Creating Cyclocross at Lion Oak
On January 6, 2018 we made our first foray as a company into bike racing. Thanks to a one race partnership with the well established CCCX Cyclo-Cross series based out of Monterey, CA we set out to secure a brand new venue and race course further north near Morgan Hill, CA. The process was not without its twists, turns and bumps along the way and the stakes were extremely high as the race represented the NCNCA District Championships crowning over 20 Northern CA/Nevada Champions. After some incredible teamwork, hundreds of man hours planning and building, we can say that we succeeded in delivering a spectacular venue and course, that with some continued sculpting can be on par with the iconic courses found in both the US and Europe that racers have come to know and love. Read below to learn more about what was involved in creating the Cyclocross at Lion Oak course and venue. Enjoy a recap of the race here on our Races and Events page where we will soon post what's to come in 2018 and beyond.
Background - We began course planning as far back as April 2017 with set plans to host the race at a vineyard in Gilroy. Just three weeks before the race the vineyard owner backed out of hosting, leaving us to find and create a course in a matter of days. With help from the local agriculture community in Morgan Hill, the Madrone Cattle Company allowed us to lease a part of their land for the race. The lease was the first of its kind in the 100+ years that they’ve been using the open space for cattle grazing. Many local cyclists would recognize the rolling fire roads of the "Tilton Ranch" as they extend along the west side of Coyote Valley visible from Santa Teresa and Hale Ave but no one has ever ridden the property. The ranch is strictly off limits to riders and hikers for the safety of the cattle and habitat.
Teamwork - Pat Miller assembled a team from across the globe and got them on site the week before to construct a course. The team included Charm City CX Founder Kris Auer (now living in France) and Baltimore based trail builder Louren Reddick. Under the direction of Kris and Louren, riders and friends of The Fast Forward including Erin Gil and his team from The Grass Farm, would work night and day to shape what the ranch land provided.
Building the Course - Beyond the graded roads on the ranch, cow hooves left 3-4 inch deep indents in the rock hard ground everywhere making for an unstable and bumpy surface. Team member Erin Gil came to the rescue 2 days before the race using a tractor and roller from race sponsor The Grass Farm to try and flatten the ground where we mapped a provisional course and parking areas. Erin and his team were the true heroes behind the completion of the course. They worked relentlessly helping in all aspects down to filling gopher holes with a truckfulls of dirt and removing the cow pies on course.
The next major issue was a deep ravine that split both the valley wall and our course plans in half. To climb up above the ravine using the fire road would result in a climb too big for a typical cyclocross race, maneuver below the ravine and we'd lose some valuable smooth fire road reprieve from the bumpy sections. Trail builder Louren Reddick devised the ideal solution, he set out to build a giant 16 x 8 ft span bridge to cross the ravine and marry the sides of the valley wall.
With the promise of a bridge in place, the focus shifted to linking, grooming and routing the natural features on the property. The stream beds would become a favorite feature amongst the racers on Saturday. Careful thought was put into which crossings to groom before, which to leave alone and how to sequence them on the course.
Another feature that changed shape multiple times before the race was the chicane decent down from the bridge to the valley floor. By race day the technical descent would roll past the pit area and into the stream bed crossings.
By Friday afternoon the course was beginning to be recognizable with provisional tape strung across many sections. For the first time, sections could be linked together and ridden to gauge lap length and lap times. The result? Without the promise of significant rain overnight, we needed to add more time. We implemented a run up with off camber section and decided to build 4 barriers to the UCI legal limit of 40cm high.
Raceday - Course construction is not over the night before a race. The team set out by flashlight as the overnight drizzle ended in the 6 o'clock hour. We had new barriers to install, course tape to repair, a last check of dangerous rocks and obstacles needed to be clearly painted bright orange and even a few corners and sections needed slight adjustment. It was mission accomplished in time for the first pre riding racers in the 8am hour.
The rest is history and the inaugural race at Tilton Ranch in Morgan Hill is in the books. We hope to bring you more races at this venue and fingers crossed that we won't have as many bumps to smooth out next time!