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Single speed ‘cross nationals sweet for Adam Craig, sour for Brady Kappius

January 10, 2013
2012 Cyclo-cross Nationals men's single speed start

2012 Cyclo-cross Nationals men’s single speed start

The riders at Cyclo-cross Nationals in Verona, Wisconsin are like kids in a candy store, with a few significant differences.

At ‘cross Nationals, the candy store is Badger Prairie Park where a track of squishy mud and frozen ruts runs through open fields of snow perforated by the tips of brown-gray branches and tall grass.

Instead of which sweets to choose next, riders choose their next lines along the track – outside edge to inside edge, through the middle, or some combination. Sometimes the bike and the mud and ruts choose for them and toss them onto the ground where they slide ten feet in the mud or kick up piles of snow until they can right themselves, shake their heads, and remount their bikes for more.

On Wednesday Adam Craig (Giant Factory Off-Road Team), Brady Kappius (Clif Bar), and fifty-six other male “kids” raced one-geared bikes into the ‘cross National candy store. After the starting whistle Aaron Bradford (Bicycle Bluebook/HRS/Rock Lobster Cyclocross) led the single speed pack down the paved starting straight with Kappius on his wheel.

While Craig would proceed to grab all the sweet lines, for Kappius the single speed race was like arriving at the store after a long trek and staring at the door as the shopkeeper flipped the “Open” sign to “Closed.”

Kappius closed out by a broken tensioner

Both Craig and Kappius rode traditional ‘cross frames. While Craig turned over the 42 x 16 “magic gear,” Kappius had decided to go with a chain tensioner and 39 x 15, a decision he soon regretted. The tensioner broke after the run-up in the first lap. He coasted down the hill, dismounted, and at a pace that seemed like slow motion, stepped over the barriers and pushed his bike by the seat into the pit area.

Brady Kappius before the start of the men's single speed 'cross national championship race

Brady Kappius before the start of the men’s single speed ‘cross national championship race

“The pulley came off the bearing; I’ve seen it happen a couple of times but it never happened to me,” he said after pushing his bike into the pit and calling it a day.

“It’s a bummer,” Kappius said. “I spent all this time coming out here so early. I don’t know…This isn’t the right way to do it. The right way to do it is to have a real single speed bike. So, next year.”  He looked outwardly calm, but words came out a bit shaky. His teeth chattered slightly in the late afternoon cold.

When asked if he was more pissed off than he let on, Kappius said, “I’m just pissed off at myself. I should just spend more time with my equipment and care a little bit more about this race…” He said he could have brought his single speed bike. Instead he brought the bike he’s been riding all season; he said before the race he likes how it handles. He could have run the “magic gear,” a selection he made recently at Castle Cross. “It’s my fault,” he concluded.

Kappius will ride in the elite race on Sunday.

Craig forges solid lead

Out on course the riders fought for their places. According to Craig, he and Bradford rode together until Bradford punctured halfway through lap one. Then Craig took off. “I just wanted to ride hard the whole race just to see what it felt like to ride hard on this course the whole time,” Craig said after the race, “so I just kind of gave ‘er because it’s a race and that’s what you do.”

Adam Craig on sketchy corner on Badger Prairie Park course

Adam Craig on a sketchy corner on Badger Prairie Park course

Craig rode hills others – including Bradford – ran, and negotiated twisty descents with efficient lines.

“There’s great lines all over this course,” he said. “Just riding a lot of outside snow to inside snow, to drift through the mud into the outside snowbank. The snowbanks are pretty supportive;
you can actually use them to turn, so that was fun to work on.”

He gained thirty seconds over Bradford about half-way through the race; that lead increased exponentially in the second half and he finished two minutes and nine seconds over second place Bradford.

Bradford also stretched out his lead over a chase group of three as the race progressed. Isaac Neff (Trek Cyclocross Collective), Jared Nieters (SEAVS/Haymarket), and Adam Myerson (Team SmartStop p/b Mountain Khakis) almost came to the line together. According to the race announcer a mishap in the sand pit by Myerson helped Nieters move ahead. Neff came in third with Nieters fourth, just one second in front of Myerson.

For Craig winning proved to be “a relief,” he said after the race. “I’m kind of like the one actual pro guy racing. I mean there’s plenty of super-talented riders in the race like Aaron [Bradford], but I’m the guy who’s getting paid to do it so I should probably win.”

Winning probably also felt like a relief because he’s recently tried a different kind of training program. With all the snow in Bend over the last month, he primarily trained off the bike, by backcountry and Nordic skiing and running. “I just was going to take whatever the weather gave me at home,” he said. “It’s a pretty bold experiment as far as just not forcing riding a bunch when riding is difficult and trying to stay fit other ways.”

As he spoke, Craig stomped his feet. He seemed pleasantly surprised that plaques of mud leapt off his shoes. He obviously enjoyed the forty-three minute effort. “Anytime you can throw snow in the air on your cyclocross bike is entertaining,” he said.

Craig will also ride in the elite race on Sunday.

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