When it comes to keeping ’cross weird, there are few things better than a good old fashioned Halloween race. The costumes, the convivial spirit, the hand-ups, they all seem to harken back to the sport’s irreverent origins.
Several years ago, the Wisconsin cyclocross series found itself without a Halloween race. For the longest time, the annual costume race in the Badger State took place at Milwaukee’s Washington Park, but an incredibly muddy 2015 race left the event on the not-so-good side of the Milwaukee Parks Department. Rain canceled the 2016 Halloween Cross, and a year later, the race was gone, along with the famed coffin jump and all the costume shenanigans.
Although I am a noted Halloweenie and hate coming up with costumes, when my team* decided to put on a race in 2017, I pushed for taking on the Halloween mantle, if not just in an unofficial fashion.
* This obviously explains why you are currently reading about a random Wisconsin race
Eschewing the Spooky Crosses, Spookier Crosses and Creepy Crosses of the world, we went with the name Cross Fire, in homage to the Sun Prairie Fire Department that owns the Angell Park Speedway venue where we host the race.
Of course, the name Cross Fire is a chance to pay homage to the famed kids game by allowing kids—and adult kids—to chuck balls at riders in the Cross Fire Zone.
Other on-brand parts of the course included a graveyard, which did not claim any riders on Saturday.
The railroad ties, however, claimed at least one rim during the day’s races.
There were also double coffins for riders to hop or run, depending on how sendy** they were feeling. **More on this particular word choice innabit.
Although this post and its accompanying photos are focused on the two Elite races, one thing our team has done for three years now is offer free race entries to first-time racers. We comp the usual $25 entry fee and then pay the cost of one-day licenses to make the entire experience free.
This year, we had about 10 people across the Women, Junior and Men’s fields race their first-ever cyclocross race, which is always a positive perk of putting on the race.
If the name Angell Park sounds familiar, it is because it was the host to the Sun Prairie Cup that was part of the USGP series. Similar to those races, the Cross Fire course was very much a power course, with several gradual uphill power sections, and new for this year, a power straight on the backside put in based on rider feedback.
There were also some technical off-cambers near the grandstands of the Angell Park Speedway midget car track and a set of stone stairs all riders opted to run, for obvious reasons.
Elite Women’s Race
Coming into Saturday’s race, the story of the 2019 Wisconsin’s Women’s cyclocross season has been Erin Feldhausen (Trek Cyclocross Collective). Feldhausen, a Trek employee, suffered a severe injury in a crash during a lunch ride last summer and missed the entire 2018 cyclocross season.
Healthy at the start of the 2019 calendar year, Feldhausen has made up for lost time by coming into the 2019 cyclocross season flying. She finished eighth in the UCI C2 on Friday night at Jingle Cross and has been a force in local races in Wisconsin and the Chicago Cross Cup.
Coming into Saturday’s race, the only blemish on Feldhausen’s non-UCI slate was a fifth-place finish at the first of three Chicago Cross Cup races held at Indian Lakes to start the CCC season. She won the second race at Indian Lakes, a weekend I previously wrote about.
Beating Feldhausen at that race at Indian Lakes was her friend and fellow Trek employee April Beard (Trek Midwest). Beard has interestingly fared better south of the Cheddar Curtain in the CCC races, finishing first, second and second before this past weekend, and she entered looking for her first win on home-state soil.
Other women to watch were 2018 Louisville Masters 35-39 National Champion Holly LaVesser (Neff Cycle Service), Lauren Harkness (Velocause Centraal) and Anne Mayer (Trek Midwest).
Unlike many of the top male riders, the Elite Women embraced the Halloween spirit. Feldhausen opted to don her favorite pearls and go as Sendy Poof, Jolanda Neff.
Feldy Poof, if you will.
Feldhausen took the holeshot and led the Elite Women’s field out onto the course. She would not look back after her hot start, leading wire-to-wire to take the win.
The only blemish, perhaps? Feldhausen did not send it over the coffins as Sendy Poof would have likely done.
Early in the race, Mayer was the rider to lead the chase of Feldhausen, taking over solo second in the first lap.
Beard and LaVesser followed close behind Mayer, battling for the third spot in the second lap.
LaVesser eventually left Beard behind and then pirouetted her way past Mayer to take over second and finish with silver on the day.
Mayer took third, with Beard and Julie Phelps (Gryphon Velo Racing) rounding out the wide-angle podium.
Jenny Youngworth (Team Wheel and Sprocket) took the Women’s 3/4 win.
Elite Men’s Race
While the 2019 Wisconsin’s Elite Women’s series has really been about one woman, the 2019 Elite Men’s series had seen five different winners in seven races coming into Saturday’s race in Sun Prairie.
Corey Stelljes (Neff Cycle Service) entered Saturday’s race as the hot rider to watch, having won at both Grafton PumpkinCross and Badger Prairie Cross. Chicagoan Rory Jack (The Pony Shop) is the other two-race winner in the Wisconsin series, but he was at home getting ready for Sunday’s Chicago Cross Cup race in Bartlett.
(Here’s hoping Stelljes and Jack will coordinate their schedules soon for a battle between the kings of Wisconsin and Illinois)
Cole House (Pete’s Garage) brought out his cyclocross bike for his second Wisconsin race of the season and entered as a favorite, despite his last-row call-up, and Isaac Neff (Neff Cycle Service) was looking for his second win of the season after taking top honors at Humboldt Park Cross.
It is worth noting the Elite Men opted to go the Halloweenie route, with Drew Bublitz’z Batman coming in as the top costumed Elite in 15th place.
The three race favorites did not disappoint early in the race. Stelljes took the holeshot and led a rather compact field up the first power climb.
He pushed the pace early, with Neff and then Seth Eckert (801 W. Madison) keeping him in check. Midway through Lap 2, it was Stelljes, Neff and House off the front together. The battle between the race’s big three was on.
The three traded turns at the front. Early on, it looked like House and Stelljes might drop Neff, but the eponymous green-clad rider fought his way back to again make it a group of three.
The trio of riders carried their battle into the mid part of the race, with Neff bouncing back and asserting himself at the front on the back half of the course.
The battle between the three would only last so long. Stelljes put in an attack on the front half of the course and split the lead group up. Neff gave chase, with House following behind him.
Stelljes’ attack seemed perfectly timed, as he maintained his lead the rest of the way to take his third Wisconsin cyclocross win in as many tries this season.
Neff held on for second and House took third. Narayan Mahon (Neff Cycle Service) took fourth, winning a tough battle against Eckert, who rounded out the wide-angle podium.
Carlos Casali (Franco Factory Racing p/b Brightleaf) took the win in the Masters 35+ race run concurrently with the Elite race.
The Wisconsin CX Series p/b Trek resumes this weekend with a double feature of Estabrook CX in Milwaukee on Saturday and the Battle of Waterloo down the street from Trek Bikes on Sunday.
For more from Wisconsin’s Cross Fire Halloween race, see the photo gallery below.