Jingle Cross in Iowa City

Three days of racing started last weekend in Iowa City, Iowa with a race under the lights. The days of winter have become incredibly short and continue to grow shorter as we move into December. By the middle of the afternoon on the Friday after Thanksgiving the powerful lights which lined the course had sprung to life and were starting to hide the long shadows and cyclocross racers were rubbing in their embrocations tightening their helmet straps and getting ready to race. Julie Krasniak and Chris Jones were there to see what three days of UCI racing would bring and over the course of the weekend would experience both the extreme highs and lows that are associated with this sport that we so love.

DAY ONE: Julie 8th, Chris 2nd

Night racing is the way of the future. With the advent of the Cross After Dark series by Seattle’s Terry Buchanan and Zac Daab (founders of Starcrossed) and with the help of Brook Watts (the man behind Cross Vegas) which brought together a good number of the night races from around the country and combined them into something that looks similar to the USGP, at least in the sense that it spans the country and has the ability to draw from each region to help grow their overall popularity.

Jingle Cross was no exception to the rule and all three days of UCI racing were fantastic from the onset. The interesting thing to note about these three races, from a course standpoint, was that while the courses varied by only a small bit each day, the conditions and temperatures played the bigger role (as it is with any late fall/early winter cyclocross race) in making the venue and course seem completely new each day.

Luckily, with the waning light, the course was completely dry on Friday and the run up — which Barry Wicks (who is also a SSCXWC) later rode to the chagrin of his compatriots — remained dry and easier to navigate. This would prove to be not so as the weekend progressed.

Julie has been working on her starts for the last couple of weeks and from the gun it was apparent that these three days were going to lean in her favor. Meredith Miller and Teal Stetson-Lee (California Giant-Specialized) were at the front from the start and led the entirety of the race before Miller took home the main prize. The race, course and temperature were on the temperate side of things and this was a great chance for the competitors to shake the travel from their legs, test out their equipment and size up what was to come in the remaining two days.

Krasniak commented later that this was the case, but even though the races may be shorter than your traditional road race that it would be important to think of the weekend as a mini-stage race and moderate efforts accordingly. This would, at least in her case provide to be a plan of attack and her 8th place finish would be the start of good things to come for the weekend.

This is the race, under the lights, where Chris Jones would leave his mark, turn some heads and then make everyone nervous for the coming days. But, he would not do it until lap two. There was one tricky off camber section that was proving some difficulty for the earlier races and was the main sticking point for the Elite Men’s first lap.

With a short burst of speed along the drag strip that would be the start for all three days Chris Jones found himself at the front of the race. We had spoken earlier about this tricky section and the importance of getting there first. Everything seemed to be falling in to place as they came off the first set of turns and that was exactly where Jones was. The only thing preventing Jones, at this point, from getting away from this stacked field of competitors was this twisty, muddy little bump in the course that went up and around a small patch of shrubs.

From where we were standing below the SRAM Neutral Support pits it looked like an explosion had happened at the front of the race. The front end of Chris Jones’ bike was suddenly under him and the entire field had come to a complete stop save for two riders — Tim Johnson and Jamey Driscoll (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) were away as Jones and Todd Wells picked their way back through the competitors to make their chase.

Two Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com riders up the road is tricky position for Jones to be in. Tim Johnson, widely known as one of the games best tacticians knows what the other riders are thinking before they think it, he knows what they are going to do before they do it, and today would be no exception to that rule. As Jones used each lap to close on Johnson it became apparent that something was going to need to be done so that Jones would not catch and beat both Cannondale riders. Which meant that someone would need to be sacrificed to ensure that their team would win.

The “Circle of Death” is where this would happen and it happened with the text book precision that only Professor Johnson can offer. Jones started to make his catch just as the riders would enter the Circle of Death, but the tight turns inside the tape that makes up this spiral are no place to pass. With just a touch of the brakes or an easing off of the throttle — Driscoll has a gap and just like that Tim Johnson’s work was done for the day.

DAY TWO: Julie 6th, Chris 2nd

With a steady drizzle coating the course for the majority of the night Day Two of Jingle Cross would be the muddiest of the weekend. Julie’s start was better than the first day as she slotted herself into the top ten and started her slog through the mud. The changes to the course also brought along changes in the top females at the front. Instead of the fast course the day before that favored the speed of such ladies as Coryn Rivera (Exergy 2012) the “mudders” like Mo Bruno Roy ( took to the front to push their pedals through the slop over the course at Johnson Fairgrounds. Julie relied on her superb handling skills and time on the Mountain Bike to maintain a consistent spot near the front.

