If there were an award for most people passed over the weekend of the Colorado Cross Classic and the Boulder Cup UCI level cross races, it likely would have gone to either Rotem Ishay or Skyler Trujilo. The Boo – TrainingPeaks riders started at the back of each race, marooned far from the front in the rows where riders without UCI points fret about the sixty or more riders ahead of them in the start grid. In a sport where one’s start is critical to finishing well, starting outside of the top twenty prevents one from harboring any dreams of the podium and makes even a top ten finish almost unthinkable. To start sixty riders back is suicide.
As each race started, dust clouds filled the air as the dry Colorado soil broke free and sprung into the air under the pounding of eighty pairs of wheels. The corners became clogged as the natural order of fitness and skills struggled against the staging order of riders, elbows flying to defend lines as riders tried to dive under or over competitors to move up a single spot. Starting at the back of a cyclocross race is a battle with no room for the faint of heart if one harbors any ambitions of moving up. The sand pits – rideable in theory – forced everyone to run as the mistake of one rider in the top ten cascaded down the ranks. The contrast between the melee at the back and the fluidity of the front group was stark.
Out of this scrum Rotem emerged near the front of the field, finishing 24th in Saturday’s Boulder Cup and 22nd in Sunday’s Colorado Cross Classic. Skyler fought to a 33rd place finish on Saturday and an astounding 17th place finish the following day. Over the two days combined, each had passed close to a hundred riders, moving up between thirty and fifty positions each day. They moved up past fellow riders without UCI points and then past half the riders who have won points in the past year. Their rides were exceptional, doing the maximum of what body and skills would allow and coming close to the lap times of riders in the top ten by the time open course was in front of them in the second half of the race.
But, with points only awarded ten deep in UCI C2 level races, Rotem and Skyler will be starting at the back next time too in spite of their visible class. Even more than other aspects of cycling, cyclocross requires one to beat the best against stacked odds to have a chance of regularly racing against the best. “There is a barrier between me and my goal,” says Rotem, “ and I have the fitness and skills to race at the front but unless you have UCI points and are starting in the top 40 then it’s impossible to reach your goals.” As Rotem and Skyler move into one of the harder parts of their season, they are fighting the battle to be able to battle the best, inching towards the top ten spots in C2 races and top fifteen spots in C1 races and their elusive points. Though challenges abound every weekend, the momentum is clearly moving in one and only one direction – up the leaderboard.
This weekend Rotem and Skyler are headed to St. Louis, Missouri, for the Gateway Cross Cup and its two UCI C2 level races. Without Jeremy Powers, Tim Johnson, Ryan Trebon, and some of the other top names in attendance, the fields are more open and those coveted points could be in reach. After that, it’s non-stop UCI racing for almost a month, starting with three days of racing for Rotem at Cincy3 November 1-3. The next weekend, Skyler will leave Colorado again and join Rotem for the Derby City Cup in Louisville (Nov. 9-10) and Jinglecross in Iowa City, Iowa (Nov. 15-17). Some recent local racing at the Cross of the North last weekend has helped hone fitness and skills, especially running technique in mud the consistency of peanut butter. Now, though, it is time to put all of that to the one of the biggest tests each athlete has faced yet.