overlooks. At one point, the race organizer said to me, “You’re doing great, I’m glad you’re here!” and I shouted back, “Me too!” The ChiCrossCup announcer Kenny Labbé was there, as son was racing in the next race. Kenny couldn’t help but call out encouragement to everyone as they passed.
After the race ended, Patrick, the race organizer, gave Thomas and I a couple of pre-registrant goodie bags. There were a number of no-shows and I think he wanted to reward us for showing up in such difficult conditions. Since Kris and I were the only two women in the 1/2/3/4 race, Team BFF dominated the podium! Kris in 1st place and myself in 2nd. Second place also happened to be last place, so it was pretty cool to get a payout for last place, ha! The 1/2/3/4 men had a full podium of 5 racers, which is the amount of places they did payouts for.
Here is a photo of Kris and I repping BFF on the 1/2/3/4 podium:
And my partner Thomas showing off his muddy bike post-race:
Thomas and I bailed fairly quickly after our race. One of Thomas’ Half Acre teammates had recommended that we grab post-race lunch at Beef-a-Roo, only a few minutes away. We parked and before we headed in, I wanted to see what was in our pre-reg goodie bags. Water bottles and Beef-a-Roo coupons, how perfect!!! We walked in and asked the cashier what we should order since it was our first visit. She looked stunned, as if she could not fathom how we’d never eaten their delicious food before, haha! The food was good, though I think we missed out on their best item: shakes. Each of their shakes comes with a tower of delights on top, like wafers and a small cupcake!
The drive back was happily uneventful.
To conclude, I highly recommend this race series by Rock River Multisport! There is still one race left in the series on Saturday May 12, so go get registered! Also, a special thank you to my BFF teammate Leah for constantly hounding me to sign up 🙂