There was one course feature that would be a spot of bother for most of the racers and that was the “run-down” on the backside of the course. Whereas most cross courses these days have at least one section that forces the riders off the bike and into a run, it is generally in a more upward fashion. But the steep switchbacks on the backside of Krumpet were akin to something found near Ventoux than a cow pasture in Iowa. The mud was ankle deep and running down was the fastest way to the bottom. Thankfully the Giro Shoes come with extra long toe spikes which were more than necessary. The day also allowed Julie to practice her bike exchanges with Steven a St. Louis native who joined the Rapha-FOCUS crew for the weekend to assist with Mechanical help. Bike exchanges can win or lose a race and Julie and Steven hit it off well enough to manage the race without incident helping her to take 6th on the day and continue improving on her weekends races.

NOTE: Check out the feature/photos from Podium Insight called The Importance of the Pit Strategy to see more about the pits at Jingle Cross.

The start line seemed a bit empty at the start of the Men’s race as they took their places in the grid. Tim Johnson and Jamey Driscoll had opted out of the racing this day and there were open grumbles about their decision to skip the second day of racing.

From the gun the two Wells brothers, not only Todd, but his younger brother Troy were off the front in the same fashion that Jamey and Tim had done the day before. Two or three laps into the race it looked as though these two had all but wrapped up the first two spots of the podium. Ben Berden (Stoemper Bikes / Ops Ale) attacked early and hard but came back just as quickly late in the first lap. The course at this point had taken on a bit of rain and with its steep sections, resembled a bit of a mountain bike course, which added fuel to announcer Richard Fries’ banter causing him to all but vocally hand the race over to the Wells Brothers.

But then there was Jones.

At first it looked like a late attack which happened late in the fourth lap. But two laps later Jones was breathing down the neck of Troy with his sights set on Todd. Move he did, through the mud and over the top of Mt. Krumpet, down the treacherous back slopes and then out through the barnyard and into the main viewing area. Each time closer and each time closing in on Todd Wells. Then, to the surprise of all the fans there and Richard Fries on the loudspeakers, “Chris Jones was there!” He had reached the front of the race and was continuing what looked like a series of relentless attacks at the front. He had done it, the roadie and the mountain biker were together and might as well have had one boxing gloves at the front of this race.

A slip, a bobble in the final minutes of the race cost it for Jones in the end, but at that point no one really cared who won or lost (well, possibly Chris did) and his ride had cemented his place at the front of this elite group of bike racers without any need for title – Road, Mountain or otherwise.

DAY THREE: Julie 3rd, Chris 5th

For Jones day three would be when the stage race caught up to him. With the two freshest competitors in the field controlling the race — Tim Johnson and Jamey Driscoll — the rest of the riders were at their mercy. Johnson looked like his old self, the man that we have seen tearing up the New England Cross Courses for the last decade. A man renewed, refreshed and possibly out for revenge. His “Movember” mustache helped the situation as well by giving him a bit of a dastardly grin as he moved away from his teammate and took the lead of the race which he never gave back.

Chris Jones held on for 5th, getting caught right near the end by a storming Ben Berden who had a miraculous weekend after being rushed to the hospital nights earlier for what they thought could have been a stroke (thankfully it was not.) But the point was that Jones had showed the fans in Iowa, and those who follow along, around the country that he was and will be a force to be reckoned with for the remainder of the season. His road season had caused some overlap early in the year but now was time for Cyclocross.

The delight of the day came from Julie Krasniak and Mo Bruno Roy in the Women’s race. Krasniak took the early lead from the ladies and put an astounding gap on the best Women’s field in the country that weekend. Her mountain bike skills again became handy when descending the tricky off camber section at the back of the course when she rode down it faster than any of the previous fields. When asked later she replied “oh, that was pretty easy, you just have to remember not to touch your brakes…” something that could not be said for most of the other competitors.

Meredith Miller and Mo Bruno Roy chased hard from the gun and exchanged the battle for second more than one time. Meredith slipped coming out of the barn and Mo would take over. Then Meredith’s road power would propel her past Mo on the long road section over the finish that ended each lap.

In the end they would both catch Krasniak who, in her first real season of cross racing, was learning what it meant to be chased by these two seasoned pros.

This weekend they will face off again in Los Angeles and we hope to see another battle between these two ladies.

The mini-stage race that is Jingle Cross had come to a cold close, and as we piled on more clothes and huddled near the warmer that was going full blast in the Rapha-FOCUS tent it was hard not to smile at these two battle worn competitors and wonder and hope for what’s next.