September 28, 2013

Racing Under the Neon Lights at CrossVegas

by Douglas Ansel

Skyler bunny hopping the CrossVegas barriers

Skyler Trujilo shows his skills by bunny hopping the barriers.

The neon lights of the Vegas strip glittered on the horizon, barely visible through the spotlights surrounding the perimeter of the soccer complex where the strongest field the United States cyclocross scene will see was gathered. For the first time, a reigning world champion – Sven Nys – was on the start line, along with multiple time world champion Bart Wellens and a host of other Belgian riders on the Crelan-Euphony and Telenet-Fidea teams. The past four national champions were on the start line. Behind them, a few rows back, were Boo – TrainingPeaks riders Skyler Trujilo and Rotem Ishay.

The crowd was enormous and raucous, the effects of beverages imbibed amplified by the electric atmosphere Las Vegas creates out of the dry Nevada air. Though it was Skyler’s second time racing CrossVegas, he was almost as amazed by the atmosphere as Rotem, who was there for his first time. Warming up on the course was difficult with fans and friends calling both riders over to chat after seemingly every other turn. But the two eventually made their way around the course a few times, taking note of the barriers, the two sections of shallow steps on the course, not one but two flyovers, and even an artificially banked turn with a miniature wooden velodrome. Of all the adjectives that could be used to describe the CrossVegas course, creative is among the most apt.

In many ways, Vegas is a race like none other. The grass is thick and heavy – so heavy that Skyler likened its resistance to “like climbing, but on flat ground.” But at the same time, the race is always fast, dominated by group dynamics, drafting, and team tactics. Sprint finishes are not uncommon out of groups of six or even eight riders. It’s the kind of course that makes Skyler groan a little, not technical enough to play to his strengths, even though he could gain time (and applause!) by hopping the barriers and riding up both sets of stairs. At the start, he stayed more reserved than last year, hoping to avoid a spectacular implosion in his legs. He was fortunate to find groups that he could ride with, going as hard as he could until he needed to back off a little to recover and find another several riders to race among. With the fast lap times you would expect from a World Champion leading the race, many riders were in danger of being pulled and so Skyler was with three laps remaining for a respectable 57th place. Ahead, Rotem would fare better, staying on the lead lap and finishing 36th, barely five minutes behind one of the best cyclocross racers in history.

Rotem Ishay runs over the barriers.

Rotem Ishay on his way to a fine 36th place finish in his first CrossVegas.

The results in the debut of the Boo-TrainingPeaks team are promising, especially with Rotem and Skyler both eyeing peak fitness much later in the season for a swing through UCI races in the Midwest and Northwest before Nationals. But to focus on just results or sensations in the legs would be a mistake. The results sheet cannot show all the fans who heckled and cheered Skyler for his decision to wear aviator sunglasses in a night race, nor those who were struck by the sight of a frame constructed half of bamboo edging out Sven Nys’ teammate at the end of a race. The fans are more than half of this sport, and our boys have started to give them something to love and “Boo” at for races to come!