Bonelli Park #1 and Fontana Pro XCT
By Ben Senkerik, Grassroots Athlete
Recently there has been a lot going on with racing, riding, and traveling from Wisconsin to the California sunshine with family and friends. The planning for this month-long trip began back in December. I was working to get all the logistics taken care of before I made my final decision to step away from school for one semester to chase my dream of racing bikes.
First and foremost this trip wouldn’t have been possible without my amazing Uncle Thom and Aunt Summer, who have graciously opened their house and allowed me to live with them for this one month. As I sit here, out in the backyard, enjoying the warm California sunshine, I have come to realize why so many people flock to warm areas of the country for winter. Along with relaxing in the warm weather, comes a lot of riding, and family time. This trip was based around the first 3 races of the Pro XCT series, Bonelli Park 1, Fontana and Bonelli Park 2. These 3 races are probably 3 of the biggest cross-country mountain bike races that take place in America, besides the World Cup in New York.
Single track in California
Bonelli Park 1
After flying out on March 12th and getting settled in, race number 1 was right around the corner. When it came time to toe the line for the first time this season, my Joule GPS cycling computer read that it was 100 degrees out. I kitted up, did my warm up and entered the starting grid. I quickly reset my Joule for a new ride and the race was off. After a short, but fast prologue, we hit the first hill. After the first hill, the course never let you out of its strangle hold. With climbs and descents upwards of 20%, the course demanded all of your strength. We climbed, then descended, then climbed again. There were a total of seven big climbs and descents in the 1.4km lap, which came to about 400 plus feet of climbing per lap. Take that over a 7-lap race and you’ve got a lot of elevation change.
To top it all off, there was a cloud of dust that came over the course, which increased the difficulty of the race. At some points the dust was so bad you couldn’t see the trail and had to ride based on what you could remember from the pre ride. After just three laps of racing the course has taken its toll on tons of riders. With the 80% rule in effect, which dictates that if you’re 80% behind the leaders you get pulled - and I was pulled after three laps. With no expectations going into the race I wasn’t really upset and it gave me an extra drive for race number two: Fontana.
After a solid week of riding trails and getting some technical skills back, it was time for race two, better known as “Fontucky”. Going into this race I knew it suited my skill set a lot better. The hills were not as steep, but just as hard as Bonelli. The descents were rocky and fast, loose and dusty. The course started off on a gravel/sand/dirt two-track section that wound back and forth before it turned to concrete, and once you jumped onto the pavement you started the climb. The climbs were longer and more sustained with rocky kicks and loose corners. The first half was switch back climbing and the second half was switch back descending along with a small two-track section back to the start/finish. I was ready.
Photo credit: Bill Freeman
After getting a much better start position than the previous week the gun went off. We jumped from the line and in a matter of feet someone missed a pedal and balled up the group. Then about 30 feet later some guy pinballed from one side of the field to the other taking out a fellow WORS racer, well now ex-WORS racer, Joe, along with another ex-WORS racer David. I managed to get around it and settled into a group along the road. Once we turned onto the concrete, I pushed myself to move up. After a huge bottleneck, we entered the first section of trail. The pace slowed again as traffic balled. We came to a complete stop a couple of times before things separated. Thankfully, once the trail turned down, the riders were split up enough to have a clean, fast descent. I was able to keep it smooth and hit the double track road back to the start, in a small group. The draft was nice but you still had to pump out major watts.
Photo credit: Bill Freeman
From there we shot through the start shoot and started lap two. I was able to hang onto that small group for a short time when the pace was just too high and I had to dial it back. After losing a bunch of spots, I was finally able to hold a sustained pace and make up a few spots. Lap after lap went by and I was still in it. Then right before heading out onto lap 5/6 the referee’s whistle blew and I was told to exit the course. Again, I pushed myself to the limit and ended up finishing in the exact same spot as Bonelli. I was a little frustrated with the placing, but after digging into the results I saw who I was around and knew that if I were back in Wisconsin racing WORS, this would have been a great race for me. To put it into perspective, the top guys are probably putting out close to 6 watts/kg, which is crazy fast for March. This just goes to show how fast the field truly is. The top 30 people are some of the fastest people in the Nation and World.
Bonelli Park 2
I wish I could provide a race report here. The day after writing the race report for Bonelli Park 1 and Fontana I went out for a mountain bike ride. After three hours out at tempo I came to a steep descent. I wasn’t going fast when I entered a big rock garden, my momentum was stopped and I ended up flipping over the bars and landed face first into the rock garden. Surprisingly everything on my bike is fine but my helmet is destroyed, almost ripped the entire front of it off. I also split my face open in two spots and knocked a couple teeth loose (they are still intact just a little loose). After about 3 hours of waiting for the doctor, they numbed me up and put in close to 30 stitches. I am now taking some time off of riding but will be back shortly with some easy road rides to just try and maintain some fitness. I am happy that it wasn’t worse and that I was only about 10 minutes, by car, away from home. Hopefully the cuts heal fast so I can get back out on the trails and finish this trip on a high note.
Ben Senkerik is a senior at Ripon College where he will soon be graduating with a degree in Business Management with a focus in Marketing and Non Profit. He races mountain bikes professionally for Team Extreme and is highly competitive as a category 1 cyclocross racer. Every now and again he will test his luck on the road but loves to shred the dirt. He lives in Wauwatosa, WI, and spends his summers training and traveling trying to become the next top pro, along with working for the bike shop, Extreme Ski and Bike, which is located in Mequon, WI. You can check him out on Twitter @bsenkerik or Instagram.