Saturday, October 21, 2006

Iron Cross IV

America's longest cyclo cross race continues to grow in popularity. Located in the Michaux State Forest of south-central Pennsylvania this race is part of a weekend of racing sponsored by Yellow Breeches Racing. On Saturday there was a traditional cyclo cross event featuring the "death spiral" (see videos below). This was my third time competing in the Iron Cross - missing only the inaugural event. My first year I went off course and added an extra climb and about 40 minutes to my time. Last year, I cramped severly and was able to limp in thanks to a friend, fast Albert, pumping me full of electrolyte capsules for the last two hours. This year my time was much improved and I suffered cramping much later in the race - losing less time and placing 36th overall. The weather was great. Clear and cold in the morning with sun and gradually warmer temperatures throughout the day. I saw many friends at the race: Fast Al from VA, Roger Massey from VA, Kerri Robbins from MD, Mark Dontigny from State College, Dave Gonder from World Cup Ski & Cycle as well as many MBMers and YBRers.

Some more Iron Cross stuff:

The Public Opinion posted the MBM team results (5th Place) in today’s Outdoor section (Saturday, October 21st). The team placers were: Sally McClain, Cathy Large, Sue Witter, Darius Mark and Chuck Buczeskie.

Complete results:

Other bloggers race comments:

From racer winner D. Winfield:

From 3rd place IC Liter M. Schwartz:

Videos by Dan Daly:

Photos of Iron Cross & IC Lite:

Official website:


MBM club ride tomorrow from Pine Grove Furnace lower lot @ 9am
MBM Blue Knob ride next Sunday @ 10am, leave Chambersburg at 8am

Brownstown Road Race 2006

20 Miles, Mennonites, Mud & Macchiato
The 2006 Brownstown Road Race in Lancaster County, PA

Saturday, June 24th, 2006.

My Starbucks opens at 6 am on Saturday mornings. The staff is friendly and they make a mean doppio macchiato. The doppio macchiato is a simple drink, a cup of foam “marked” with two shots of espresso - simple, but effective. 6 am is critical because race days start early. Living in Chambersburg, PA puts me an hour or two from most race starts in the mid-Atlantic region (Philadelphia, Lancaster, DC & Baltimore). The doppio makes the early morning drive doable.

Today amateur racing in cycling demands internet savvy. First, you need knowledge. To find out where and when events are you have to check the race calendars posted at or Second, you need access. To have any hope of getting into a race you must register weeks in advance at That most races in the mid-Atlantic region sell out well in advance is a testament to the health of amateur cycling in America. Thanks to the Lance Armstrong effect, many excellent races, talented promoters, and a plethora of active local clubs the mid-Atlantic region is teeming with racers and races. Third, you need directions. Resources like or Google Earth probe that navigation in the twentieth century is only a click away. Finally, you need the beta or inside information. This includes weather information for race day, results from previous years, and hints about the competition. Weather information is available at, previous year’s race results are available at the promoter’s website, and pre-registered racers are listed at (you may want to cross reference the latter two). Weather information is especially important because bike racing is a rain or shine proposition.

Google Earth indicated that Brownstown, PA is a small rural town north east of Lancaster, PA that was easily accessible via major roads. said that the USCF category 4 field size was 75 and that it was sold out – luckily I had pre-registered. The confirmed rider list at showed that I had two teammates in the Category 4 race, John and Tim. Teammates in that we were from the same local club (Yellow Breeches Racing) not that we had been training together or working on tactics. Notably, indicated that there would be severe thunderstorms throughout the day.

According to race promoter, Red Roses Races, the course is a rolling 5 mile circuit on well-maintained country roads with USCF category 4 racers doing four laps or 20 miles. Many races start at schools, parks or colleges. Brownstown starts at the intersection of Peace Road and Maple Avenue, a junction of small country lanes amidst corn fields. With well over 300 registered participants, spectators, officials and no parking lot - parking was at a premium.

Arriving before 7am allowed me to get a parking spot on Peace Road, register, set up my trainer and get a good warm-up. The rain began to fall while I was on the trainer and it became clear this was going to be a very wet day. As 9 am approached, I made my last journey to the port-a-potty and then toed the line for the start. Indeed, the men’s category 4 field was full and with the centerline rule in effect that meant 75+ riders jockeying for position on one lane of a narrow country road with no berm.

Since I warmed up on the trainer, I used the first lap to get a feel for the course. It was fast and flat with a couple of sharp turns, one chicane (sharp S-turn), and a double step hill leading to an uphill finish. The course was surrounded by Amish and Mennonite farms and saw frequent use by horses and buggies. Normally, the road would be sprinkled with occasional patches of horse manure. As the rain continued to come down these patches became more and more liquefied turning into a hellish mix of manure and water that I call “Mennonite Mud”. In a pack of 75+ riders the wheel spray was sufficient to liberally coat everyone and everything in this Lancaster County treat.

The finish had 1km, 200m to go signs, a banner covering the entire road, lots of spectators, and a two-story press box complete with photo finish camera. On the second lap I began to become conscious of my position within the peloton. Moving up in the pack was proving difficult so the plan was to get up front and stay there. After a solo flier from the first lap was caught, two riders got away on the second lap and began to build a gap - one of them was my teammate John. I call John the “Hammer” because earlier this year as John and I were checking the posted results for a TT in Philadelphia another rider who was in front of us talking to a friend said “that Hartpence guy is a hammer”. John had finished first in the TT that day and is a two-time state TT champion – the name stuck.

