Saturday. October 4th I traveled to the middle of Pennsylvania to participate in the Iron Cross UltraCross race. The Iron Cross is one of nine in the UltraCross serieswhich includes Barry-Roubaix in Michigan and Gravel Grovel in Indiana. The series requires minimum four races to be scored for points and now I wish I’d done one other. I raced Barry-Roubaix in March and will be doing the Gravel Grovel for the third year in a row. That will make three races in the Ultracross series.
This race is the toughest of the three I have now done! Nearly 70 miles long, the course has screaming downhill gravel roads and pavement. I hit a top speed of mph on paved descent and regularly was feathering the brakes to maintain 32-35 mph on gravel road descents! I went back and forth with a racer on an orange Niner mountain bike. I’d pass him on climbs and gap him when we hit a flat section but on the downhills he’d catch up. I think the wider mountain bike tires made for better hold on the gravel roads which had quite a lot of loose stones. These were NOT hardpacked dirt like we see at Barry-Roubaix. More than a few racers 40mm tires which seemed huge compared to my standard Kenda 35mm cross tires.
The course also included some bone-jarring single-track more suited to a mountain bike with at least front suspension. Some of the single-track climbs were unrideable as well. My hands got really sore on numerous occasions gripping the flats and using my brake interrupter levers to control the bike in these technical sections.
There was also several steep segments requiring dismount and pushing or carrying the bike up the hill. One segment had three powerline hikes like this. For those riders who have done Ore-to-Shore, picture the powerline climb- only steeper and at least 50% longer- then do that THREE times in a row! The last really hard hike-a-bike was narrow uphill and at the top three people had a sign that said “Larry’s Tavern” and were doing Busch beer hand-ups.. so I took a shot and then went on to ride the gravel road.
As I got past the 65 mile mark that Niner rider caught me again on the last major descent. From there it was a steady but not steep climb to the finish and I was gradually closing the gap, but unfortunately ran out of course and he finished in front of me by about 25 seconds- and he was in my category. Darn
After the race there was food and awards and conversation. I got to chat with Gerry Pflug (who to a second place podium finish despite nasty crash) and Stephanie Swan. My favorite nutrition writer, Selene Yeager, took first place in the women’s category but I didn’t get a chance to congratulate her.
I had registered for camping on site for both Saturday and Sunday night. There were quite a few campers Saturday night but the place cleared out fast after awards and food were done and the last rider finished at just over eight hours. I was at this rustic state forest campsite all by myself. Early sleep and I woke up at 3am, so I packed the car for the ten hour drive back to Michigan.
I am glad I did the race. It was extremely challenging and fun.
photo credit xxc magazine