The bikes slowly arrived at the defunct golf course, many caked in mud and grass from the night before, their owners still dragging a bit from the skirmishes held at Interstate Park. Things seemed quiet, like an army campsite the day after engaging the enemy, infantry cleaning up equipment in preparation of joining the fight again, the only difference is each soldier would be going to war alone. This is cyclocross and each fight is personal.
The rain was forecast to retreat by Sunday morning but it was hanging on, cool wet air clung to bikes and kits creating a layer of grass, dirt, sand and grease as the participants worked through practice laps. The screeching of brakes, the grinding of chains and the whimpers of racers as they tested the barriers strategically placed on a steep hill were the sounds of pre-battle preparation.
The field of battle for the Western Hills Cyclocross Race was an old golf course that is now used as a neighborhood park. The terrain was perfect for pain; sand traps, leg burning climbs to old tee boxes, momentum sucking grass, unused cart paths riddled with ridges created by tree roots struggling to free themselves. If you’ve ever been a golfer you understand the frustration of the links but no golfer has felt the agony that this course would bring on this day.
You could see the sense of pride in the faces of those who helped prepare the field for battle, led by The Community Bicyclist team and supported by riders from other teams, all seemed to look forward to the days engagement. From a hilltop above the course spectators could survey most of the course. Like individual Generals, mapping out their attacks and defenses, racers looked over the course and each other. It would be a day for glory and agony.
The course started low in the field, a grass start that immediately went into a climb to a tee box over two barriers that would not be hopped on this day. Riding around the top of the hill they dropped into a serpentine configuration with steep, off-camber turns before being spit out on a long flat straightaway. The riders soon find themselves at the farthest end of the course where they passed through a pavilion decorated for Halloween. I’m not sure the faux graveyard, spiders, bats and cobwebs scarred them as much as the loose gravel and pounding heart rate.
Next up was more wet grass and a hill that at a casual glance looked fairly easy and straight-forward but in reality was a long hard slog. After cresting the hill, riders drop down to work their way around a cement area and into a sand trap. Not as bad as it sounds but still tough enough to cause many to dismount. This was followed by a tough technical section that included a steep climb before heading back out to the start and the next lap. It was a long course, over 1.5 miles allowing for almost every type of terrain desired for cyclocross racing.
Like the Interstate Park race, this event consisted of 3 separate races, the Men’s Cat 4/Women’s Cat 1,2,3 race – the Men’s Cat 5/Women’s Cat 4/Juniors race – and the Open Men’s Cat 1,2,3 race. Before the open race there was a kids race which is always fun. Everything seemed to go off without a hitch. A local park ranger was enjoying the races exclaiming to anyone out there that he hoped this race and these types of events would be back. It’s my hope that this becomes a regular venue for the Arkansas Super-Prestige Cyclocross Series. The perfect battlefield can be hard to come by, we found one here.