There are three athletic events in Missoula that I wouldn’t dream of missing (or rather, have a nightmare about missing…). The fist one, of course, is the Grizzly Triathlon. The second is the Missoula Marathon (when you’re a perennial, you can’t just take a year off; it’s bad luck). The third one is the Rolling Thunder cyclocross race, and while it is the smallest of the three in terms of number of competitors, it is arguably the biggest spectacle. There is an inherent spectator-friendliness of cyclocross. While a lot of this comes from the natural visibility of the race courses, I think it also has something to do with the high probability of high-speed crashes. People tend to congregate around the most technical part of the course, drink copious amounts of alcohol, and hoot and holler at the top of their lungs. Add to this the fact that the Category 1/2 race takes place in the dark, under stadium lights, and you’ve got an event suitable to make some memories.
Next year, I will be racing under the lights, but for this year I stuck with the Cat 3 race, which takes place a little earlier in the day. After suffering a minor mechanical on the last lap last year while racing as a Cat 4, and thereby losing my shot at the win, I formulated my strategy for this year:
- Don’t crash
- Don’t drop my chain
- Don’t forget – these races are FUN
- Huck everything!
More mountain biking this year has given me a big boost of confidence riding on dirt. While I love racing cyclocross, I really am still primarily a triathlete at heart, and triathletes aren’t known for their bike handling skills. We tend to be good at going really fast for a long time in a straight line on smooth surfaces. I felt more at home on the Thunder course this year than I have in my previous two years of racing, and I think that helped me stick with strategies #3 and #4 a whole lot better.
I got a slow start in the race, but as things started to shake out in the second and third laps, worked my way to the front, along with two other guys – defending Cat 3 champion Ben Hoffman (not the triathlete) and, to my surprise and delight, Hellgate Cyclery/Kent Brothers rider Eddie Joy. Eddie was having a great race, and the three of us worked together for a few laps, trading the lead here and there before we began trying to rip each other’s legs off.
Around lap 6, I started to sense than Ben might be tiring a little bit, and I threw in an attack on the road section of the course. Eddie managed to stick on my wheel, and then it was just the two of us. I spent one lap just trying to hold my position in front, and then Eddie got a little bogged down in the sand pit with two laps to go. That allowed me to open up a gap that never closed. I spent the last two laps concentrating on strategy #4, and I am probably a little lucky I didn’t violate strategy #1 in the process.
Anyway, I stayed rubber side down and crossed the line, securing a solid victory. Eddie hung on for second place with a really strong ride, and Jay Rutherford of the Cycling House came out of nowhere to pass Ben for 3rd. I will be upgrading to the 1/2 race for next year, so as not to feel like an insufferable sandbagger, but I’m glad I got one year of racing Cat 3 in the books. In addition, I got to watch a phenomenal race under the lights.
In the 1/2 race, hometown hero Toby Meierbachtol (Hellgate) pushed the pace early on, getting the first lap preme and, along with John Curry, opening up a little gap on the field. They couldn’t hold off the charge of defending champion Steve Fisher, single-speed shredder JT Fountain, and Rolling Thunder legend Kevin Bradford-Parrish, who ended up working their way into 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, respectively. It was certainly a fun race to watch, and, to everyone’s delight, Ben Horan gave in to peer pressure and made an appearance in the 1/2 race, despite an abysmal lack of riding this year.
Congrats to everyone who raced, particularly UM Cycling’s David Cresap, taking the win in the Cat 4/5 race in only his third cross race ever! This kid’s an animal!
Normally, I try to take a lot of pictures, but the camera battery died while Kailee was taking pictures during my race, so there ended up being very few. 😦
Kudos to race director Shaun Radley on another awesome event. I consider Rolling Thunder to be high on the list of the many things that make Missoula a great place to live. I’m already looking forward to next year.