It was impossible to miss the giant black school bus with gold lettering on the side as I rolled up to the start/finish area to sign in for Friday afternoon’s race at Devou Park. It had a better parking spot than even the Rapha – Focus and Cannondale teams, within sight of the finish line and with a prime view of the bowl the course traversed back and forth across for more than half its distance. And the bikes, the demo bikes, what a sight they were! There were full size runs of both MS-R29ers and RS-X cyclocross bikes, all built up with top of the line components and glistening in the afternoon sun.
The sight was impossible to ignore, and it seems very few people did over the span of the weekend. After driving from northern Indiana to Cincinnati for the UCI level Cincy3 Cyclocross weekend of racing I spent the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday hanging out with Boo guys Nick and Jason and two of their riders, Rotem Ishay and Brannan Fix. Over those days the area in front of the bus was almost never empty and the racks of demo bikes rarely full. The racing – both mine and otherwise – and socializing left the weekend a blur, but one that is impossible to forget.
Nick and Jason arrived after a week of visits with potential dealers in the Midwest, wrapping up a hectic week of driving across the country with the fleet of bikes. Rotem flew out on Friday to continue his search for top ten finishes and valuable UCI points and brannan Brannan would do the same for Saturday and Sunday as he sought to compete with the best 17-18 year old juniors in the country. I was there for my first weekend of UCI races and to see both how I would stack up against the best racers in the country and how my new RS-X would fare when I put it to the harshest of tests.
On Friday afternoon I lined up with Rotem on the back row in a small but strong field of 36 racers, both of us faring poorly in the random allotment of starting grid positions for riders without UCI points. Five rows ahead of us were Jeremy Powers, Tim Johnson, Ryan Trebon… hardly a name outside the top twenty riders in the country was missing. Immediately after the starting pistol cracked through the fall air the sound of thirty six mechanical clicks punctuated the burst of cheering and both Rotem and I strained to pass as many riders on the uphill paved start as possible. I moved up quickly, passing at least eight riders before we thundered onto the grass before the first off-camber turn. But as good as my start was, I could not help but notice a yellow flash out of the corner of my left eye as Rotem tore towards the front of the pack. In the first lap melee he out-climbed rider after rider on the steep and hilly course. Though I began to fade almost immediately after the first lap as the sickness I woke up with caught up to me, Rotem only accelerated, catching and riding with none other than Jeremy Powers for several laps and getting plenty of cheers for hopping the barriers. Over an hour after the race started he would cross the line in eleventh place, outside the top ten by the narrowest of margins on what most professionals consider the toughest course they race all season in the United States.
I was on course early on Saturday, arriving before the first races went off at 11am so I could watch a friend race in one of the earlier races. The bus was, of course, already there, in a prime spot again right next to the building housing registration and amongst all the tents, buses, and trailers of the biggest cyclocross programs in the country. The scene was only more impressive than the day prior as more and more racers and fans came to the course on their day off. Nick and Jason were constantly tweaking the positions on demo bikes so fans and potential customers could take them out for a proper ride. On the other side of the course tape the rain from two nights prior had yet to truly seep into the ground, making the run up too slick to ride and creating numerous places on the course where rutted and soupy mud in turn splattered up onto bikes. Brannon raced first of all of us, sliding and powering his way to sixth in a stacked field including riders who represented the United States at the World Championships in February. By the time Rotem and I took to the start under artificial lighting the mud had only gotten worse as water from the power washers in the pit slithered down the slight hill across the course. Starting near the back, we both ran out of room to pass before the first time up the run up some 600 meters into the course. Half a lap later I passed Rotem as he got off his bike and for the remainder of the lap and then the next he stayed 2-3 slots behind me. In the end, his power combined with having a fresh bike in the pits began to pay off as he passed me and worked his way through traffic to a 26th place finish. “I had a bad first lap,” he said to me afterwards, “and when that happens and you lose those spots early on it’s impossible to keep fighting as hard. Tomorrow is a different day.”
By Sunday, the waiting list to take out a demo bike was even longer, especially as junior racers sought some way to keep playing on bikes after their races were done. Rotem rolled up at lunch and we chatted as he made the coffee that is no longer optional on the third day in a row of cyclocross racing. The course was a stark contrast to the two days before, dry and fast even if it was on the side of a hill yet again. This time, the call up gods favored Rotem more and he started just behind the riders with UCI points. The race played out better than the prior night and he finished 18th after an hour of fast group racing, ahead of riders with call ups as far up as the first row. Brannan had another strong race, finishing just outside of a minute down on the winner in 7th place.
The first weekend of three on the Boo trip through the midwest was a strong one. Fans are “Boo-ing” Rotem and Brannan all around the course already with no prompting and I even got the same treatment while racing in my team’s kit rather than the bright yellow Boo-Training Peaks team kit. The vibe is undeniable and will only grow as the team and bus visit Louisville and Iowa City in succession. For Rotem and Brannan the results confirm upwards trajectories and they will be back for two more weekends of the highest calibre racing in the country. And personally, even if being sick and just plain bad luck laid low my hopes of good rides over the weekend, I got a fantastic chance to test my RS-X on more challenging courses than I have been able to race it on this season. My early impressions are only solidified and cannot be expressed better than a conversation I had with a rider returning from a test ride on Saturday. When asked what I thought of my Boo after several weekends racing it, I replied “it still amazes me… it is so smooth I feel like I am riding on a cushion of air above the ground.” My conversation partner could do little more than grin and reply “Yes. Yes it does.”