This spring I had watched quite a bit of racing on and I knew exactly what to do in this situation. I took the opportunity to go to the front and just sit there. As John and his breakaway partner continued to build their gap, my other teammate Tim came to the front and rode beside me, 2 against 75. I was amazed that the field would let us just sit there as the gap continued to grow. I “pulled” through the double hill near the finish just soft-pedaling. After that, a group came to the front and began to take pulls. Tim and I were in the pace line just tapping through on the pedals to slow the whole thing down. After one guy yelled at Tim for not pulling another more experienced rider came up on the left and said “they have a guy up the road.” The gig was up. One lap of blocking was over as a chase group finally formed to reel in the breakaway. Tim and I got a free ride as the others worked hard to bring back the break. With John back in the group we headed into the final lap. My goal was to stay near the front and take my chances in the uphill field sprint. Twice on the final lap I almost came to grief as riders made contact with me, but this was par for the course as the speed continued to crank up and many riders fatigued. The quickened pace made moving up increasingly difficult and many riders were pushing the limits of the centerline rule. The moto was honking constantly in an attempt to keep things in line. Past the 1k marker and into the final double step climb a lead-out train came up on my left and I hopped into their draft up to the front where another rider was beginning his sprint. I switched wheels and we left the lead out train in our wake. There was another pair of riders doing the same thing to our right - four of us in front of the field – killing it. The order didn’t change at all in the final 200 meters. The three in front of me had made good jumps and were too strong to pass – so I finished fourth. During a cool down lap, the reality of it all began to sink in. We had run a good race – a breakaway, blocking, and a sprint finish in the money. There was another reality sinking in at the same time. The brown mixture that coated our bikes, our jerseys, our eyes, and our mouths wasn’t mud at all – it was Mennonite Mud. Back at the registration tents I caught a glimpse of the trophies that they were giving to the top three finishers. While the second and third place trophies were nice the first place trophy would have made even a pro bowler proud. It was a two column, double-tiered gaudy affair crowned with a golden plastic bicyclist. No trophy for fourth place. I picked up my cash, washed off, and watched my other friends finish their races. We ate lunch together in Lancaster and I grabbed another doppio for the trip home. Yes, the Amish have Starbucks too.

In addition to the cycling spectators there were many local Mennonite and Amish children who turned out to watch and it was clear that this was a cycling-friendly area. The last internet skill racing requires is checking the race results available at the promoter’s website: While I didn’t get to see much of Brownstown that day I did gain some insight as to how they may have chosen its name.

Darius Mark

Mennonite Man

It was the evening of the 31st, the last day in July, having just arrived home from the office, I felt compelled to brave temperatures in the mid to upper nineties in order to break 700 miles for the month of July. It is not that I am compulsive, insane or obsessive; but I have flirted with this personal benchmark for the past several months and only needed 28 miles to do it. A quick call to one of my more dedicated riding buddies insured that I was not going to suffer alone. While we could have easily done a 14 mile out and back - that seemed too simple and besides the legs felt good.

There was little traffic on some of South Central PA's nicest two lane country roads. As we approached the one hour mark, my riding partner, Chuck, informed me that we were already over 19 miles and were likely going to break 20. We time trialed for a few minutes and ended up around 20.9 miles for the first hour - really having a good time on these mostly rolling hills. At one point, on a tight, two lane, downhill section we were surrounded on both sides by cornfields. The corn was tall, pushing ten feet, and deep in this canyon I felt like Luke Skywalker attacking the Death Star.

Shortly after, Yoda appeared on my handlebars to let me know that I had killed both my water bottles and, with another 20 miles to go, was desperately in need of a refill.

I began to scan for folks outside their homes or farms - preferably using a hose. After a couple miles of unpopulated, sun-scorched earth I noticed a man hosing down his driveway outside a modest ranch-style home. His two daughters looked up from under the shade of a tree as I wheeled into the driveway to see if he would top off my bottles. When he turned around, he eyed up my bike and gave us a big smile. This was when I noticed that he was a Mennonite. I asked if he could spare some water and he said "oh yes". He was really excited about being of assistance and began to fumble with the rusty sprayer at the end of the hose. I told him that it was ok; nothing on that sprayer was going to kill me. He responded that the water would be cold because it was well water and he had been running it for a while. As he filled up the bottle, he asked "what's you're average?" I must have given him a blank look because he followed up with "what can you guys hold?" This guy knew what he was talking about. I told him we were averaging over 20.5 so far for the ride and he responded "not quite as fast as Landis." To which I muttered "no, not quite, but I do like that he is from Pennsylvania." I thanked him and started to pedal up his driveway back towards the road when he called out "what do you think about the doping?" The surreal nature of this conversation made me stop and respond "if it's true - that would be disappointing." He looked down and said "yea, real disappointing."

This, of course, was before either of us had heard about the synthetic testosterone in the Floyd's blood and so now, barring any startling turns in the saga, we are both disappointed. The remainder of the ride was a blast, many long pulls at 28mph, and some feisty hill sprints to cap it all off. As we rolled back into town, Chuck and I agreed that, in a weird way, this ride had been one of the best so far this year.

I can't forget the shift in that man's demeanor when the topic turned to doping. While they are not as isolated as the Amish, the Mennonites ride bikes and are certainly a culture that places a high value on honest, hard work. There was no hiding the disappointment on his face. For July, I ended up with 709 miles, a personal record, and while certainly not as much as Landis or many others; it was honest, hard work. For some, that is enough.