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UPCROSS: Keweenaw Cup and Fit Strip

Copper Harbor and Marquette, MI
Sunday October 26, 2014
by: Kit Cischke

After a couple of weeks of hiatus, the UPCROSS series was back in full swing the last two weekends. October 18 and saw us racing up in the heart of the best mountain biking in the midwest (that's Copper Harbor, MI, for those of you who don't know) and then returning to the series' home in Marquette.

I had the good fortune to design the course for the Saturday race in Copper Harbor. In some respects, the course was already laid out -- there are only so many places we were allowed to go. I think we did the best we could with what we were given and put together a pretty good course. Unless you could bunny hop barriers, you were off your bike at least twice a lap. There was a beach section that only the A Men seemed to be riding and a trip through a sand volleyball court (the long way). Laps were still coming in around 5-6 minutes, which meant a LOT of laps for the fast guys.

After hemming and hawing a bunch, I decided to race the Dark Horse (T6/Raleigh collaboration with Gates Carbon Drive) and got to wear the new green METAL thermal jersey and knickers. It was all awesome. The course was so flat that there was almost no need to shift even if you were riding gears. I jumped ahead of a few people, lost a spot when my legs started giving out around 37 minutes in, but generally felt good. There is a major disconnect when your practice races on Wednesday nights are 30 minutes max and your Saturday races are just shy of an hour.

Sunday's course was a climber's dream (which meant it was a nightmare for me). The course ran around the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge golf course and featured 100 feet of climbing per lap. Given that laps were well under 5 minutes for the fast guys, we were climbing a lot. To handle the climbs, I rode the geared Kona Jake the Snake (even though my preride lap on the Dark Horse was marginally faster). I kept up with the group on the downhills but lost them immediately on the uphills. I got into a pretty bad place on lap three where I just wanted to quit. I hadn't seen anybody else in two laps, was suffering up the climbs and it started raining. Once I started standing to climb (instead of grinding it out seated), my lap times started coming down and I was having fun again. I still finished dead last, but finished strong and enjoyed myself.

A week later was the Fit Strip CX. I'd never made it to this event in the past and had originally planned on skipping it this year too. I have gone to Baycross in Ashland, WI every year since 2010 (at least) and was planning on being there this year too. Plans changed and I found myself dressed as Captain America (more or less) for the Halloween edition of UPCROSS.

The course had one long slightly uphill drag that was the start/finish stretch, a few punchy little hills and a whole bunch of mud. I did a lap on the Dark Horse, did a lap on the Kona and decided I would race the Dark Horse again. Standing at the start line, one of the Marquette riders said, "You're going to hate yourself for riding that in about 4 laps." I agreed that seemed likely, but had the geared bike to fall back on.

I fell to the back, like I have in almost every race this year. I didn't stay there though. I passed a couple of guys I had never passed before during the first lap and spent laps two and chasing a familiar foe. I attacked on lap 4 and got a gap, but lost it through the muddy section. He passed me back and I lost him until the very end of the race.

In the interim, I just kept riding hard, tried grabbing a dollar hand-up and worked hard on railing the wonderful sweeping corners. I did start to hate myself on the start/finish stretch, but never abandoned my singlespeed. I did get lapped by the top three guys, but picked off two more before the end.

So on a punchy, somewhat hilly course, I had my best UPCROSS result of the year on my SSCX against a bunch of guys on gears. That Dark Horse is one great bike.

This Saturday I get all trained up as a USAC Official and grab one more race before taking another couple of weeks off. I have a feeling the Dark Horse will be coming out of the stable again.