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Feedback Cup a proving ground for home course advantage in cyclocross?

November 7, 2013
Feedback Cup men's open race podium (l-r) Danny Summerhill 2nd, Tim Allen 1st, Spencer Powlison 3rd

Feedback Cup men’s open race podium from left to right: Danny Summerhill 2nd, Tim Allen 1st, Spencer Powlison 3rd

[updated 11/8/2013]

How important is “home field advantage” in cyclocross? With so many Boulder-based athletes competing at cyclocross nationals this January in the city’s Valmont Bike Park, it’s an interesting question.

Sunday’s Feedback Cup in Golden, Colorado provided the ideal location to explore that question.

Tim Allen, fastest into the first corner

Tim Allen, fastest into the first corner

The Golden track is home course to Tim Allen (Feedback Sports) who won the Feedback Cup men’s open race. Work days, he rides there during his lunch break. In this season’s Back-to-Basics series there, Allen won three of the four times he competed.

Jesse Swift (Gates Carbon Drive) earned the victory in Sunday’s single speed race. He would call the Golden location his home course too. He won and placed second twice at the Back-to-Basics races (on a single speed set-up).

The topic of home field advantage attracts intense scrutiny in the ball and puck sports. The numbers say home field advantage is highest in soccer. What causes this phenomenon? According to one source the reason is not due to the athlete or the field, but the refs.

We know home course advantage doesn’t always net a win in cyclocross. Riders win on courses they’ve never seen prior to race day. Like Chris Baddick, for example. In addition, locations with diverse features allow for varied course designs that test different skills and strengths.

Spencer Powlison trying to keep a gap on Danny Summerhill

Spencer Powlison trying to keep a gap on Danny Summerhill

Swift and Allen’s Feedback Cup results support the notion of home field advantage in ‘cross. What creates that leg-up? It seems to be the underlying or predominant characteristics of a location. In the case of the Golden space it’s the quality of the dirt sections.

Spencer Powlison (Evol Foods), who finished third in the men’s open race, said this about the Feedback Cup course: “…all these corners have loose stuff on the outside of the lines. So you have to be really precise with your lines…”

Guys like Allen and Swift who know those slippery corners had to have an advantage.

Jesse Swift won the Feedback Cup single speed race

Jesse Swift won the Feedback Cup single speed race

“I know there was one corner where another racer was trying to pass me, but from all the Back-to-Basics races and weekly training, I knew how fast to take the corner, so he blew the corner and I rode the right line and kept my lead,” Swift wrote yesterday.

“On the other hand, there were at least 4-5 sections that were new to everyone. So, yeah, home field gave me a bit of an advantage but not huge.”

As Swift points out, home course advantage isn’t sufficient to achieve top three results. The Feedback Cup’s particular course design by Lee Waldman also demanded the strength to sprint like hell over and over out of the slippery corners.

Race action

Allen sped away from the start line for the holeshot. Brady Kappius (Clif Bar) and Powlison followed. Junior Gage Hecht (Specialized Racing Team) moved up as the pack swung onto grass, through the finish line area, and over the first barrier. Danny Summerhill (K-Edge/Felt) leapt over that barrier in fifth position.

The flotilla streamed into the northwest portion of the course which dipped down and back up a steep bump and then continued into turns and corners through the brushy fields.

According to Powlison, Kappius dropped his chain on a corner before the double barriers about halfway into the initial lap. That slowed everyone except for the frontrunner Allen. He hurried away to bunny-hop the double barriers with a gap he maintained for the remaining fifty-five minutes of racing.

Danny Summerhill moves up into second on lap one

Danny Summerhill moves up into second on lap one

The course wound into a lower area with off-camber S-turns and stairs. Riders climbed out of that section to return to the finish line area and that’s where Summerhill powered by Powlison and Hecht to move into second place on course.

As Kappius, Chris Case (Boulder Cycle Sport) and Mitch Hoke (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) shadowed Hecht, Powlison latched onto Summerhill and they rode together. Going into lap three Summerhill “was riding super-fast obviously and gapped me,” Powlison said.

Spencer Powlison slips by as Summerhill recovers from crash

Spencer Powlison slips by as Summerhill recovers from crash

The next incident that shaped the outcome transpired half-way into the third lap.

Summerhill was threatening Allen’s fifteen second lead when he slid out in a corner bordered by loose gravel. Within a split-second he crashed hard onto the dirt, a surface Allen later described as similar to cement. Powlison and the other chasers slid by Summerhill and his bike while he took a good ten seconds or more to recover.

“I rode by myself for like forever which is hard to keep a steady pace and keep the gap from going out,” Powlison said. “And then eventually Danny caught on with Mitch and Brady and really got on the gas and they pulled me back.”

Now third on course Summerhill next sliced by Powlison who tried to hang onto the K-Edge/Felt rider. “Coming up the hill to the final lap I took off my sunglasses and kind of got a little off-line,” Powlison recalled while waiting for the podium ceremonies, “and that was all it took for him [Summerhill] to get a little gap on me.”

Bryan Alders in the Feedback Cup

Bryan Alders in the Feedback Cup

Hoke, Kappius and Hecht traced the circuit as a group behind Allen, Summerhill, and Powlison. Next on course Case rode alone. Brian Alders (Marin Bikes Factory Team) followed with Taylor Carrington (Feedback Sports) and Michael Burleigh (Primal Wear/McDonald Audi) trailing him.

The contest for the top ten continued behind the three who had nailed their podium spots by the sound of the bell.

Kappius came in for fourth; Hoke, fifth. Hecht lost a position, Carrington drifted back, and Case and Burleigh made up time. Alders and J.J. Clarke completed the top ten. Carrington came in twelth.

By the end Allen finished 31 seconds in front of Summerhill. It wasn’t a comfortable lead.

Allen said he wondered out on course if he could claim his second victory in as many weeks. “I knew Danny Summerhill was behind me so the whole race I was pretty much scared shitless. But it felt good to just ride out front.”

Yes, he thought a home course advantage helped carry him to the win. So did his Feedback Sports team and bike sponsors Foundry Cycles and Shimano Di2.

Swift offered his conclusion regarding the home field advantage question.

“I think the more important part to the race and what appeared to be home course advantage is that it is a hard course with lots of difficult loose turns, no flat sections and zero pavement,” Swift wrote. “I think the course favored good bike handlers and mountain bikers, like Tim Allen and myself. A combination of course knowledge AND the love of dirt is what gave some racers a ‘home field advantage’.” [italics added]

Golfer watching Brady Kappius take a jump in the warm-up lap

Golfer watching Brady Kappius take a jump in the warm-up lap

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